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South African star is central to the new-look, attacking Everton

Not since the glory days of the 1980s have Evertonians been so enthused about their side as they have been this season.

Sure there have been some highs, the 1995 FA Cup final win over Manchester United and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League at the end of the 2004/05 season.

But both those success were achieved with gritty, battling sides that produced results, but little in the way of entertainment.

The Class of 2012 appears to be providing both though, rising to second in the Premiership table on the back of 123 shots on goal in six matches so far this season – on average the most of any club in the top leagues in Europe.

Manager David Moyes has often been accused of trying to play dour, defensive football, often by Evertonians themselves, but his purchases in the last 12 months suggest a move away from that style towards something more flamboyant.

Since the end of last season in have come strikers Steven Naismith, Kevin Mirallas and Matthew Kennedy, attacking midfielder Steven Pienaar and left-wingback Brian Oviedo. All add attacking strength to the team, there has not been a defensive player in sight.

And although 17-year-old Kennedy is one for the future, the rest of the new arrivals have been thrust straight into first-team action and look as though they have transformed the team from one that at the turn of the year was among the lowest scorers in the Premiership.

Of course, the arrival of the world-class Nikica Jelavic from Glasgow Rangers in January could prove the best piece of business yet by Moyes, a manager who has a succession of outstanding buys behind his name.

The upshot is that the pieces of the puzzle are coming together very nicely for Everton. Just how far they can go this season remains to be seen, but for the first time in a long while, fans have dared to dream.

And they are winning over plenty of admirers from other clubs outside of their traditional rivals as well, purely for the attacking brand of football they have displayed.

What will be interesting is how what happens when the arduous English season begins to take its toll and the inevitable injuries and suspensions deplete Moyes of his bigger stars.

It would be fair to say that The Toffees have a starting XI that could match any side in the Premiership on their day, but look to the match-day bench and it starts to look ask questions.

Moyes has always operated with a small squad, partly because he has had to due to the parlous state of the club’s finances, but also because he wants a tight-knit group who will rally for each other when the chips are down.

He will be boosted by the decision of South African attacking midfielder Steven Pienaar to retire from international football. Moyes faced losing the 30-year-old to the Africa Cup of Nations for possibly six weeks in January and February, traditionally one of the busiest times of the campaign.

It would have been a huge blow, not just because of the versatility of ‘Schillo’ in being able to play right across the midfield and act as cover both left and right, but also because of the energy he brings to the side.

His partnership with full-back Leighton Baines gives Everton the best left-side in the Premiership and the number of chances created from their combinations is remarkable.

Baines seemed a shadow of his usual self when Pienaar left for Tottenham Hotspur in January 2011, and the South African’s return has probably been the biggest factor in Baines working his way back into the England national team.

Why Pienaar failed at Tottenham is difficult to really know. Injuries were a factor, for sure, but he also never really felt loved and appreciated at White Hart Lane. The fans never took to him and Harry Redknapp seemed loathe to use him at times.

But at Everton he is adored and he is the type of player who responds to that in kind. If Everton are to make a serious challenge for a top four finish this season (or perhaps even a title tilt?) then he will be central to that success.

There are those who suggest Everton’s lofty position in the table is down to their fairly gentle start to the season kindly handed to them by the Premiership fixture computer. After Manchester United on the opening weekend, they have not played a top four side since.

But that would be unfair, you can only play what is in front of you and who can say that would have not fared equally as well had their good run involved the likes of Chelsea or Arsenal as well?

These are heady days for the Goodison faithful, but Moyes will know more than anyone that unless they can come out of this season with either a trophy or a return to Europe, it will be a major disappointment.

The Scot has now been in charge for over a decade and worked near miracles to keep Everton in the top half of the table for most of that time having to sell his best stars at times just to keep the bank manager at bay.

But he will know the time has come to deliver and this season looks his best chance yet before the likes of Marouane Fellaini, Jelavic or Mirallas are possibly prized away.

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