Everton travel to Oldham Athletic on Saturday evening in the FA Cup, facing the prospect of a potential FA Cup upset such as the one they experienced at Goodison Park against the same opposition in 2008. So much has changed for both sides since then, however, that parallels drawn for this game would be inaccurate. A much better gauge of what to expect can be found from Liverpool’s experience of Boundary Park a matter of a weeks ago.
The Reds were beaten 3-2 to set up the Toffees’ trip to Greater Manchester and the tale of the match can tell Everton where the Latics’ danger lies. Unfortunately for David Moyes, the weapon that really did for Liverpool is one that Everton have utterly failed to deal with in recent games – a burly striker unsettling a shaky defence.
Matt Smith scored twice against Liverpool and gave the centre-back pairing of Martin Skrtel and Sebastian Coates a torrid time. Standing at 6’6”, Smith is the obvious target of Oldham’s attacking play – although since the Liverpool win Oldham have changed their manager, with Paul Dickov leaving and Tony Philliskirk taking temporary charge. What affect that has on the way the Latics play against Everton remains to be seen, but a quick look at some of Everton’s recent matches might encourage the caretaker boss to stick to the same game plan.
Against Manchester United there was no towering striker to upset the Everton defence, just rapid movement and great skill, which Phil Jagielka and especially John Heitinga found difficult to deal with, although that might be expected against the runaway Premier League leaders.
The two matches prior, however, saw first Romelu Lukaku and then Christian Benteke dominate the Everton back four. Benteke scored twice for Aston Villa in the 3-3 draw and while Lukaku didn’t find the target in Everton’s 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion, he gave Heitinga and Sylvain Distin a bit of a chasing. At one point Distin, the powerful, barrel-chested Frenchman, challenged Lukaku for an aerial ball and quite literally bounced off him.
Smith might not have the same athleticism as the Belgian pair but what he lacks in agility he compensates with height. That should enable him to win the majority of long balls and Everton’s defence has been shambolically organised in recent matches, so the on-rushing midfielders are likely to find space. That’s if Everton haven’t sorted themselves out, that is.
Heitinga has been the main culprit in recent weeks and wouldn’t have played against United if not for Distin being taken ill during the pre-match warm-up. That suggests the Dutchman will drop out against Oldham but if Phil Neville is unable to play, with Moyes recently revealing the captain can’t manage too many games in quick succession at the minute, then Jagielka will go to right-back and Heitinga will partner Distin.
An Everton defence that has shipped seven goals in four games against a giant striker at a lower league ground in a televised FA Cup match. What could possibly go wrong?
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