The Story of Everton's 2012-13 Season in 5 Pivotal Matches
As the Premier League gradually reaches its climax, fans will no doubt spend large periods of time debating the key moments their side either gained or surrendered the initiative during crunch moments this season.
For Everton, this year's target was very much European football, something usually obtained by finishing in the top six or seven of the Premier League.
The Toffees' rapid start and continued presence in and around the top four even raised expectations of a Champions League place being possible.
Sadly, for the club, it now seems unlikely that top-four place will be taken, and—given several strange cup upsets—unusually, it also seems a top-six finish won't be good enough for Europe either.
While that scenario would obviously tarnish the season in the eyes of David Moyes, given how competitive his side have been and how long they have challenged, it's hard to summarise this year as anything other than a positive one at Goodison Park.
Here's a look at five matches that proved especially decisive in defining this current campaign.
August 2012: Everton 1-0 Manchester United
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Everton started the season in emphatic fashion, with an resounding 1-0 home win over a heavily fancied Manchester United side.
Despite being perennial slow starters under David Moyes, the Toffees were impressive throughout, slick going forward and robust at the back.
Marouane Fellaini gave the first of a string of imperious showings for the club, grabbing the only goal to hand his side a memorable opening-day win.
Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines were similarly impressive and talk of a possible Champions League place began almost simultaneously as the referee blew the final whistle.
Given how consistent United have been this season, losing just three of their next 32 league games, the result has only grown in significance since August.
November 2012: Fulham 2-2 Everton
Scott Heavey/Getty Images
If Everton are to miss out on European football next term, the main reason will be the barrage of points dropped during the dying stages of games, as well as a frustrating amount of draws.
There was one particularly painful stretch through October and November where the Toffees managed to draw seven of nine games, despite dominating vast periods of each contest.
Everton's 2-2 draw away at Fulham best captures both traits.
Moyes' side fell behind early to a sweetly struck Bryan Ruiz free-kick, before proceeding to completely dicate the rest of the encounter.
Fellaini scored twice to give the visitors a deserved lead, yet Fulham somehow managed to level the game with the last kick of the match, through Steve Sidwell.
The postgame stats only intensified Evertonians' dejection, having seen their side hit 27 shots to Fulham's nine and create 19 chances to their opponent's seven.
To date, the Toffees have only created more chances and registered more shots at goal in one other match over the course of the season.
March 2013: Everton 0-3 Wigan
Michael Steele/Getty Images
The FA Cup has always been a trophy of primary importance to Everton. The club boast an impressive heritage in the competition and with the Toffees currently enduring a rather lengthy trophy drought, fans expect their side to take it extremely seriously.
With it also becoming increasingly apparent Europe may not be given to the sixth-placed team in the Premier League, there was also the extra incentive of trying to qualify for the Europa League via the cup.
Having defeated Cheltenham, Bolton and Oldham en route to the last eight, few could argue the Toffees were not afforded an especially favourable draw this year, especially when handed a quarterfinal tie at home to Wigan.
However, despite an expectant full house at Goodison Park, the Toffees put in their most abject performance of the season, crashing to a humiliating 3-0 defeat.
Given the fact Wigan are now on their way to Wembley and almost certainly in Europe (having easily passed Millwall in the semifinal), it will take a lot for fans to fully forget this performance.
The match certainly defines the season and was unquestionably the fans' lowest point of the year.
March 2013: Everton 2-0 Manchester City
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Following such a debacle against Wigan, many fans felt Everton's season would simply fizzle out into insignificance, especially with Europe seeming increasingly out of reach.
The fact Manchester City were next on the Toffees' schedule only increased the general dejection among the majority of supporters.
Determined to put the Wigan game behind them, Everton rallied and thankfully gave their fans something to smile about with a rousing display against the Premier League champions.
Despite a red card to Steven Pienaar, Leon Osman's banana kick and Nikica Jelavic's late strike secured a 2-0 win and ensured Goodison Park was back to its vociferous best.
The three points were also significant in sparking a run of late-season form for the Toffees, who won four of the five games after losing to Wigan and re-entered the race for Europe.
April 2013: Tottenham 2-2 Everton
Clive Rose/Getty Images
The recent 2-2 draw at Tottenham may ultimately prove the most decisive game of Everton's season, as well as being another painful one for fans to digest.
Sitting a couple of points behind the top four, the game was a great chance for Moyes' side to wrestle the initiative off one of the more fancied sides for the Champions League.
Having fallen behind to an early strike from Emmanuel Adebayor, the Toffees took the game to Spurs, equalising through Phil Jagielka before a piece of individual brilliance from Kevin Mirallas gave the away side a surprise 2-1 lead.
Everton went on to defend resiliently for the rest of the game only to come unstuck three minutes from time, as Gylfi Sigurdsson levelled the match. Victor Anichebe still had time to win the game in the dying seconds, but was denied when played in one-on-one against Hugo Lloris.
Of course, it's still possible for this match to prove completely irrelevant if Everton can go on to upset the odds and gatecrash the top four, although, at the moment, this feels a more likely defining moment.
As mentioned in the opening slide, despite the final tone being a case of so near, yet so far for the Toffees, it's predominantly been a very successful season for the club, who once again seem only a slice of investment away from the big time.
Statistics via EPL Index