Newcastle United vs Everton

, 25 March, 0comments  |  Jump to most recent
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Now inside the final quarter of the season, Everton's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League — and, arguably, their worthiness of such a feat — will come under thorough examination with two potentially tricky but eminently win-able away fixtures, starting with a trip to Newcastle United this evening and then to Fulham on Sunday.

Largely disregarded by the media, the Blues' top-four hopes are not as fanciful as they appear given the eight point gap that exists between themselves as Arsenal, one that is likely to remain that large even if Roberto Martinez is able to engineer a win at St James' Park. (The Gunners are at home against Swansea City whose run without a win in all competitions stretched to eight games with their defeat at Goodison Park on Saturday.)

Everton's keys to putting pressure on Arsene Wenger's side are the game in hand against Crystal Palace, the fact that Arsenal have yet to visit Goodison Park — a Blues win in both matches would slash that points deficit to just two — and getting maximum points from these next two away games.

To do so would break a surprising sequence of results on the road between the turn of the year and the end of the season: as the club's official statistician, Gavin Buckland, points out, over the past four seasons Everton have won just one game away from home after the 1st of January, that coming at Swansea in a 2-0 win in March 2012.

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That record demonstrates clearly an area where Martinez can improve on his predecessor's performance in the second half of the season. Three of the four sides his side have travelled to since New Year's Day this year are currently sitting above them but the remaining five on the fixture list are further down the table and for European qualification to be realistic, the Blues are going to need to win a decent percentage of those games.

Erratic Newcastle are the first obstacle. They have talent in their ranks but their fans are never sure which Barcodes team is going to show up. Since the beginning of last month, they've lost 3-0 to Sunderland and 4-0 to Tottenham at home and struggled to beat Palace and Aston Villa with last-minute goals.

They will be without the pitch-side influence of manager Alan Pardew — a blessing or a curse, depending on your opinion of the man — who is serving his five-match stadium ban and chief danger man, Loic Remy, is a major doubt with an ankle injury.

Everton, meanwhile, could welcome Phil Jagielka back to the team after a three-game absence with a hamstring strain. The Captain is believed to be ready after being given additional rest time by sitting out on Saturday and John Stones will likely be the one to make way. Steven Pienaar remains sidelined with a knee injury, however.

If there are to be any further changes, they are likely to be in midfield where Martinez has shown a willingness to rotate his more attack-minded players, although there is something to be said for continuity following key assists in the last two games from Aiden McGeady and Kevin Mirallas and the manager's reluctance to use Gerard Deulofeu in the starting XI.

It's fair to say that Everton haven't been at their convincing best for some weeks now but as the season moves into its crunch phase, they are going to need to pull out some determined and cohesive displays between now and the end of the season.

Their 4-1 win at Hull aside, Newcastle have struggled for goals recently and have shown they have a propensity to concede goals when really tested. If the Blues can pull together a dominant possession game combined with tightness at the back and incisiveness up front, then the three points will be theirs.

Quotes sourced from ToffeeWeb Match Reports

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