7.45pm, Thursday 17/3/22, 

Goodison Park, la. 

Premiership 

Live on Amazon Prime. (Hopefully, with the mint Ally McCoist/Jon Champion combo) 

Following a hard fought, and ultimately ball crushingly disappointing encounter versus ‘the twelve men of Chelsea’ (™️ Isaac Hayden); it’s another four day turnaround this week. Thursday evening sees a trip for Eddie and the lads to Goodison Park, where a beleaguered looking Everton await.

As I write, like many of you, I’m still foaming at the injustice meted out to United at Stamford Bridge.  The two heinous incidents were another sorry indictment of the state of officialdom in this country.  I could go on for an hour about it, but it’s already been covered ad infinitum on proper & social media.  Therefore, I shall instead look at the positives to take away from West London.

For me, one of our lowest ebbs during this topsy-turvy season was when Sunday’s hosts visited Tyneside in late October. To say we were outclassed that afternoon would be a large understatement. The defeatist, clueless manager largely responsible for our malaise had finally gone, but with no permanent successor in  place, Graeme Jones repeated his tactics by sending his charges out to somehow gain a 0-0. We huffed & puffed, and were eventually, and contemptuously put to the sword by three goals to nil.  NUFC’s brave new dawn was yet to rise. We simply looked doomed.

Contrast that with Sunday’s performance.  An under strength, injury/illness hit United were sent out with specific tactics, holding and pressing the European Champions with grit, determination and nous. We also had a couple of moments at the sharp end which meant we could’ve nicked it, as well as the clear pen that never was.

Whilst naturally gutted, I remained upbeat post match. It’s a world apart from what we’ve become used to over recent seasons, and bodes particularly well for the future.

Thursday’s hosts have possibly replaced us as the ‘decent sized disaster club’ this season. Where to start with them? The arranged marriage with Senõr Benitez was always destined to be a loveless affair.  Why he went there, given his history across Stanley Park, I’ll never know.  However, he hit the ground running, despite FFP induced transfer limitations meaning he had to shop cannily in football’s bargain basement.

Initial early season success was met at best with smiles through gritted teeth on the Gwladys Street End. As he lost top performers such as Calvert-Lewin, Doucouré and Richarlison to injury, results began to nosedive, and the full wrath of the Everton faithful was gradually turned upon him.

Following a 1-4 hiding at Goodison in the Merseyside derby, the writing was on the wall. After a lacklustre defeat at fellow strugglers, Norwich City where a ‘fan’ tried to get to Rafa, you knew that was that.  The axe was swung, and the dubious choice was that Frank Lampard should replace the seasoned Spanish pragmatist.

The Chelsea & England midfield legend has a short and slightly chequered looking managerial CV thus far.  To be fair, he did a pretty decent job at Derby County, getting them to, but ultimately losing a Championship play off Final v Aston Villa. Then, at Chelsea he did OK-ish, but was peddled with his team occupying a meagre 9th place in the Premiership.  When you see the transformation which today’s incumbent, Tuchel has performed it’s clear that he’s leagues away from that type of level.

He made his (PL) Toffee’s managerial bow at an uproarious St James’ Park in early February and was brushed aside 3-1 by Eddie’s Mags. The Everton goal that night was courtesy of an unfortunate Jamal Lascelles.  Their next game saw a 3-0 ‘dead cat bounce’ over a terrible Leeds United side and since then they haven’t troubled the scorers, shipping nine goals without reply v Southampton, Man City, Spurs and Wolves.  Nil Satis Nisi Optimum?  Nil points from a possible twelve. Tough fixtures, but a grim return whichever you slice it.

They will therefore start Thursday’s encounter with only goal difference keeping them out of the bottom three.  True, they have a few games in hand on those around them, but are currently in the worst run of form at the bottom.  If this one is a big game for the Magpies, it’s arguably Everton’s most important fixtures in years.  Given their position, and run of games following (W Ham away, Man U home, Liverpool away) they will have it down as an absolute ‘must win.’

Whilst many of our more excitable element will be fancying a decent sized away win on Merseyside, I reckon this could be a tricky one.  The bookies don’t appear to be too convinced either way, and I think a fair bit could depend on who is available for Mr Howe.  If he can call on a fit Joelinton, Willock and Fraser, I’d feel happier.  Also, whilst I admire Chris Wood’s application I do have a bit of concern re our cutting edge. Fair do’s, Chelsea are a different proposition but our centre forward was struggling a bit on Sunday.  Whilst, you’d like to think he’ll get a bit more opportunity on Thursday evening, to get anything decent here we’ll probably need some more goals from midfield.

Everton’s desperation for a win, the silly Charva-Saurus in goal and the eternal worry that an old boy (in Rondón) could come off the bench to notch are intriguing subplots to what could be an explosive match.  However, Eddie has ice in his veins, and will have us well drilled as usual.  An early away goal would definitely turn the atmosphere from frenzied to depressed on the home terraces, but I’m a scaredy cat, so am gonna plump for a 1-1 draw; which will be canny enough for us, but a bit rubbish for them.

Go one better, eh lads…..?

Nick Clark  – @Clark5Nick