Never again, they said.
Never again could Everton, a permanent fixture in England's top soccer league since the 1950s, be dragged into the kind of end-of-season relegation scrap this storied club has found itself in far too many times for comfort over the last few years.
That was the widespread feeling inside Goodison Park on May 28 as Everton produced another last-day escape act — its third in less than three decades — to preserve its place in the Premier League and avoid slipping into the Championship and potentially financial ruin.
“We need to realize the mistakes we made this season,” Everton midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure said at the time.
Well, guess what? It looks to be happening again.
Three games in and Everton has no points and no goals. That hasn't happened before in the club's 145-year history. The start of the season almost went from very bad to worse on Wednesday when Sean Dyche's team entered the final 20 minutes of its English League Cup match against Doncaster — an opponent lying in last place in the fourth division — a goal down and posing minimal threat.
Late goals rescued a 2-1 victory but it was hardly the kind of performance to instil confidence in supporters ahead of what already looks to be a huge Premier League match on Saturday: Away to Sheffield United.
Neither team has a point and both seem destined for a season of struggle and to be among the relegation candidates.
That was to be expected of Sheffield United, recently promoted and a club that lost two of its best players — Sander Berge and Iliman Ndiaye — during the offseason and found it hard to replace them.
But Everton? Again?
So much for this being a campaign when Dyche restored “The Toffees” — as they are nicknamed — into a solid, hard-to-beat team, got Everton back up toward mid-table and brought some renewed hope ahead of the club's move to a new 53,888-capacity stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock for the start of the 2024-25 season.
There was a summer overhaul of the board — including the departure of CEO Denise Barrett-Baxendale — and the hope of new investment, reportedly from New York-based MSP Sports Capital.
There's been no sign of progress on that front, a major blow for a club which posted losses in excess of 430 million pounds ($540 million) over the last four years and has an outstanding Premier League charge for allegedly breaching profit and sustainability rules. It's a difficult situation for majority owner Farhad Moshiri, a British-Iranian billionaire and business partner of Russian metals tycoon Alisher Usmanov, who was sanctioned by the European Union last year in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — leading to Everton halting its major sponsorship with companies belonging to Usmanov.
Unsurprisingly, the business in the summer transfer window has been underwhelming, with 38-year-old Ashley Young joining on a free transfer, Jack Harrison — a winger currently injured — and Arnaut Danjuma — a forward who turned down Everton in favor of Tottenham last season — arriving on loan and young, unproven strikers Beto and Chermiti coming in for a combined $50 million.
On the field, Everton has already lost at home to Fulham and Wolverhampton and been thrashed 4-0 at Aston Villa. Its 121st season in the top flight is looking like being similar to many others in recent years — painful for the supporters of this founder member of the English league in 1888.
What might save Everton this season is the fact that the three teams who have just been promoted — Sheffield United, Luton and Burnley — already look ill-equipped to cope in the Premier League.
Saturday's game at Bramall Lane should, then, be instructive, even if Sheffield United's players themselves will be thinking there is no better time to get off the mark.
Burnley and Luton are also stuck on zero points, though they have played only two games each. Their meeting in round two was postponed because Luton's stadium at Kenilworth Road wasn't ready to stage the game.
It is now, and Luton hosts West Ham on Friday. Burnley is at home to Tottenham.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer