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Europa League round of 16 draw

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Neglected Maracana to reopen in March


Progress despite adversity

It was a statement of the obvious, but it was also notable for what he did not say. He did not moan about the two-match ban that deprived him of his costliest buy in the two games the fans regard as the biggest of the season. Nor did he whinge about the absence of an entire forward line. He did not take the opportunity to suggest his luck was out, or that he needed millions of pounds to bolster his squad in January.

Instead, on Monday night, David Moyes simply said: "All clubs get suspensions and all clubs get injuries." It was a matter-of-fact pronouncement, yet in stark contrast to his counterparts' continual complaints. An acceptance of the realities of Everton's situation has brought a show of resourcefulness from their manager. A lack of strikers has not equated to lack of goals.

A lack of the suspended Marouane Fellaini has not meant Everton did not pose an aerial threat, as Tim Cahill proved when heading their equaliser in Monday's Merseyside derby. A bench populated by players barely old enough to vote has proved no hindrance, either.

In seven games without a specialist striker, Everton have earned five wins and two draws, against Chelsea and Liverpool. It is an endorsement of Moyes' management. While some clubs stockpile strikers, Everton have prospered without them. Indeed, so well have they done without a conventional attack that even with Victor Anichebe available at Anfield on Monday, he was deployed on the right flank instead.

Instead, Cahill's prowess as an emergency striker meant he continued as the most advanced player. His previous pairing with Fellaini - two attacking midfielders supported by either two or three others - presented an unusual challenge for defences. Necessity has brought invention, just as it did two seasons ago when Joleon Lescott gravitated from the role of makeshift left-back to the first choice, at the expense of players accustomed to operating there.

Indeed, it is testament to Everton's spirit that they have fared best when their resources have been stretched the most. They have displayed both the fitness and resolve to score a series of late goals, even when a shortage of personnel means Moyes is reluctant to make substitutions.

Adversity clearly suits them, and being deprived of Yakubu Ayegbeni, Louis Saha and James Vaughan and, at times, Joseph Yobo and Fellaini, has coincided with their ascent on the table. Languishing in 16th place after eight games, they now stand sixth.

Moyes recently talked about how the "Big Four" could become a "Big Six". A glance at the standings shows that would incorporate Aston Villa and Everton. A look at the spending league would invoke mention of Manchester City, but it is no coincidence that Everton have outperformed wealthier clubs.

Moyes' initial achievement of finding bargains - Cahill (£1.75m) probably represents the best, just ahead of Mikel Arteta (£2.5m) - has been accompanied by his ability to engineer loyalty in his recruits.

Cahill and Arteta are among a core of players of a calibre to figure for a club accustomed to Champions League football - albeit probably as squad members rather than automatic choices - but none have publicly hankered for such a move. Yobo, Lescott, Phil Jagielka and Tim Howard seem similarly content to remain at Goodison Park.

Progress has come at a moderate price. The entire team fielded at Anfield cost little more than Fernando Torres. While Fellaini's fee is often reported as £15 million, it is believed the initial payment is around half of that. The rest depends upon various clauses.

The sales of first James McFadden and then Andrew Johnson show Moyes, on and off the field, is working with limited resources. The work ethic of the sides he sends out, however, mean Everton maintain the bond between player and supporter that many clubs have lost amid delusions of grandeur and continued calls for investment.

Despite the global search for the super-rich to bail out big spenders, that should be the reality of football management. If it is meritocratic as well as financially responsible, it should earn him other opportunities.

Approaching his seventh anniversary at Goodison Park, Moyes' considerable achievements make him the best qualified manager to take over at one of the elite clubs, especially as Martin O'Neill already has a billionaire benefactor at Villa Park. A trophy would cement that status, though it will take a second result at Anfield inside a week in Sunday's FA Cup tie to preserve Everton's interest in the FA Cup.

But where could Moyes go? It is inconceivable Moyes could manage Liverpool. Manchester United and Arsenal benefit from the long-term stability of managers who are averse to alternative offers and retirement. There may be vacancies at Chelsea and Manchester City first, but both seem certain to look abroad, and Merseyside only feels like another country. Clubs in the Champions League - or, in City's case, aiming to be there - often only hire managers with a pedigree in Europe. Which leaves the league's third-longest serving manager at Goodison Park, quietly providing an example to the whingers and whiners of his profession with no strikers and no excuses.


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