Club Focus – Everton – In-form Toffees aiming for Europa League but doubts remain

The form Everton have shown over the last six games has moved the Toffees top of the Premier League form table and as the season draws to a close, David Moyes’ side have plenty of reason to keep up the good run they are currently enjoying.

Four wins and two draws since beating Sunderland 2-0 in late February – a stretch stained by a 1-0 FA Cup defeat at home to Reading immediately after defeating the Mackems – has seen a return of 14 points from a possible 18 and 12 goals scored and only five conceded, a goal difference that puts the Goodison Park outfit above Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea. Extending the streak would not only end the season on a high – after beginning it on six-game winless low – but also keep alive Everton’s faint hopes of a return to European football next season.

Everton cannot afford any slips if they want to stay on the coattails of Liverpool, who, after their 3-0 demolition of Manchester City on Monday, remain in pole position for the last Europa League place if FA Cup results fall favourably. Four points separate Everton from their cross-city rivals but with the Reds facing a difficult trip to Arsenal on Sunday, the Blues’ meeting with Blackburn Rovers offers the chance to narrow the gap to a point, for 24 hours at least. The match with Rovers, a repeat of the opening game of the season that saw Tim Howard gift Blackburn a goal and subsequently the points, is arguably more important for the Lancashire side as they battle against relegation.

The last three visits of Blackburn have been a mixed bag for Everton, with a win, a defeat and a draw in the last three meetings between the sides on Everton’s turf. A side on a six-game unbeaten run playing at home against relegation-threatened opponents would usually be considered something of a home banker, but as Everton have shown all season – and continue to show, given their fine form and endemic injuries – assuming anything about the Blues’ this year is a dangerous game. The season as a whole has been as inconsistent as the last handful of fixtures with Blackburn, and few Goodison regulars would be shocked if Blackburn joined the list of teams to triumph on Merseyside, perhaps the most damning verdict on Everton’s campaign there is.

West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United both returned home with convincing and deserved wins while Bolton Wanderers could rightly have felt aggrieved at only taking a point after being denied all three by Jermaine Beckford’s first Premier League goal. Just as Everton’s current excellent run is surprising considering the paucity of first team players at the manager’s disposal, those early-season disappointments were made all the more alarming by the pre-season optimism that still lingered amongst the supporters. Moyes may have a few more familiar names to call on when Blackburn arrive on Saturday, but after being burned at the start of the season, Everton’s fans are unlikely to get carried away even if their team’s good form carries them into Europe.

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