LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26: Everton supporters shield the sun from their eyes as they watch during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Sunderland at Goodison Park on February 26, 2011 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Everton’s Premier league win over Sunderland was strangely routine and stress free – which makes me want to ask the question - who are you and what have you done with the real Everton???
The past four matches – Blackpool, Bolton, Chelsea and Sunderland - have put Evertonians through the mill emotionally as performances have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.
But the bedrock of our success in recent seasons have been afternoons like on Saturday - where the boys have got the job done with the minimum of fuss and gleefully added three points to the ever growing total.
All this season we have been crying out for a few wins that will lift us away from danger. But with each passing opportunity comes another inept performance and the post-match blame game that naturally goes with it.
So to write this after Saturday makes a refreshing change and also means I can look at the Premier League table again. Tenth place is not good, but it is certainly better than what we have been used to.
Something about the journey down from the North-East seems to bring the worst out of Sunderland. Year-on-year they arrive at Goodison and fail to perform, which is good news for us.
A Kieran Richardson shot after two minutes and a Stephane Sessegnon pile-driver that Howard tipped onto the bar was the sum total of their efforts. Everton meanwhile finally re-discovered their cutting edge, and it is no surprise Mikel Arteta was at the heart of things.
The Spaniard's form has deserted him this season, with his new £75,000 a week contract not far from critical fans lips. But when he plays well we play well and his artistry in midfield – with able support from Leon Osman – pierced the Black Cats defence on two occasions in the first half to allow Jermaine Beckford to score.
That is eight for the season for Beckford now, not bad for a player making the jump from League One and written off by the press and outsiders alike early on.
The second half saw the Toffees close out the game, with a couple of late efforts from Osman the highlight. It was all stress free and uneventful – but after the season we have had I am not complaining.
The only black mark on the afternoon was injuries to Fellaini and Beckford. The former will miss Tuesday’s game with Reading and although Beckford is expected to be fit - he and glass-legs Louis Saha are two injuries waiting to happen.
Talking of Tuesday I am a little worried about the chatter emanating from Everton supporters regarding the FA Cup. It all seems to be about a potential quarter-final with Man City. And while that could be a mouth-watering tie, Reading and Villa will have something to say about it!
Our weakness this season has been breaking teams down who come to Goodison and defend first. With our already limited forward-line struggling with knocks and sprains we face a real battle to break through the Championship side’s defence.
Team news wise as well as the missing Fellaini and half-fit Saha (despite his car crash – remarkable!) and Beckford, Tim Cahill is also struggling with an ankle injury. In fact the situation is so bad recent signing 19-year-old Greek forward Velios is in the squad and is set for a place on the bench.
For Reading they will monitor Shaun Cummings after he was injured at Crystal Palace. Goalkeeper Adam Federici is out with a knee injury, captain Ivar Ingimarsson is doubtful with a groin problem and Alex Pearce (thigh) remains sidelined.
• This is one of three fifth round ties still to be resolved.
• Reading are the sole Championship survivors; Everton, one of nine Premier League representatives.
• Away to either Manchester City or Aston Villa in the quarter-finals on Sunday, 13 March (1645 GMT)
• Everton are 20 places higher in the pecking order.
• This is only the eighth competitive meeting of these clubs. Reading have won one of the previous seven, and have never won at Goodison Park.
• Their most recent meetings were in the Premier League between 2006 and 2008, when the Toffees won two, drew one and lost one. That defeat was 1-0 at the Madejski on 18 August 2007.
• They have never met in the FA Cup.
• Their only cup clash came in the League Cup in October 1973, when the Merseysiders prevailed 1-0 at home in a second round tie.
• Looking for back-to-back victories, and their third in five outings (all competitions).
• They have won their last two at Goodison Park, and are undefeated in six at home, having won three and drawn three since West Brom's 4-1 Premier League triumph on 27 November.
• Accounted for double holders Chelsea after a penalty shoot-out in the fourth round replay at Stamford Bridge.
• Won the cup for the fifth time in 1995, and made one appearance in the final since then when Chelsea beat them 2-1 on 30 May 2009.
• The season before last was also the most recent time they made an appearance in the quarter-finals.
• Hoping to make Reading their second Championship victims, after dismissing Scunthorpe 5-1 at Glanford Park in the third round.
• Louis Saha and Leighton Baines have each scored twice in this cup run.
• Shared six goals with Crystal Palace in their last outing, at Selhurst Park on Saturday.
• Undefeated in four; having won one and drawn three Championship matches.
• Shane Long has scored in each of four of the last five games, while Noel Hunt is looking to net in his fourth consecutive game.
• Hoping to add the prized Premier League scalp of Everton, to that of West Brom claimed in the third round.
• Aiming to qualify for the last eight for the second year in succession.
• Long has scored for Reading in both the third and fourth rounds, the latter being away to Stevenage.
• Replay provisionally scheduled for Tuesday, 8 March 2011 (Kick off: 1945 GMT)
Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands)
Assistant referees: Andy Newbold and Martin Yerby
Fourth official: Stuart Attwell