Everton travel to Championship side Middlesbrough tonight in the quarter-final of the Capital One Cup. The Toffees last won a trophy back in 1995 at Wembley with an unexpected 1-0 victory over Manchester United.
That day like many Evertonians I did not expect to be sitting here twenty years later with the Blues having not won another trophy. The Toffees are currently enduring their longest post-war trophy draught.
This competition now offers Everton fans real hope that their team will finally win that elusive piece of silverware.
A mental block
During the last two decades clubs which are traditionally considered smaller than the Toffees have won trophies, challenged for the Premier League title, and even won the league in Blackburn Rovers case.
Everton have had a lot of good teams in that time, mostly in the David Moyes era and more recent under Roberto Martinez. The problem has never been talent, but more of a mental block.
It is the same mental block that sees Toffees inexplicably incapable of beating Liverpool, even when they are at their lowest ebb, like earlier this season in Brendan Rodgers last game.
Maybe the expectation of the success starved fans gets to the players, but they seem to go to pieces on the big occasion.
Everton is in the group of teams capable of getting into the top four. However the difference in the quality of players that plays for the title challenging teams and the European chasing team’s is maybe where the mental differences lie.
A talented group
Everton have a talented group of players and finally have some depth in their squad. Toffees bosses have worked on a tight budget compared to some of their rivals in recent years. However the Toffees have some of the brightest young prospects in the country in the likes of Ross Barkley and John Stones.
Martinez’s side also have the foreign talent of Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu, two of the most exciting attacking players Everton have had for a long time. At times under Moyes Everton lacked goals, but were defensively solid.
Under Martinez, this season anyway, it has been the opposite. Lukaku and co. are hard to stop going forward, but the defence look to have been taking defensive coaching from the Newcastle backline. The scheduled return to fitness of captain Phil Jagielka later this month will hopefully improve that defensive solidarity.
The current Everton team has a fantastic chance of success this season, but only if youngster John Stones and Jagielka’s temporary replacement Ramiro Funes Mori can keep it together at the back.
Difficult lower league opposition
Middlesbrough away represents a major obstacle for Everton to negotiate. Boro knocked out Manchester United at Old Trafford in the last round, albeit on penalty kicks.
Under former-Real Madrid defender Aitor Karanka the north east side are once again mounting a challenge for promotion to the Premier League. They could currently sit second in the Championship table and considered one of the better teams in the second tier. Despite those facts Everton are still favourites to make it to the semi-finals at odds of 8/5.
Everton fans will take nothing for granted though. The Toffees have a history of suffering defeats against lower league opposition in both cup competitions, which has been part of the reason why the side from Merseyside have not claimed a trophy in the last two decades.
The likes of Shrewsbury, Port Vale and Oldham are just some of the lower league teams to have knocked the Toffees out of cup competitions since that 1995 FA Cup triumph.
Previous boss David Moyes often fielded weakened line-ups in cup competitions. However, Martinez has picked relatively strong line-ups in the cup competitions, maybe resting a few of his stars, but maintaining a strong core eleven.
Everton have a propensity for doing things the hard way though, just like last time out in this competition, only beating Premier League rivals Norwich on penalty kicks at Goodison Park.
It has been a long wait for Everton fans and from a completely selfish point of view I hope that wait ends this season. However, like many Everton fans I have become very cynical about our team’s chances of success.
It really would not surprise me if Boro were the team to progress to the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup, because Everton have flattered to deceive far too many times in the last two decades in cup competitions
Will Everton end their wait for silverware this season?