If Everton harbor serious hopes of bring European football back to Goodison Park it is games like this that they have to start winning. The Toffees have stuttered of late after starting the season in uncharacteristically consistent fashion and the FA Cup quarter final mauling suffered at home to Wigan was just the wake up call they needed. That fierce shock to the system certainly came at the right time as they improved to see off Manchester City at Goodison Park two weeks ago to remain in touch with the top-four. With six points separating them from Tottenham there is still a slight chance they could end the campaign celebrating qualification to the Champions League. Realistically though entry to the Europa League is more likely and they must beat Stoke, without top scorer Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar, to retain breathing space above local rivals Liverpool and West Brom.
Europe was the objective for Tony Pulis this term but with just one win in 2013 the Potters have fallen way off the pace. Having ended 2012 unbeaten in 10 games Pulis has watched his side endure a crushing change of fortune and are only seven points clear of the relegation zone in 11th. Getting back on track is the main priority now but with just one solitary success in their last 24 Premier League away games avoiding defeat will be viewed as a step in the right direction by the travelling Stoke contingent.
Phil Jagielka (ankle) and Tim Howard (back) could return for Everton after missing the last three games. David Moyes will have to do without key midfield duo Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar who are suspended. Tony Hibbert (calf) remains sidelined.
Stoke can call upon the services of defender Robert Huth after he completed a three-match ban. Tony Pulis has a full Potters squad to choose from for the visit to Merseyside.
What the managers said…
“What I am trying to do is make sure I give Everton the best chance of going forward. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I would never do anything, in any way, to jeopardise Everton or the football club. I want to make sure the supporters see a promising, fresh-looking team for the seasons to come. We have to make sure the finances we have give us the opportunity to do that. We have a small squad, and in truth we have an ageing squad as well, which we need to look at. I need to be capable of being able to make those changes for the best of Everton.” David Moyes insists he wouldn’t to anything to harm Everton’s future ambitions (The Sun)
“From the first game of the season, where we played at Reading (a 1-1 draw) and they scored a late penalty, to the last away game at Newcastle (a 2-1 defeat), where we should have been home and hosed (but conceded two goals towards the end), we have managed to shoot ourselves in the foot. We have done that continuously. Every time away from home, it is about concentration levels as much as anything. In the Premier League, if you switch off for two minutes or do something silly, nine times out of 10, you get caught. So concentration levels are vital, although it is also important they enjoy themselves – make sure they go out there and express themselves, and work really hard.” Tony Pulis admits poor concentration is to blame for Stokes poor away form (Independent)
Pre-Match Statistic: Everton have scored just four times in their last seven meetings with Stoke, recording a solitary victory.
Prediction: Everton 1-0 Stoke City