LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26: Marouane Fellaini of Everton lies injured 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)
Is Everton’s season over? Probably.
But that shouldn’t stop the Toffees from rousing themselves for a spirited end of season run-in.
Sixth placed Liverpool and a spot in the Europa League is the target and while that may seem ambitious, a win over Newcastle and defeat for the Reds against Manchester United on Sunday will see the gap close to just three points.
I am, of course, being very optimistic when I talk about Everton and the top half of the table. We have barely been in it all season and every time we look like going on a decent run, we shoot ourselves in the foot, look at the last five results:
More ups and downs than a big dipper wouldn’t you agree?
And all that heightened emotion, hope and subsequent dashed expectations has left me weary and longing for the season’s conclusion.
The players can’t afford to have that attitude though as any more ‘coasting’ performances will quickly see us dragged back into a relegation fight we have never fully pulled clear of all season.
The season-ending injury to Marouane Fellaini is a massive blow as he adds solidity and presence to our midfield which, in truth, looks flimsy without him.
A big responsibility now lies with Jack Rodwell to see whether he can step into the Belgian’s shoes.
With Cahill also out Moyes’ options are limited and I expect us to revert to 4-4-2 again, provided Jermaine Beckford can get to the ground on time.
As Moyes said accidents happen and no-one can predict a car accident that holds up traffic.
But I hope in private he has taken Beckford to task over this. A number of other Everton players who travelled the same route got to the ground on time as well as 1000s of fans.
Everton not only had to change the team but the formation and by the time Beckford got onto the field we were already a goal down. It just smacks of unprofessionalism and symbolises the malaise surrounding the club at the moment – they all need a good shake up.
As for Newcastle well they remain a conundrum wrapped up in an enigma. They have the 17th worst home record in terms of results yet have the second highest scoring record on their home ground. They haven’t won at home since December but have lost just once in 2011. Their recent 4-4 draw perhaps sums them up, they make us look consistent.
Though many Geordie fans will be content with a mid-table finish in their first season back in the top flight, some will also want the players to not rest on their laurels from now until May and try to finish as high as possible.
They have recovered well from the double shock of first losing popular manager Chris Hughton and then Andy Carroll to maintain their position in the top half – something many pundits thought they wouldn’t do. After the despair of relegation and joy of promotion, emotionally drained Newcastle fans will probably take a nice, calm event-free end of the season.
The first goal will be crucial in this one I feel. If they get one early, such is the passion and noise of the home crowd and the flimsiness of our confidence they could absolutely coast it.
But if we can somehow go ahead I can see us defending for grim life. One of the traits of Moyes’ sides that has remained this season has been their ability to hang onto a lead, it’s scoring in the first place that’s the problem.
I am lucky enough to be going to this one, though I am sat in the home end with four Newcastle supporters I know. They are a friendly bunch up there so I won’t have any trouble, but any Everton goal celebrations will still have to be muted!
Maybe a draw will be the best result for all concerned.
That said, the last time I went to St James’ park we won, so you never know. It will probably lead to me being ignored for the rest of the day but if we have three points in the bag I won’t care!
• This is the 160th time these sides have met: Newcastle lead by 63 wins to 62, with 34 draws.
• Everton have not won a league match at Newcastle since 2000 - a run of eight games.
• Newcastle have failed to win at home since thrashing West Ham 5-0 two months ago.
• Alan Pardew's side have lost just one of nine league games in 2011.
• Only Manchester United (39) have scored more goals at home than Newcastle (31) this season.
• Newcastle have picked up more yellow cards (59) than any other Premier League side.
• Everton have not kept a clean sheet away from home for five months - since winning 2-0 at Birmingham on 2 October.
• The Toffees are the only Premier League side yet to be awarded a penalty this season.
• Only Fulham (14) have drawn more games than Everton (12) in the Premier League.
• Leighton Baines is set to make his 150th appearance for Everton.
Referee: Howard Webb
Assistant referees: Patrick Keane & Andy Madley
Fourth official: Mark Haywood