Everton have been here before but Dyche is running out of time to pull them from the abyss

Ian King
Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford against Newcastle United in the Premier League

Losing at home to Newcastle was to be expected, but it was a result that left Everton in the relegation zone while still suffering existential doubts.

 

Everton supporters will have had a familiar feeling as their players trudged from the Goodison Park pitch following their 4-1 trouncing by Newcastle United. They’ve been here before. On the corresponding date last year, they were in 18th place in the Premier League, on 29 points and with six games left to play. Last season ended with a close shave, relegation finally swerved with a dramatic 3-2 win against Crystal Palace in their final home game.

Twelve months on, the team’s position has barely changed. They have a point less than they did 365 days earlier and they’ve played a game more, but they still remain two points from safety, just as they were then.

This is what keeps people going. It’s only two points. It’s so close that it still feels as though they could reach out and touch it. Hope springs eternal, and for all the catastrophising that takes place on social media between matches, when the home games come around that support swings behind the team. When Everton turned up at Goodison for the Newcastle fixture, they were greeted by hundreds of supporters, blue smoke flares, the lot.

The atmosphere at full time was quite different, but not in the way that we might have expected. Everton supporters have earned a reputation for not holding back when their team has underperformed, and often in the most voluble way possible. But upon the final whistle against Newcastle things were different. The booing was muted, and instead a kind of hush fell over the stadium. If anything, it felt like a cloud of resignation falling over the old place, the realisation that this time around there may not be any dramatic moments of late salvation, as there have been at varying points over the last 30 years or so. 

Sean Dyche has five games left to save their season and their place in the Premier League, but much of the confidence in him seems to be draining away. Dyche came with the implied suggestion that he was a survival specialist, a Sam Allardyce des nos jours. But this all came at Burnley, a club that was perpetually fighting this sort of fight and which Dyche knew very well.

A relegation battle at Everton is turning out to be a very different beast. There’s existential angst in the air, a feeling that issues which have been fudged over a period of years may be building to a head, all the more so because the problems quite clearly run deeper than the manager or players alone.

This has only been accentuated by the Premier League charging them with breaches of FFP in March. Under Premier League rules, teams can make a maximum loss of £105million over three years, although special allowances were made for the COVID-19 pandemic. Everton recorded a total loss of nearly £372m over the past three years and the club has attributed at least £170m of that to the impact of the pandemic, although no explanation has been given as to why this should have been so much higher for them than practically any other club.

The numbers are certainly damning from just about every angle. Company accounts show Everton made a loss of ‘only’ £44.7m last season. That followed a £120.9m loss for the 2020/21 season and £139.8m in 2019-20. That £313.5m three-year loss is almost three times the £105m rolling three-year loss allowed under the league’s Profit & Sustainability Rules. On top of this, club owner Farhad Moshiri recently confirmed that the cost of building a new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock has now swollen to an eye-watering £760m – in addition to this, work is also running months behind schedule – while questions have already been raised over why the club wasn’t charged over breaching Profit & Sustainability Rules last year, when both Burnley and Leeds United briefly threatened legal action over the matter.

Critics have argued that the Premier League’s sudden interest in actually enforcing their own rules is ‘politically-motivated’. In other words, it is claimed that the league is suddenly keen to be seen as tough on enforcing their own rules because of the imminent imposition of an independent regulator for the game. This may or may not be the case, but the motivations for acting are surely only a minor matter for concern if the club is found to have been flagrantly breaking these rules in the first place.

On the pitch, Everton have five games left to save their season. Two of those look extremely tough. Their chances of success from a trip to Brighton may well be determined by their opponents’ ongoing reaction to losing their FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United. That they lost at Nottingham Forest may well give Everton hope that they can claim something from their trip, but Brighton may well be back on track by then. Few will be hoping for anything but avoiding abject humiliation from the other one, a home match against Manchester City. 

But their other three games are theoretically winnable. Leicester’s form has been little better than theirs in recent weeks, while it may be hoped that Wolves, who they travel to for their penultimate game of the season, may already have their minds elsewhere by then.

It all may yet come down to the last day and a home match against Bournemouth. The Cherries’ 1-0 win at Southampton has put them in a very similar position to Wolves, and Everton have been in this spot on the last day of the season before. If they’re still in touch by that point, Goodison Park will likely be a cauldron again. If they’re not, or if they fail to keep their heads above water this time, then their future could already be even more troublesome than it seems.