James Garner exclusive interview: Feeling at Everton under ‘old school’ Sean Dyche different after rollercoaster start | Football News

James Garner says Sean Dyche’s positive mentality has created a “different feeling” as Everton seek to ease relegation fears this weekend.

Aston Villa visit Goodison Park on Sunday, live on Sky Sports, with the midfielder looking to end the club’s five-game run without a victory in all competitions.

Back in August, Garner admits he and his team-mates were below-par as they were beaten 4-0 by Unai Emery’s side – but in keeping with his one-and-a-half years on Merseyside, a Carabao Cup win only a matter of weeks later at Villa Park underlined what Everton are capable of producing on their day.

“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster, to be honest with you,” Garner exclusively tells Sky Sports News reporter Vinny O’Connor.

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“My first few months were quite tough as I suffered quite a serious injury and that was my first one. It was quite hard to have it at such an early stage. I worked so hard to get back fit and I finally did.

“Ever since then, I’ve been present in the team which I’m happy about and grateful for. This season, there is a different feel going into every game.

“I’m not worried at all, and I am going into every game thinking we can win. Last season, it was a case of thinking, ‘we’ll take a point’, but now we’re disappointed when we don’t win.”

Garner had to grow up fast, having left home when he was 11 years old to live closer to Manchester United’s academy. It meant being away from his mother for up to six days of the week.

The experience helped shape him into someone comfortable in his own company and capable of handling hardship.

One thing he has carried with him into adulthood is a hatred of losing. Following Everton’s recent 3-0 defeat at Wolves, Garner admitted he spent the rest of the weekend stewing on the setback.

James Garner celebrates his goal
James Garner scored his first goal against Bournemouth

But reflecting on the start of his time at the club, fitness issues were the main frustration.

“It was tough as I wasn’t around the team much,” he recalls. “That’s how you build your connections on and off the field. I was on my own for the first few months with the physios and the lads in the gym. It hinders you [bedding in] with the lads.”

The departure of Frank Lampard, the manager who signed him, and the arrival of Dyche as his replacement added to Garner’s uncertainty.

“It was a slight worry at first,” he continues. “But I believed and backed my ability. When the new manager came in, I just knew I had to get fit within the first few weeks and just show him what I’m about.

James Garner celebrates after scoring against Aston Villa
Garner was on target against Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup

“They [Lampard and Dyche] are the complete polar opposite but that’s all part of being a player. You don’t have the same manager for 20 years.

“It’s very rare so you get used to there being changes, even if you don’t move clubs. You have to be able to adapt to a certain playing style and a certain character. The gaffer at the moment is very old school.

“There aren’t many managers out there at the moment that I know of who are like that. It’s his way, and I don’t think he’ll come away from that.”

Dyche’s approach is having a positive effect, albeit the club’s 10-point deduction means they are still in relegation trouble.

A four-game winning run before Christmas was derailed by a penalty shootout exit in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals against Fulham followed by three straight Premier League defeats over the festive period.

The visit of Villa, who can go top with a victory, means it doesn’t get any easier for Everton at the start of 2024.

“We knew we were going to be up against it,” says Garner. “But from my point of view there was no panic because the performances just before we got the deduction were really good.

“We’d just picked up some points and there’s a different feel this year in terms of the team.

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“In the last few weeks, the performances have been good – we’ve just had the results. We’ve been playing against some of the top teams in the league.

“On another day against Tottenham, we get the three points. Stuff happens, and against Manchester City we were leading, came away from it for a tiny bit of the game and it go away from us.”

Garner has played in 19 of the club’s 20 Premier League games this season, including 18 starts, only missing out on the home win over Newcastle in December due to illness.

With one goal and an assist, he has already surpassed his career total for goal involvements in the Premier League prior to this season – but the player his hungry for a lot more.

When making his £15m from Manchester United in September 2022, Garner admits he did not foresee the team struggling to retain their top-flight status.

Amadou Onana and Abdoulaye Doucoure celebrate after going 1-0 up
Garner has formed a formidable midfield with Amadou Onana and Abdoulaye Doucoure

“I never knew this was going to happen. I never knew I would be in a relegation battle, I never knew that midway through the next season we’re going to get deducted 10 points.

“For me personally, you can only focus on what you can control. That’s staying fit and playing well at the weekend.

“When the 10-point deduction happened, I wasn’t nervous thinking it’s going to be the same season as last season because there is a different feel around the team this year.

