Everton were buoyed last Saturday by a memorable 5-3 victory over Blackpool but the honeymoon of three points and the most exciting match seen at Goodison Park in months was short lived. The spectre of financial discussion raised its head again when Everton revealed their books on Monday evening and confirmed what the football world already knew – money is tight on the blue half of Merseyside. But with the transfer window long since closed and contract talks with Marouane Fellaini soon to begin – and Everton must find the money to tie the Belgian down long-term – matters on the field again top the agenda.
If Sunday’s late kick-off is anything like the fantastic match played out by the Blues and the Tangerines almost a week ago, that will not be a problem, but, for a variety of reasons, a repeat score is unlikely. Not only do Everton lose the home advantage of a passionate Goodison Park support with the trip to the Reebok Stadium, but they come up against a side far more resolute than Ian Holloway’s. Blackpool have now conceded 49 goals from their 25 league games – almost two in every match. Bolton, having played one game more, have conceded just 37, three more than Everton, despite sitting three points and five places higher in the table. That there is so little between eighth-placed Bolton and Everton in 13th again confirms the compacted nature of the division, and illustrates exactly what Everton could gain with victory. Three points for Everton would put the teams’ tallies level, but as their respective goal differences are equal as it stands, the Toffees would overtake the Wanderers.
Predicting the attitude Everton will take to Greater Manchester is difficult. They ended the game against Blackpool playing with as close to reckless abandon as the manager is ever likely to allow, but they were encouraged by the frailty of Blackpool, and Owen Coyle is unlikely to be as accommodating. Tim Cahill will make a first start after the Asian Cup, always a possibility even before Jack Rodwell’s injury, and Louis Saha will continue at the front of the attack, fitness permitting as ever. While the XI may only show one change, the mindset is the key. With the business end of the season approaching, Everton cannot afford to travel to away games simply hoping to keep the play tight. Indeed, sitting back and letting the hosts dictate only invites pressure and, given Blackpool managed to find the net three times last week and Everton have not kept a clean sheet in 11 games, the Toffees are going to need to score at least once anyway, and probably more. But with Fellaini on form and Saha finding the net, Everton should be fearless.