While Everton have little tangible left to play for this season, Saturday’s meeting with West Bromwich Albion does at least give the Toffees the chance to right one of the campaign’s most disappointing wrongs, the 4-1 defeat dished out by the Baggies at Goodison Park in November.
The first half of the season was crammed with poor performances and even more poor results, but the hammering at home by a newly promoted side surely ranks at the very top or both categories. Goals from Paul Scharner, a perennial thorn in Everton’s side, Chris Brunt, Somen Tchoyi and Youssouf Mulumbu helped Roberto Di Matteo’s Baggies cruise past a disjointed and dishevelled Everton, who could muster only Tim Cahill’s headed goal in consolation. Mikel Arteta’s second-half sending off merely compounded Everton’s misery as the Toffees dropped to 16th in the Premier League table, having taken 16 points from 15 games, just two points clear of Wigan Athletic in the last relegation spot. West Brom went into the game without a win in five attempts while Everton had won only one of their previous five, but, as per their patchy early season form, would follow up the humiliation by West Brom with a credible draw away to Chelsea and then, in their usual pre-Christmas fashion, a disheartening home draw with Wigan.
After last week’s joyous win over Manchester City spirits are high around Goodison Park, something that could not be expected of West Brom after their 3-1 derby defeat by Wolverhampton Wanderers, but Albion were in the doldrums last time they faced Everton and it was the Midlands side who came out celebrating. The November clash saw West Brom under Di Matteo play some stunning football, blitzing Everton into acquiescence, a startling inversion of the usual pattern when an established Premier League team hosts a side fresh out of the Championship. In the second half of the season, however, the two teams’ paths have diverged, Everton settling in the top half of the table and on the fringes of European qualification, West Brom threatened by relegation until former Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson replaced Di Matteo in the New Year. Hodgson has lost just once at The Hawthorns, suggesting Everton will face a tough proposition on Saturday even with their hosts safe from the drop.
Hodgson teams are often resolute, hard working and hard to break down, a distinct departure from the days of Di Matteo. Everton performed well against Hodgson’s Liverpool this season, winning 2-0 at home, but any result in the cauldron of a local derby must come with the relevant caveats. How David Moyes’ team performed against Hodgson’s Fulham last season may be a better indicator, and Everton lost 2-1 at Craven Cottage and won 2-1 at Goodison. However, as is often the case in football, and even more often with Everton this season, prediction is a dangerous game. Few expected West Brom to be so rampant on Merseyside in November, and the outcome of the return fixture could be just as surprising.