Bad news, everyone. We can’t finish 4th.
That’s according to the BT Sport behemoth that has cluttered up the sporting TV schedule with Kopite sh*te since August. Liverpool, Arsenal, Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd and Spurs have been pencilled in to the top six spots while plucky outsiders Everton, Newcastle and Southampton must return to the mid-table doldrums, where they belong.
‘Koff. We’re there now, and no half-brained half-wit is going to deny our credentials now.
There are differing opinions, obviously. Some say we can’t finish in the top 4. We all refute that wholeheartedly. I was told by a fellow Blue that we were “sh*te” on Sunday. And I’ve got a bone to pick with that too.
Alright, it wasn’t vintage Everton. At times the play was simply turgid as the two midfields struggled to dominate. There were some misplaced passes and the likes of Osman, Robles and – to an extent – Ross Barkley will feel they could’ve done better. But the collective performance was excellent – instead of grinding out a win, we thoroughly earned it with a real show of attacking quality. And fittingly, with the three points which took our tally at half way past that of Wigan in the entire 2012/13 season, Roberto Martinez could show critics that we had shed all the concerns that they had when he made that bold claim for Champions League football six months ago.
James McCarthy was boss too, despite me aforementioned mate claiming that he “stunk”. Holding up an entire midfield single-handed at times, he has mastered the ability to be everywhere at once. Some passes were dodgy, but the one that stood out for me was an absolute stinker. Southampton were in, before McCarthy himself launched in at speed to block their efforts. And then he was teeing up Romelu Lukaku for a much-needed goal. Ace.
The media’s favourite put-down for top 4 hopefuls is the old argument about squad depth. Liverpool had two untried youngsters on the bench and fell to fifth while still being title challengers worthy of almost constant mention. Everton put out a side without Howard, Jagielka, Barry and – for over an hour – Mirallas & Pienaar. And we still got the win. Joel Robles messed up badly for the goal but looked in complete control of his area, while Antolin Alcaraz looked as comfortable on the ball as off it. Yep, it’s a tough life, being Wigerton Athletic FC.
Seamus Coleman. Cost less than the average Kopite gives to Easyjet to get them to games. Another pearler. I’m gonna leave it at that to avoid a two thousand-word ode to that little Irish genius. And he proposed to his girlfriend just after, the smooth bastard.
So we’ve slipped up against Sunderland, but we’ve recovered. In fourth place when Big Ben rings in the New Year, five points off the top (yet a worrying four points off Newcastle in eighth). Really, the top 4 places are up for grabs, but complacency will cost us dear. Bring on 2014.
The first obstacle of the year is Stoke, a side in disarray. Which means they’ll be dead up for us, won’t it? Mark Hughes, would you believe, has not turned Stoke into an efficient football machine which shows up the rest of the league, but a side that can’t even fall back on a solid defence. Eight goals conceded in the last 130 minutes of action and two red cards tells the story, really. The only impact Stoke could make on Spurs was directed at Paulinho’s ankle. Did you see MOTD2? The only Stoke highlights shown were Jon Walters falling over and Peter Crouch with a header so soft I thought the screen had frozen. Kinell.
If you’re braving the mind-altering dullness of Staffordshire, and good luck to ya, the only thing that can brighten up or ruin your day is Everton. Stoke can only watch on and hope we gift them something, because they are clueless at the moment. All there is to see there on Wednesday is Everton and resident dartists Phil Taylor, Adrian Lewis and Ian White looking wistful.
For the hosts, a major issue is still being without influential duo Asmir Begovic and Robert Huth. Luckily for them, it’s like being in that Bugs Bunny film, Space Jam. Monsters everywhere. Cameron, Shawcross and Pieters will be joined by Wilson or Muniesa. Adam, Etherington, N’Zonzi and Whelan should make up the midfield. Arnautovic joins Assaidi, Crouch and Walters in the squad, and any two of them could lead the line. Stop me when you hear any name that worries you in the slightest.
For us, we have the luxury of changing our starting line-up once again. Tim Howard saves ten out of ten shots that fly just over his head nowadays, so he’s in. Alcaraz has filled the gap left by Jagielka well, so the defence will be unchanged. Gareth Barry rejoins James McCarthy to make up that boss central partnership we all know and love, but we’re spoilt for choice on the wings. Oviedo or Pienaar? Mirallas or Naismith? Barring injuries or fitness issues, it has to be the former on both counts. Ross Barkley should start behind Lukaku, so it’ll be Osman in there, obviously. If Lukaku can get a sight on goal earlier than the 75th minute, he could well have a field day.
We all love a good set of stats to build fake optimism (like “no home defeat against Sunderland since 1996”) so here’s a couple: Stoke City scored less goals (31) and less home goals (17) than any side in the Premier League or Football League in 2013. Meanwhile, the Everton defence kept 16 Premier League clean sheets – more than any other side – and conceded a league-low 33 goals in 2013. Sod’s Law states that you should make it another 2-1 win for the Blues then.
Right, let’s be having you, 2014. It’s a blank slate as far as the race for silverware and the top 4 goes, but we’ve given ourselves the platform on which great things can be built. Make it so, Everton.