Sam Allardyce, Everton need to do more than just avoid relegation
The latest chapter in this season that refuses to end sees Everton and Newcastle preparing to squabble over ninth place in front of the TV cameras on Monday night. The eight days between Everton's 1-1 draw at Swansea and this match has felt like an eternity.
The current state of play heading into the last few matches underlines the disastrous nature of this campaign. The relative pointlessness of the last four matches has seen the recent fan survey and fallout dominate much of the build-up to this penultimate home game.
The widespread reaction in the past few days has helped highlight one of the lesser-discussed questions in the survey, relating to the representation of the club within the media, as former players and pundits raced to defend under-pressure manager Sam Allardyce.
Allardyce believes safety was the one and only goal, but he had the platform to do more than that. That there was never any attempt or inclination to seize that opportunity speaks volumes. Three wins in his first four matches lifted Everton from 13th to ninth as panic and relegation talk faded. Those results saw Everton head into the festive period within six points of Tottenham. The gap between the two teams now stands at 26 points.
Everton then survived a run of six league games without a win due to the equally poor form of the teams around them. The general hopelessness of the teams outside the top six meant successive home wins against Leicester and Crystal Palace saw the Toffees back in the mix, travelling to Watford in February just two points behind seventh-place Burnley with a trip to Turf Moor the following week.
Wins at Watford and Burnley would have put Everton seventh on their own and given them a three-point advantage over both Burnley and Leicester in the standings. But Everton lost both matches with little resistance and the two-point gap to Burnley has since stretched to 10 and ended any hopes of a belated European push.
This recap of the past few months shows that there was a chance to salvage more than just Premier League status from this season -- but Everton supporters are becoming the villains of the piece for wanting exactly that. This is the Allardyce PR machine in full effect, dumbing down expectations to such a low bar that supporters demanding better receive sneers from those outside the club.
There is something fundamentally amiss when supporters raising expectations attracts criticism while ex-players and pundits fall over themselves to champion the merits of a man whose greatest achievement is not being one of the worst three teams in the division each season.
Goodison Park may be dated, but history oozes from every pore of this 126-year-old stadium. It was the first major football stadium built in England and ties in with the many other firsts set by Everton over the years.
This is a club that used to set the mark for others to follow. The glory days of the past may be a distant memory, but those same standards should still help dictate the future. If Everton do not aspire to be the best -- however difficult or unattainable that may presently appear -- then everybody involved might as well pack up their things and call it quits.
Allardyce claims to have an understanding and appreciation for the size and stature of the club but has shown no evidence of it. Building up a 1-1 draw against a Swansea side fourth from bottom in the table as a heroic achievement offered a truer reflection of his nature. It was the latest misstep from a manager who has misunderstood Everton on every level.
Supporters want progress or at least the hope of it, something to believe in and a long-term vision they can get behind. Allardyce has offered none of those things thanks to a management style too preoccupied with the opposition.
This myopic outlook makes positive results seem like a bonus. Victories are happy accidents rather than something Everton set out to gain. There is zero belief and the club motto has become meaningless as the outward message is one of constant mediocrity.
This week has seen a succession of players, coaches and pundits within the media effectively tell Everton supporters they should be happy merely to see their club exist. That may be enough for Allardyce, but it is not enough for supporters and should not be enough for Everton.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.