Everton welcome Crystal Palace to Goodison Park on Wednesday night with the pressure starting to mount in their pursuit of Champions League qualification.
This Premier League fixture should have been played back in February but severe winds caused officials to cancel the game after the extreme weather caused roof slates to fall onto Goodison Road. Now Everton must continue to prove that their claim for fourth place is not just a bout of hot air.
With Arsenal beating mid-table West Ham 3-1 on Tuesday night to put them back into fourth spot, all eyes will be on Everton to see how they will respond. The Blues will reclaim fourth place with as little as a point from Wednesday’s game but with three tough fixtures in Manchester United, Southampton and Manchester City on the horizon, this will be a game the Everton faithful will be expecting to take maximum points from.
Roberto Martinez has no fresh injury concerns after coming out of Saturday’s 1-0 dog-fight at Sunderland unscathed. Phil Jagielka’s return from a hamstring injury is once again postponed meaning Everton’s back-line is expected to remain unchanged.
Having started Saturday’s game on the bench, Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas and Aiden McGeady are likely to feature prominently against Palace, with the likes of Steven Naismith, Leon Osman and Gerard Deulofeu being rested.
Crystal Palace have surprised most with the way they’ve quietly crept out of the danger zone and there’s no doubt their turn in fortunes has been down to the appointment of Tony Pulis.
Palace were quick to act within the first quarter of the season, axing Ian Holloway and replacing him with ex-Stoke City boss Pulis who built a reputation for producing hard to beat, robust teams with the grit to keep themselves in the Premier League against the odds.
That’s what Palace needed when Pulis took over in November and that’s exactly what they’ve got. His appointment signalled three wins in four. Form through Christmas and the New Year was patchy but not worrying, and a 1-0 win at home to Chelsea at the end of March set the Londoners on a three game winning streak which they bring to Goodison Park.
Their recent run of form has allowed them to pull clear of the relegation zone which looked certain to consume them before Pulis took over, and was more than a threat up until a few weeks ago. Palace sit in 12th with a seven point gap between them and 18th placed Fulham with a game in hand.
But with two home games with Man City and Liverpool and a final game crunch match away to Fulham, the Eagles will want to get as many points on the board as possible before their final three games.
Likely Line Ups
Everton Howard; Baines, Distin, Stones, Coleman; Barry, McCarthy; Osman, Barkley, Mirallas; Lukaku
Crystal Palace Speroni; Mariappa, Dikcagoi, Ward, Dann; Delaney, Puncheon, Jedinak, Ledley, Jerome, Bolasie
James McCarthy- the role of a defensive central midfielder can easily go unnoticed but there’s no doubt in the minds of the majority of Toffees that McCarthy plays a vital role.
In fact it’s hard to imagine an Everton team without him, be it before his deadline day arrival or in the recent future. The midfielder came on as a sub against Chelsea back in September and hasn’t looked back, featuring in every league game since then. The £13 million paid to prise him from Wigan Athletic was largely baulked at but it’s since become clear what Martinez knew about him all along.
Apart from doing the dirty work in the middle of the park (chasing down opposing players, squeezing the play, restricting space and putting in robust and sometimes last-ditch tackles) the Republic of Ireland man is a fine passer of the ball and is just as comfortable with the ball at his feet as his partner in crime, Gareth Barry.
He has an average pass completion rate of 87% and has won 71 tackles (a 50% success rate), adding substance to the claim that not only is McCarthy important in winning the ball back for Everton, but he’s a working cog in Martinez’s wonderful passing machine.
If there’s one thing we can be sure of Pulis’s Palace on Wednesday, it will be a team well-drilled and prepared for a physical battle before anything else. McCarthy will be important in matching this determination and helping Everton play.
Stats courtesy of @joe_strange (Squawka): http://www.squawka.com/news/2014/04/16/mccarthy-vs-palace/2014041697374
Jason Puncheon- with the exception of an emphatic 3-0 win at Cardiff Palace have built their recent success on a firm, leak-free defence, winning games by a single margin.
Puncheon came up with the only goal of the game against Aston Villa at the weekend and the attacking midfielder has been vital to the Palace cause this season.
Capable of playing as a forward or on either wing, the ex QPR man has skill and pace with which to terrorise defenders. If Palace are to take anything from Goodison Park they will need to rely not only on their robust defence (a defence Martinez praised as being the best in the league), but on the 27 year-old’s ability to come up with a goal.
Last Time Out
Crystal Palace 0-0 Everton, Selhurst Park, Saturday 9th November 2013
If there was ever a game on Match of the Day not worth staying up for, this was it. Everton’s fine early season form appeared to waver in November and this was a consecutive goalless draw for the Blues following a shut-out vs Tottenham.
Everton 4-0 Crystal Palace, Goodison Park, Sunday 10th April 2005
The last time the two teams met at Goodison Park provides Blues with a spooky omen heading into a vital end of season run-in. Everton welcomed the Eagles in April 9 years ago, and goals from Mikel Arteta and James Vaughan complimented a Tim Cahill brace gave them victory.
Later that week Manchester United came to Goodison and a Duncan Ferguson header all but assured fourth spot and Champions League qualification.
Who is it coming to town on Sunday…?
Crystal Palace- LDLWWW