Moyes and Unsworth in the spotlight as Everton host West Ham in a battle of the crisis clubs
The Scot enjoyed the best spell of his career at the Merseyside club but has since overseen failed projects at Manchester United and Sunderland.
“Remember this date, because the good times are coming back to Goodison Park.”
It is not something many would pronounce with any great confidence on Wednesday night. But then those words were said on March 16, 2002. It proved one of the better predictions made at Everton.
Twenty-seven seconds into David Moyes’ reign as manager, David Unsworth, a defender deployed in midfield, scored. Fulham were beaten. Everton duly surged to safety.
“That was a great day,” Unsworth said. “I remember David's first [training] session, a great session, and he got a perfect start. He did a wonderful job.”
When Moyes and Unsworth reconvene on Wednesday night, it is with relegation forming a backdrop again. So, too, the start to managerial spells, which have not begun as well as Moyes’ 11-year odyssey at Goodison Park.
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The Scot has had two games at West Ham United, winning neither. The caretaker, and former West Ham player, Unsworth has had seven in charge of Everton, losing five.
They have conceded nine goals in the last two which, to put it another way, is as many goals as they let in in January, February and March put together. “It has been tough,” Unsworth said, in an understatement. “As a proud Everton man, I am hurting.”
He has been found wanting. Moyes has not flourished anywhere since leaving Everton. A reunion may get everyone involved dreaming of happier days, but it is a pivotal occasion.
Unsworth branded it a “must-win game”. It also offers an opportunity to capitalise on each other’s ineptitude. Strikers Andy Carroll and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who have one league goal between them, can savour the thought of defences who have conceded a combined 54 league goals, and vice versa.
It says something about the chaos at Everton that they appear in a greater crisis. Injuries to Leighton Baines and Michael Keane deprive them of their only eligible senior left-back and the man who ought to be their best defender. Oumar Niasse’s suspension for diving denies them the services of their unlikely top scorer.
"I have sympathy for Everton and David Unsworth,” Moyes said on Monday. His old club’s renewed interest in the former West Ham manager Sam Allardyce, who could be appointed this week, seems a sign of panic. He seems an expensive insurance policy against the drop.
Without referring directly to the 63-year-old Allardyce, Unsworth underlined a belief a manager is not a panacea to all Everton’s problems. He cited a need for character and experience.
The returns from injury of Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy, Yannick Bolasie and Ross Barkley, all about two weeks away from comebacks, cannot come soon enough. Those who have played have capitulated against Udinese and Southampton.
“We need men and we need mental toughness,” the caretaker manager said. “Those players who haven't got the bottle to take on the fight need to be honest and come forward. We need proven Premier League players, quickly and in early January.”
They lost Romelu Lukaku and if Everton have missed the £75 million (Dh366m) striker all season, which has been exacerbated by their failure to replace him, it could be particularly apparent on Wednesday night. He was a guarantee of goals against West Ham.
Instead, the attention switches to another who decamped to Old Trafford. Moyes got a guard of honour in his final game at Goodison as Everton manager, a reception that made tears fill his eyes.
Eleven months later, the abiding image was of the grim reaper in the crowd in a dismal defeat that proved his last game as United manager. Last season, his Sunderland side subsided meekly. Relegation duly followed.
Now, with Moyes’ current and former clubs the division’s two great underachievers, it is a growing threat.
Updated: November 28, 2017 06:56 PM