This Saturday sees FA Cup quarter finalists Everton welcome basement strugglers Reading to Goodison Park for a clash which will have significant effect at both ends of the Premier League table come 5pm.
Everton, who have had a dip in form over the last month, are trying to re-energize their season following their victory over Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup in Tuesday, a game that sees them paired with another Premier League club in trouble, Wigan Athletic, in the quarter finals. A win over the Latics would give the Toffees a second successive semi-final spot at Wembley and another shot at glory for David Moyes.
The Scotsman has been coming in for criticism lately following Everton’s poor run and they will be desperate to make amends for last weekend’s capitulation at Norwich City when they threw away the points in a 2-1 defeat.
Having been strong contenders for the much-coveted fourth place in the division for most of the season to date, the Blues have seen their main rivals, Tottenham and Arsenal, put daylight between them and have also seen neighbours, Liverpool, close the gap on their current sixth place.
With ten games of the season remaining, any chance that Everton have of European qualification through the league must be kick-started with a win over Brian McDermott’s Reading.
The Royals, whose own form has improved since the Christmas and New Year period, suffered a severe setback in their last fixture when they were comprehensively swept aside at the Madejski Stadium by fellow strugglers, Wigan, a result which saw them drop back into the relegation zone.
One of the highlights of the season so far for McDermott’s men was a victory over Everton on home soil back in November when the Toffees were flying high. They meet again with Moyes trying to avoid a third successive league defeat.
Reading’s hero that day was Adam Le Fondre who bagged a brace as they came from behind to take a valuable three points. Le Fondre, so often a late introduction from the bench, is likely to be involved from the start at Goodison as Pavel Pogrebnyak is suspended following his red card in the game against Wigan.
McDermott will be hopeful of taking something away from Merseyside on Saturday given Everton’s lack of recent form and defensive generosity all season. In fact Reading have been victorious on three of the last four occasions the two clubs have met. To counter this, their away record this season is appalling and although the home side have drawn too many games this season, only Chelsea have taken all three points away from Goodison Park in the last 11 and a half months.
The key to the outcome of this game is likely to rest with the return to action of Marouane Fellaini who has struggled with a knee injury of late. Moyes will also be willing for a return to form for the likes of Nikica Jelavic, so deadly at this time last year, Kevin Mirallas, who is just returning to full fitness and Steven Pienaar who has looked leaden-footed recently and is key to Everton’s attacking option when in tandem with the excellent Leighton Baines.
This game is unlikely to be a classic, but at this stage of the season both of these teams will feel a real benefit for the three points if a winner can be found.
With both sides having difficulty keeping a clean sheet, goals are expected as both sides push for the win, but it is the superior home record of the Blues that should prevail over the Royals and their poor stats on the road.
Prediction: Everton 2-1 Reading