Natural goal scorers have been a rare breed at Everton down the years. If you ask him David Moyes how many he’s has at his disposal in 10-seasons at Goodison Park he could probably count them all on one hand. It’s been the Toffees’ achilles heel for much of the Scots reign in the blue half of Merseyside.
Unfortunately for the modern striker doesn’t come cheap and it’s a position the club can ill afford to blow their meagre budget on. A decade of financial austerity has thwarted their attempts to make significant progress into upper echelons of the Premier League and the prosperous realms of European football. Having to survive on Moyes’ enviable knack of picking up a bargain was never going to be enough to fulfil their desired goals.
On the few occasions the 49-year-old has had cash burning a hole in his pocket it’s usually been frittered away on a front man that was found wanting under the weight of an expectant Everton fan base. England internationals James Beattie and Andy Johnson both failed to live up to their hype after big money moves. Yakubu looked like the answer to Moyes’ prayers after his move from Middlesbrough in 2007 scoring over 20 goals in his debut season. However a serious achilles injury in following campaign ultimately put paid to his Toffees career. In no uncertain terms they’ve sorely missed the presence of a penalty area predator dating back to the days of Tony Cottee and Gary Linekar.
So when Croatian international Nikicia Jelavic pitched up at Goodison Park on the final day of the January transfer window you couldn’t blame supporters for approaching their new £5.5 centre forward with a sense of trepidation. A stunning goal on his full debut at Tottenham set the Toffees tongues wagging before three underwhelming performances set off the usual alarm bells. Another case of flattering to deceive you might think. After all Jelavic was fresh from a prolific spell with Rangers in the SPL; a league perceptively weaker than England’s top-flight.
Yet six goals in as many games puts paid to the theory that the 26-year-old would be fighting a losing battle to replicate the hot form he displayed during his spell North of the border. But Jelavic’s contribution has stretched beyond more than just providing a steady stream of goals since his arrival on Merseyside. His presence in the final third has given Everton additional attacking purpose and yielded a shift in confidence for the players tasked with creating goal scoring opportunities.
The Toffees started the season without a recognised striker in the ranks forcing Moyes to utilise midfielders Tim Cahill or Marouane Fellaini in advanced roles. Whilst providing an aerial threat the duo weren’t accustomed to the role of a lone striker often finding themselves out of position and unable to offer the desired impact in the opposing penalty area. Fine approach play from the likes of Leon Osman was often wasted whilst deliveries from out wide were frequently left unchallenged.
Statistics don’t lie and Everton’s blunt attack has cost them precious points over the course of the season. In the 26 games up until Jelavic arrived they’d averaged around a goal a game. Seven draws and 10 defeats was an indication of their wastefulness. Infuriatingly for supporters performances weren’t inherently poor either. The issue was the Toffees’ lack of cutting edge in the striking department that saw them unable to build leads and clawing back deficits. Winning games was virtual impossible without a genuine attacking threat leading the line.
Last week’s 4-4 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford is a far cry from the difficulties faced prior to Jelavic’s introduction to the first team. The clinical Croat has inspired an abrupt change in mentality throughout the Everton ranks which has coincided with their best run of the season. Instead of attacking with an air of caution the Toffees creators in chief are now able to express themselves freely knowing their craftsmanship won’t be wasted.
Jelavic is a striker that comes alive both in and outside the penalty area and has bestowed a confidence in the players to take chances when in possession. They know that if the correct service is provided the former Rangers man will attack the ball ball with menace and devour any chances without a seconds hesitation. But theres more to his game that merely fulfilling his goalscoring quota. His tendency to pull away from defences, link up play and maintain Everton’s attacking momentum gives him an air of unpredictability making it difficult for centre halves to judge his movement. Pulling them out of position to create openings for the midfield to exploit demonstrates a level of intelligence rare in everyday strikers.
He’s got the Toffees faithful purring in delight with a series of dynamic displays that have proved to be the stimulus for a late season charge towards the top-six. Sadly for Moyes and co their usual sluggishness from the starting blocks means they’ll come up short on this occasion having to settle for another season of void of success. However it certainly will give them food for thought over the summer after Jelavic proved once and for all he’s the final piece of the Everton jigsaw.