Everton vs Stoke City: Match preview
Stadium: Goodison Park
Referee: Michael Jones
Kick-off: 11:00 PM (IST), Saturday, 30th of March
Just 6 points off Champions League qualification and with a game in hand, Everton are in with a real chance of making it to Europe’s elite competition if they manage to hold their nerve better than Arsenal and Tottenham above them. Their immediate challenge, however, is to get a result against Stoke City, who, with 34 points, are a good 14 points behind the Merseyside club, but just 7 clear of the relegation zone. Usually, for a club in 11th place, with just 9 games remaining, one would say there is nothing to play for in this game; but with relegation a distant yet very real possibility, Stoke will be hoping to do better than they have in recent times and leave Goodison Park with a respectable result.
Everton: L W W L W
David Moyes’ side have been in good touch in the league and bounced back from their FA Cup loss to lowly Wigan with a 2 – 0 win over reigning champions Manchester City two weekends ago. More importantly, even with Tim Howard still missing, Everton kept their first clean sheet in ten games, and doing so against the likes of Silva, Dzeko, and Tevez with just ten men on the pitch for the last half hour of the game would have given the players a confidence boost. Sadly for the Toffees, the booking picked up by Fellaini and the sending off of Pienaar mean that two of their most creative midfielders will miss this clash; and when push comes to shove, that could prove decisive.
Stoke City: W L L L D
With just 1 point garnered from their last potential 12, Tony Pulis’ side are on a lean patch with their early season form deserting them. In fact, Stoke have won just 2 of their last 14 games in all competitions, making them easy meat for clubs both home and away of late. Yet, this visit to Everton provides them a good chance to get the result; with key players missing for their hosts, the Potters will be keen to make the most of this opportunity. Interestingly, none of their last five defeats have been by a margin of greater than 1 goal, with four of those results being 1 – 0 losses. Thus, if their defence holds strong, even with their attackers continuing to be off-colour, Stoke could still leave Goodison Park with a point.
Everton: Tony Hibbert, Tim Howard, Steven Pienaar, Marouane Fellaini, Phil Jagielka.
Stoke City: None.
The out-of-form striker changed perceptions drastically last weekend with a well-taken goal from outside the box against Manchester City. His celebrations were a clear indication of the sheer relief he felt, and the goal must have lifted a huge burden off his shoulders. Now, with Fellaini and Pienaar missing, the onus will be on Jelavic to deliver; whether he does or not could make or break Everton’s challenge for European football next season.
In the three games that Robert Huth has missed, Stoke have lost two and drawn one with some nervous defending occasionally on display. In spite of the presence of Ryan Shawcross, Huth is a crucial member of Stoke’s defence and Tony Pulis will be glad to have him back in the starting line-up. The fact that Huth was a scorer in the last game that Stoke won will only serve to bring more cheer on his return.
A home win for Everton going by recent form. However, as mentioned above, Everton are without the services of some really key players and might struggle to break down a determined Potters’ defence. They have also failed to beat Stoke in each of their last four meetings, with two draws and two losses. Yet, with David Moyes at the helm and a real shot at European football at stake, one hopes that the Toffees will pull themselves together and grind out the result.