“There’s a lot of positives to take and we just need to carry on with our positive performances.”

Garner is from the Wirral but ended up as part of Manchester United’s academy by the age of eight.

James Garner and Jack Grealish compete for a header
Garner has only missed one league game this term

Capped by England at every level from U17 to U21s – and despite loan spells at Watford and Nottingham Forest – he only made seven senior appearances at United before his departure.

“My experiences at Manchester United were different,” says Garner. “I was a kid in that dressing room. I was considered one of the young ones, so I felt a bit more out of it in terms of being part of the team.

“Here, I feel a part of the team and one of the main guys now that are helping the team each week.

“Here, there have been more tough times which have helped prepare you. On the last day, it was do-or-die. We needed three points and there was no other option.

“As a person and as a player, I feel I rise to those occasions. They’re the moments that bring the best out of me.”

James Garner scored Everton's opener against Aston Villa
The midfielder is keen to add more goals to his game

Garner’s battle to overcome adversity at Everton is in contrast to his success on the international stage, where he was named in the 2023 UEFA U21 Championship team of the tournament as England won the Euros.

“It was a bit of a contrast,” he admits. “Bu the joy I felt on the last day of the Premier League season [beating Bournemouth] was just as good as that final win in the Euros.

“It’s a winning season and that’s what I crave.”

Garner played as a right wing-back at times under Lee Carsley at that tournament, while he has also had to operate in multiple positions this term under Dyche.

That could continue this weekend with both Idrissa Gueye and Dwight McNeil missing from Everton’s midfield options.

Liverpool's Ryan Gravenberch and Everton;s James Garner (right) battle for the ball
Garner grew up on the Wirral but joined Man Utd aged 8

“Central midfield is my preferred role, but if the manager needs me to play right-back or right wing and feels I can do a job for the team, then I’m more than happy to do it.

“I feel like I’m a consistent player and that’s important. It’s no good being a 10/10 one week and then a 2 or 3/10 in the next.”

Garner is focused on gradual gains in the hope it might even catch the attention of England manager Gareth Southgate.

“That doesn’t play on my mind one bit. I wouldn’t want to say I’m a long way from that, as it would be a dream and the peak to represent my country at senior level.

“I need to continue what I’m doing and add a lot more goals and assists. It’s something I feel I’m lacking this season. I know it’s something I can definitely do but there’s no point doing it on the training pitch where no one sees it.

“I just have to start doing it in games but I’m not worried as time is on my side. If I have a good run between now and when the squad is chosen, there’s no reason why I can’t be part of the squad in the summer. I am a winner, and if I don’t win my weekend is ruined.”

Abdoulaye Doucoure celebrates after putting Everton ahead against Chelsea
Doucoure has missed the last five games with injury

Everton should welcome Abdoulaye Doucoure back from injury this weekend following a five-game absence. His comeback is timely with Idrissa Gana Gueye absent due to Africa Cup of Nations duty with Senegal.

The team have suffered without its leading goalscorer, whose reading of the game has enabled him to score six times this season.

“Abdoulaye is a key player in this team – not only for his off-the-ball work,” says Garner. “We always joke that if he was standing by the corner flag and someone had a shot, the ball would rebound straight back to him!

“He’s always in the right place at the right time. I’m hoping when he’s back fit, he can keep doing the same thing. He works his socks off every game and is so important for what this manager wants for his team.”

Dyche: McNeil very lucky ankle injury not serious

Dwight McNeil's ankle injury is being monitored
Dwight McNeil’s ankle injury is being monitored

Sean Dyche admits Dwight McNeil got lucky with his ankle injury and will not be sidelined for too long.

The winger was carried off on a stretcher in last week’s FA Cup third-round tie at Crystal Palace with fears he faced an extended absence.

However, further examination has revealed McNeil could be back in contention as early as Wednesday’s replay at Goodison Park.

“He’s been very lucky. Obviously when people go off on a stretcher it looks alarming,” said the Toffees boss, ahead of Sunday’s visit of Aston Villa.

“Sometimes them injuries they can fool you. It looked a nasty one, and it felt nasty at the time, but it has settled quick.

“I doubt he will make this one [against Villa] but the next one he has got a chance. He’s been very lucky, I think, because it did look an awkward one.”

Watch Everton vs Aston Villa live on Sky Sports Premier League on Sunday from 1pm; kick-off 2pm.

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