This is, after all, a season where Everton have lost to Brentford and beaten Chelsea on penalties, a season where Everton did not win a league game until October, then went six games unbeaten including a victory over Liverpool, and a season where Everton have lost at home to West Bromwich Albion and beaten Manchester City at Eastlands. Indeed, the only thing predictable about Everton throughout 2010/11 is how unpredictable they are.
It may have been a season of more lows than highs, but the highs have been thrilling – a rip-roaring win over Blackpool, a dramatic comeback against Manchester United, the win over Liverpool and the penalty victory over Chelsea – and the lows – defeat at home to West Brom and Newcastle United, woeful away defeats by Bolton Wanderers, Brentford and Stoke City – have been devastating.
Even within the space of a single game, Everton have lurched from sublime to shocking, most notably in that 3-3 draw with Manchester United, but also in the first meeting between Everton and Sunderland at the Stadium of Light in November. Everton started that game in great style, going ahead through a Tim Cahill header within six minutes, only to fall behind to a brace from Danny Welbeck by the 70th minute. A late, deflected Mikel Arteta strike gave the Toffees a point that could have been three had Jermaine Beckford found the back of the net in injury time. Both sides have lost important players since then – Darren Bent for Sunderland, Steven Pienaar for Everton – but the return fixture should still be an evenly matched affair.
But the lack of consistency that has been rife throughout Everton’s season so far means no one can be sure just which Everton will turn up. Will it be the one that dug deep against Chelsea on Saturday, or the one that collapsed against Bolton a week prior? And a week before the Reebok Stadium capitulation was the best attacking Everton performance of the season against Blackpool, perhaps thanks to the Seasiders’ cavalier nature, but there was little of that forward thrust seen in the two games that followed, similar to how it had been missing for most of the rest of the season. Louis Saha’s possible return would help, but the Frenchman is as enigmatic as the team as a whole. His presence is not guaranteed, but the original diagnosis said the striker would be missing for 10-14 days, a tally he is already over.
With or without Saha, banishing the rank inconsistency that has plagued Everton since August is the key to a strong run-in for the Blues, and it must start against Sunderland to ensure Everton are not dragged closer to the relegation zone.