St James’ Park

3pm, Saturday 9th March

Following an excellent week which ended on a rather sour note, this Saturday we find ourselves back at St James’ for the visit of Marco Silva’s Everton.

Given the expenditure and the calibre of playing staff brought in to Goodison Park over the past year or so, it’s fair to say that this has been a very disappointing campaign for the blue half of Merseyside. Last Summer, whilst Ashley was going out of his way to piss us all off further, the Toffees were splashing out about £80M on Richarlison, Digne and Mina.

This followed much splurging of wedge the previous season on class act Sigurdsson, centre back, Keane and the short armed, mackem weasel in nets. They also steamed into the loan market with Chelsea’s Zouma a notable catch.

Like many, I fancied them to realistically be aiming for around 5th or 6th and a decent bash at the Cups this time around. However, it just hasn’t gone to plan. I wonder what Rafa could do with such a squad? I’d wager a few of their more erudite supporters have secretly asked themselves that very question too.

What of the Mags? Following two excellent home efforts versus Huddersfield and Burnley we reverted to type in East London on Saturday. Having recently watched some superlative performances all over our team, It’s a bit hard to get your head around how suddenly awful we were against the Hammers.

Why was this? Well, I’m afraid I don’t have an unequivocal answer, but there are a number of theories kicking around in the Twitter-sphere I’ll share with you. “We just didn’t try!” – Nah, not having that. “We looked knackered.” – bit of credence to this one. It’s easy to be wise after the event but perhaps a bit of a shift in personnel may have helped? “We’re just shit!” – unfortunately, if we have a tendency to go a bit overboard when something good happens (rare), a decent chunk of our support are apt to hit the panic button, wallow in the mire and come out of with self defeating bollocks like this. We’re the veritable Kings of Boom & Bust.

Personally, I think to win games in the Premiership, we need all of the team at it. We require a few stand out individual performances and collectively the team need to be solid, disciplined and workmanlike. We got all these components in the previous two home games. It all went worryingly missing during SKY’s West Ham-Athon.

So, what’s the craic this Saturday? Well, the highs & lows mentioned above tell you that predicting NUFC scorelines has more than a touch of the ‘fools errand’ about it. What do we know? I’m hearing desperate news that Sean Longstaff has some ligament damage and will probably miss the remainder of the season. If this is 100%, it’s a huge blow to us and a massive shame for the kid. Hayden looked a little leggy in London, so I’m expecting a return of the Jonjo / Diame axis in the middle. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a bit moving of deck chairs across the back line. Possibly, the reintroduction of our USA soccer dude and Fede Fernandez?

I watched a fair bit of the Merseyside derby and Everton looked organised and dogged, without being particularly threatening. They’ve look a little light up top since Lukaku’s Mancunian exit. The granny botherer’s stateside sojourn hasn’t helped matters either. Calvert-Lewin shows some promise but Cenk Tosun has looked out of his depth thus far. For a club chucking hundreds of Millions about, it’s a head scratcher why they didn’t source a decent number 9.

After a beating, Rafa will have his side up for it and go back to basics with strict banks of four. Everton will be no pushover, however and I can see the same scoreline as the return fixture earlier this season. One apiece. I’d love to be wrong. It’s a while since we turned the Scouse mackems over and they’ve enjoyed a few properly spawny wins up here. Two recent 0-1ers leap to mind. Seeing wah Jordan’s face twisting would be nice too. Make it so.


Nick Clark