Everton go into Sunday's Merseyside derby six points ahead of Liverpool. Thanks to the self-combustion of Kenny Dalglish's 18 months in charge and Bill Kenwright allowing David Moyes to invest at Goodison Park, the Blues are beginning to get over their inferiority complex.
For numerous reasons, Everton fans have a right to feel under-appreciated. Hundreds of miles away from the glare of the English capital, they also sit on the wrong side of Stanley Park. Liverpool, champions of England 18 times and European Cup winners on five occasions, dwarf their 'little brother'. The Reds have won six major trophies this decade whereas Everton last clutched silver in 1995 when they defeated Manchester United in the FA Cup final.
Desperately, city dominance has taken precedent. It happened in Manchester before City ended 35 years without a trophy, but Everton are suffering from a 17-year drought which has rarely shown signs of ending. "F**k off to Norway, the city is ours" they chant, in reference to Liverpool's large Scandinavian following. "F**k off to Kirby, the city is ours" is the Red reply, citing their neighbours' exploration of moving away from Goodison.
And away from L4, Everton's heritage is barely recognised. They have been English champions nine times - behind only Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal - but can barely conceal their disdain at the favourable treatment a club like Tottenham Hotspur, champions just twice, enjoy from pundits and media personnel.
Tim Cahill nods in a memorable equaliser in 2009:
And the infatuation with Liverpool in the mainstream, from the exaggerated praise of their supporters to the heart-wrenching Justice campaign, subordinates Everton's presence furthermore. Some supporters feel patronised and they have a point. Rarely has the opinion of sussed Everton fans a topic of discussion, and should someone have the gall to suggest Moyes is too negative a coach or the club are nestled deep in their comfort zone an ill-informed pundit will preach how lucky they are because of where they were when Moyes took over in March 2002.
The 'friendly derby' tag has hardly helped matters. It may be unfriendly now, but it is another stick used to beat Everton and their followers with as they have regularly finished second best to the red side. Or, as some Bluenoses would call them, the 'red s***e'.
It is a stigma which threatened to push Moyes himself towards the exit this summer. Not because of a lack of desire to succeed or affection for the club, but because Tottenham Hotspur had sacked Harry Redknapp and he had been in the job 10 years. In that time, although a vastly superior side to the shambles he inherited from Walter Smith, one could be forgiven for thinking Everton had barely taken a step forwards.
Everton 1-0 Liverpool, 2009 FA Cup fifth round
But the barometer of them advancing is, although they may not care to admit it, Liverpool. Last season Everton finished one place above their neighbours and that superiority has extended into the present campaign. Infamously slow starters, the Blues were on the charge before they were let off the leash when they bullied, and were dominant against, Manchester United on the opening day of the season whereas Liverpool experienced the ignominy of a 3-0 loss at West Brom.
Similarly, in 2005 Everton threatened to become media Scouse darlings after beating Liverpool to the final Champions League place, only Liverpool then won the Champions League. A lost love had returned and Everton were suddenly jilted.
In hindsight, 2005 was a one-off but Everton now pose a tangible threat to laying claim as the best team on Merseyside. Liverpool, unlike in 2005, now only boast one world-class player in Luis Suárez, on whom they are over-reliant on for a second successive season due to their failure to bolster an impotent strikeforce.
Everton 4-4 Liverpool, 1991 FA Cup fifth round replay
Moyes' Everton are a more balanced side than their opponents this weekend. Their weaknesses in past seasons have been reticent football (cynics would call it 's**t on a stick') and the thinness of their squad. Now they are an adventurous and enjoyable team to watch, free from the shackles of the (once?) dour Moyes.
Although it is questionable whether he is a more positive coach than Brendan Rodgers, Moyes has the added advantage of experience. He may even have relished playing at Anfield - a ground where he has never guided Everton to a win - despite waving the white flag at the Reds' home in March. The narrow FA Cup semi-final loss the following month was perhaps a more chastening experience simply because of how cowardly Everton were after they took a first half lead.
Champions League football is likely to beyond both sides for another season at least, but for Everton, it is a chance to to be more remind 'big brother' he doesn't stand so tall anymore.
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