Everton travel to St. James’ Park tonight for their Premier League clash with Newcastle United.
Everton should go into the tie feeling confident after back-to-back victories over Cardiff and Swansea, however the manner of those victories were not exactly convincing.
The Anglo-Welsh battles at fortress Goodison- where Everton have taken maximum points since their 1-0 Boxing Day loss to Sunderland- were expected wins but it could have been very different.
While Cardiff looked set to leave with a point after a 90 minute siege of David Marshall’s goal, a last-minute Seamus Coleman effort which had more than a touch of fortune about it, left Blues feeling elated.
Saturday’s visit of Swansea saw the visitors lay claim to Goodison Park, enjoying 59% of overall possession and registering more shots on target (7 to our 6) and more attempts at goal (21 to our 9). While the game seemed done and dusted after Ross Barkley nodded in the third before the hour, the remaining 30 minutes consisted of a series of wasted chances by Gary Monk’s side who could only muster an Ashley Williams goal in injury time.
But the six points have put the Blues within eight points of annual Premier League bottlers Arsenal in fourth and so the dream of Champions League football, which so quickly disappeared after the nightmarish 4-0 derby defeat, has returned to tease those romantics among us.
Roberto Martinez is one such romantic and has been busy in the press talking up Everton’s chances of pipping Arsenal and Tottenham in the unpredictable race for fourth. James McCarthy is not ruling out such an achievement either, telling the Liverpool Echo:
“We will keep playing until it is not possible. We have got eight points between us and we have a game in hand. Arsenal are still to come here. It’s still open. They will be looking over their shoulder a bit now”
Should Everton win their game in hand and beat Arsenal at Goodison Park next month then the gap will be shortened to just two points. But there are still so many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, none more unpredictable than Everton’s form.
It is at this stage in recent seasons under David Moyes that Everton’s annual late surge for something resembling success falls unceremoniously away and any chance the Toffees have of finishing fourth this time rely heavily on other teams slipping up.
But will it be different this year? While the Blues have not won away from home in the Premier League since their trip to Swansea on 22nd December (the last of just four away wins this season), the recent performances on the road have been encouraging, especially at White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge.
If Everton can impose themselves on teams away from home as they did against the current league leaders they will give themselves a huge chance of taking three points more often than not, especially now leading scorer Romelu Lukaku is back amongst the goals.
Back on home turf, the Toffees welcome Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City before the season’s out, but when was the last time we feared the visit of the big boys?
Newcastle are having somewhat of a mixed season. Early struggles suggested a tough campaign ahead for the Magpies, especially after Everton cast them aside so easily in the first half of the 3-2 win back in September.
But Alan Pardew’s side are keeping themselves within touching distance of the European chasers and have never really looked like being sucked into the 10 team relegation dog-fight. Lying eight points adrift of Everton having also played a game more, their attentions may well begin to turn to ensuring they keep hold of 8th place with Southampton just a point behind them.
Newcastle will be without the touch-line influence of their manager Pardew after his ‘head-butt’ on Hull City’s David Meyler. Losing by a single goal to relegation bound Fulham and a last-gasp 1-0 win over another relegation bound side in Crystal Palace suggest a side with little to play for, going through the motions.
Likely Line Ups
Everton– Howard; Baines, Distin, Stones, Coleman; McCarthy, Barry; McGeady, Barkley, Mirallas; Lukaku
Newcastle– Krul; Dummet, Coloccini, Williamson, Yanga-Mbiwa; Anita, Tiote; Sissoko, Ben Arfa; Cisse, de Jong
Romelu Lukaku– Everton’s last two league away performances did much to warrant at least a point in each game but the Toffees returned from their trips to the capital empty-handed. Had ‘The Beast’ been fit and in form for those games then the current league standing may well have a very different make up.
If Lukaku gets the kind of service supplied by Kevin Mirallas for his goal against Swansea, there’s no reason why Blues won’t be travelling back to Merseyside with smiles on their faces.
Ben Arfa– most Blues will remember the worldie that announced the Frenchman in the Premier League in 2010. The goal won Newcastle the game at Goodison Park and only a string of cruel injuries have stopped the talented winger taking the Premier League by storm.
A player of undoubted quality, the Frenchman can win games on his own (as Toffees know all too well) and with the Magpies expected to be without Loic Remy and Papiss Cisse struggling for form, the Geordies will hope he can step up.
Last Time Out
Everton 3-2 Newcastle, Goodison Park – 30th September 2013
Lukaku took just five minutes of his Goodison debut to find the back of the net and was at it again before half-time as Everton stormed to a 3-0 half-time lead. Yohan Cabaye responded soon after half-time and despite Loic Remy’s 89th minute goal, Everton more than deserved their win which moved Everton up to fourth.
Newcastle 1-2 Everton, St James’ Park- 2nd January 2013
2013 got off to an explosive start as Leighton Baines’ rocket of a free-kick restored parity at St James’ after Cisse netted in the first minute. The stage was then set for super sub Victor Anichebe to score just 90 seconds after his introduction, in a tightly contested second half.
Current Form (last six league games)