Everton’s weekend FA Cup opponents Blackpool present an opportunity for the mind to be cast back to last season, when Ian Holloway’s side were a Premier League outfit and the two teams played out a 5-3 victory for the Toffees in one of the most thrilling games seen at Goodison Park for some time.
The home side took an early lead when Louis Saha netted in the 20th minute but parity was restored before half-time by Alex Baptiste, who eventually turned a Charlie Adam corner over the line. Saha added a second just after the break but Jason Puncheon found a second equaliser on the hour for Blackpool, before Adam put the away side ahead for the first time. Saha made it a hat-trick 12 minutes later to tie the scores at 3-3, then Jermaine Beckford put Everton in front again. Saha completed a remarkable day for Everton and for the Frenchman personally with his fourth of the afternoon – Everton’s fifth – six minutes before the final whistle. It was a breathless encounter, played in an excellent spirit and one to live long in the memory.
The chances of a repeat on Saturday are most likely slim. Everton no longer possess the kind of elegance Saha at his best was capable of and Blackpool do not have the orchestration of Adam to dictate their play as he did that February afternoon. Blackpool that day were lethal on the counter-attack, a particularly striking – and rare – gap in Everton’s armour, for David Moyes’ side is rarely eviscerated quite so routinely. Even the likes of Manchester United have to toil to break down Moyes’ players. Similarly, the abandon with which Everton chased Blackpool once the Tangerines had gone ahead was wholly uncommon, a rare throwing of caution to the wind by the Scottish manager. Moyes got his reward however, as did the 38,000 inside Goodison Park that day, the vast majority in Everton blue.
While Goodison will of course be deeply partisan again come Saturday, there will be an even-noisier Blackpool contingent than usual given they have been allocated just shy of 6,000 seats thanks to the different rules of the Premier League and the FA Cup. Everton, riding the crest of a wave from consecutive home victories in the Premier League over Manchester City and Chelsea cannot wait for another chance to play at Goodison. The excellence of the team’s performance against such opposition has raised expectations for when the lower-ranked teams come to visit – even more so when they are of a lower division.
A similar scenario unfolded in the Cup last season, when Everton knocked out Chelsea on penalties after Leighton Baines’ dramatic extra-time free-kick, only to lose at home to Championship Reading in the fifth round. Avoiding a repeat – almost regardless of the performance – must be the priority for Everton. With Wembley almost within touching distance and the two trips to London in 2009 still fresh in the mind, Evertonians will warmly welcome more journeys south.
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