The FA Cup will reach it’s last four or five teams by the end of tonight, potentially setting up a Merseyside derby at Wembley next month. However, Sunderland stand in the way of Everton taking on Liverpool on semi-final weekend.
David Moyes’ team are away from home for the first time in this season’s competition. In comparison the Black Cats have been taken to one replay previously, which they won at Middlesbrough, and Martin O’Neill’s team have also beaten Arsenal at the Stadium of Light in the fifth round. So they go into this evening’s tie as favourites, following the 1-1 draw at Goodison Park. But if it’s level after another 90 minutes, then the Toffees could still be in with a good chance of reaching the next round.
Swansea City, promoted from the Championship last season despite only four away wins in the second half of that campaign, have only three points from eight Premier League away games - all were draws (at Wolves, Liverpool and Newcastle) - so can Everton beat one of the newly promoted teams at home, at the final attempt?
Since Everton created a three point gap between themselves and Wolves following their most recent victory at Goodison Park, the Toffees failed to win either of their two home games, which included a 1-0 defeat by Stoke City.
A third draw of their campaign against the Swans tonight would be proof they have been merely consistent without improvement since supporters’ group The Blue Union staged it’s rally and march before the game against Wolves on 19th November.
While some Everton supporters would obviously like to see immediate investment so that their club can aim to keep up with the current top six, the realistic position for now should be aiming to be top of the rest.
With a game in hand they are currently seven points behind eighth placed Stoke, which isn’t impossible ground to make up between now and May. However, speculation continues to link manager David Moyes with other clubs, most recently this week Athletico Madrid, who are in the last 32 of the Europa League. While 20-year-old England midfielder Jack Rodwell, who will make his 50th Premier League start as soon as he recovers from a hamstring injury, has become a transfer target for Chelsea.
Five of the teams who started the weekend in the bottom half of the Premier League table lost yesterday. Four of them (QPR, Sunderland, Everton and Blackburn) lost by only one goal. The other five were all in action today.
I wrote here yesterday before the match between Newcastle United and Everton that rather a lot has been made of Everton’s shortage of firepower so far this season. Perhaps because of their league position, or just because they don’t always have an out-and-out goalscorer in their starting eleven. For only the fourth time in the league this season Louis Saha started for the Toffeemen, but the Frenchman was unable to add to his single goal so far.
But it’s at the other end where, after losing 2-1 at St James’ Park in a game where all the goals were scored before half-time, Everton manager David Moyes felt any faint opportunity of taking something away disappeared. “I think you make your own luck and we did not do that with our defending in the first half,” he said, following a Johnny Heitinga own goal and Ryan Taylor’s strike, which took the number of league goals Everton have conceded away from Goodison Park this season to eight (15 conceded home and away).
Meanwhile, Sunderland went to Old Trafford, where they lost by a solitary Wes Brown own goal yesterday, having previously only leaked four on the road. But West Brom’s record took a dent in the shape of three goals at Arsenal, and Swansea City up in tenth place kept a clean sheet at Anfield, having previously shipped 14 in their first five away games of the campaign. The Swans hold the record at this stage of conceding the fewest goals at home in the entire Premier League, although they have scored half as many as Manchester City have at the Etihad Stadium.
The gung-ho approach of setting out to score one more than the opposition is a dangerous strategy, so priorities tend to naturally lie in trying to avoid conceding goals first an foremost. That is something Everton, with only one clean sheet all season, will very much be continuing to try to do in the coming weeks.
Has too much been made of Everton’s lack of firepower this season? Perhaps people look at recent Everton’s line-ups, such as the one named by David Moyes at Fulham a fortnight ago, and not see anyone on there who stands out as a striker. They have sold Jermaine Beckford and neither Tim Cahill or Louis Saha have been regular starters this season. But international youngsters who have recently arrived at Goodison Park such as Apostolos Vellios and Royston Drenthe are the club’s top scorers with two Premier League goals each. Their late efforts earned the Merseysiders three points against Wigan at Goodison Park – which has remained their only league win at home – but only QPR in August have gone there and inflicted a shock result.
Only two points currently separate ninth and sixteenth place. Had Everton taken only a single point at Craven Cottage (rather than score two goals in additional time to win and take all three) they would be part of a bottom five still to break into double figures. As it stands they still find themselves four places off the bottom but looking up rather than over their shoulders. Because after today’s fixture at high-flying Newcastle United they take on two of those sides still in single figures.
In contrast, to everybody’s surprise, the Magpies are unbeaten this season. Ahead of games against both Manchester clubs and Chelsea, I half expect Newcastle to do to Everton today what both Manchester clubs and Liverpool have done already this season by beating them. That would maintain, for one more game at least, their growing belief they can repeat what Everton did back in 2005 and what Tottenham did five years later, and break into the top four.