Club Focus – Everton – Toffees in familiar situation ahead of Stoke trip

Everton travel to Stoke City on New Year’s Day in search of three points to start their 2011 Premier League campaign in the best possible manner, and a victory would push the Toffees into the top half of the table for the first time since early November.

The win that pushed Everton to the relative heights of seventh was the first meeting between Everton and Stoke this season, a 1-0 win at Goodison Park courtesy of a Yakubu goal. David Moyes’ side maintained their spot on the fringes of the European places a week later with a 2-2 draw at Blackpool. But since then they have bounced around the lower reaches of the league, occasionally flirting with the relegation zone, but mostly sitting in the no man’s land of mid table. It is Stoke who sit directly above Everton, separated by two points, and should results go the Blues’ way they will leapfrog their hosts into more a more comfortable position.

Everton’s current placing is almost the very definition of mid table. They are 15 points from the bottom team, West Ham, and 16 points from the side top of the Premier League, Manchester United, and in a season that has had more lows than highs such mediocrity may be all the Toffees can realistically hope for. The wild inconsistency Everton have shown through much of the campaign – beating title-chasers Manchester City on their own ground after being embarrassed by newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion at Goodison just weeks earlier, for example – has dampened their hopes of achieving anything of note this season. Everton are in a similar position ahead of the first league game of the New Year as they were 12 months ago.

In December 2009 Everton sat a place lower in the table but with an extra point, the two factors roughly cancelling out each other’s positives and negatives, but something special was about to happen. After dispensing Carlisle United in the FA Cup on the first Saturday in January, Everton travelled to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and came away with a 2-2 draw, a well-earned point that should have been three, and would have been but for Tomas Rosicky’s late equaliser. The draw sparked Everton into life. From January through to May Everton’s form was bettered by only Chelsea and Manchester United, the eventual Premier League champions and runners-up respectively – and Everton beat both, at home, in consecutive games.

The goals, results and points flowed freely after being bottlenecked the prior months as Everton suddenly found their swagger. Ultimately, despite the numerous triumphs the spring brought, Everton left themselves with too much work to reach the European places, falling two points short of catching Liverpool in seventh. Having started 10 points behind their red-shirted cousins, coming so close to overtaking Liverpool was praiseworthy itself and this year, Everton are just five points behind the side currently in the last European place, Sunderland. Another epic turnaround may be too much to ask, but if it is going to happen, it must start at Stoke.

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