EVERYBODY loves a good statistic. Yet some are a lot less obvious than others.
Take Everton’s trip to Southampton next Monday, a clash that, on the face of it, doesn’t appear to hold any great significance other than an opportunity for both sides to earn, for differing reasons, a much-needed three points.
But as seasoned Goodison campaigners are acutely aware, it’s around this time of the year their team start to begin the long sprint for the finishing line.
And the 23rd Premier League game has, by sheer coincidence, proven a welcome portent of what is to come.
Not since the 4-3 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur back in 2003, when Leon Osman trotted on from the bench for his debut, have Everton lost such a match.
The corresponding game last year was the memorable 1-0 home victory over Manchester City which, coupled with the unveiling of Nikica Jelavic, the matchwinning goal of fellow new boy and the later return of Steven Pienaar, represented a turning point for David Moyes’s side.
Everton had won only two of their previous 10 Premier League games to languish dangerously close to the relegation zone.
But the confidence of that win over the champions elect propelled Everton towards Wembley, an FA Cup semi-final and just two defeats in their final 16 league games.
It has become a feature of the Goodison outfit under Moyes, their strong finish to the season often leading to a lament the start wasn’t as profitable.
This term, though, is different. With just three defeats in 22 games – only Manchester City have lost fewer – Everton sit in fifth place, three points adrift of the Champions League qualification berth.
Last weekend’s frustrating goalless draw at home to Swansea City highlighted why Moyes’s men aren’t even nearer to the front-runners.
It was their 10th draw of the season, eight of which came in an 11-match spell during the autumn.
The three previous occasions under Moyes that Everton had earned at least 37 points at this stage of the season, they finished in the top five.
A repeat of last season’s final few months would provide enough points – 67 – to finish fifth in each of the last six seasons.
But skipper Phil Neville has warned there is no automatic guarantee the Goodison side will continue the trend of recent years.
“There’s a great vibe at Finch Farm at the moment and so there should be,” he says. “There’s so much belief and confidence throughout the squad and we know on our day we are a match for anyone in the Premier League. We’ve proved it often enough.
“But there’s certainly no complacency. There’s so much to play for and look forward to as the second half of the season kicks in.