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Venue: Goodison Park, Liverpool
Premier League
 Sunday 3 January 2016; 4:00pm
1 1
 Lennon 22'
Half Time: 1 - 1
Alli 45' +1 
Attendance: 38,482
Fixture 20
Referee: Michael Oliver

Match Report

In the aftermath of what eventually became an absorbing 1-1 draw between Everton and Tottenham, Roberto Martinez hailed an improved performance from his men and while none of them have gone as far as to say they were "immense", many of the reports in the aftermath of the Blues's first game of 2016 appear to concur with his sentiments. The Catalan's team halted their home losing streak at two matches and stemmed the flow of goals conceded by restricting Tottenham to just four shots on target – all but one from outside the penalty area – and one goal.

Unfortunately, the result also means that by the time Swansea City come to town on 24th January it will be more than two months since Goodison Park last witnessed a victory in the Premier League and the sole clean sheet Everton have managed on home turf all season. As it stands after today, Everton's win column reads a paltry six – as many as Norwich City in 15th place – and they remain exactly where they were last May, in a progress-defying 11th place.

As negative as that may sound, it's the reality of Everton's situation: in the context of their target of challenging for a place in what is a wide open top four this season, the solitary point they earned today was as effectively inconsequential as the ones they were forced to settle for at Bournemouth, West Ham, Swansea and Carrow Road and against Watford Crystal Palace, Liverpool. It's victories and routinely picking up three points that propel you up the Premier League and once again Everton gave two away from a winning position, albeit against Mauricio Pochettino's impressive outfit. In failing to capitalise on what was, on paper, a softer part of the fixture calendar over the past 10 games, the Blues have left themselves with the Herculean task of carving out wins in places like the Etihad Stadium, Stamford Bridge and the Britannia Stadium over the coming month if they are to remain in touch with the European quaification places.

A 1-1 draw with a Spurs side that has lost just one of their last nine and sits in fourth place is a start, of course, but that the outcome of today's game is being viewed as a positive result in some quarters is, of course, reflective of the extent to which Martinez is under-achieving with his Everton side and how well Pochettino has rounded his out team into one that is strong in almost areas of the pitch. Evenly-matched on paper, Tottenham have been markedly stronger in terms of defensive solidity and mentality this season and their lofty league position has been their reward.

They certainly looked the superior side in the first 20 minutes of this contest, a spell in which Everton failed to get anywhere near the visitors' area. Stung by leaking seven goals in the last two home games, Martinez had visibly adopted a more defensive posture at the start of this one but Spurs's domination in the early stages was alarming. The Londoners were cutting through the Blues' midfield with ease at times and but for a coat of paint they might have taken a 10th-minute lead when Harry Kane lined up a speculative low drive from 25 yards that cannoned off the inside of the post, flew across Tim Howard's goal and towards the corner flag on the other side.

If Martinez's strategy had been to hand Spurs the ball and try to catch them cold, it worked to perfection in the 22nd minute when Tom Cleverley, starting in midfield alongside Gareth Barry despite coming off against Stoke last Monday with an Achilles injury, delivered a precise deep ball into the heart of the opposition defence, Romelu Lukaku cushioned a header back to Aaron Lennon and the former Tottenham winger despatched a lovely half volley inside the far post to make it 1-0.

Spurs were largely undeterred by what they must surely have viewed as an injustice based on the balance of play and they continued to apply pressure while rattling the frame of Howard's goal again on the half hour. Ben Davies was left unmarked outside the area from a corner and he crashed a 25-yarded off the underside of the crossbar. Despite their more protective posture – one undermined to an uncomfortable extent by Kone's deployment as the square attacking peg in a round left-midfield hole – Everton were generally failing to get down the fundamentals required, allowing visiting players too much space to exploit on the overlap down the flanks and not pressing the ball as a team.

And when on the rare occasions they got forward themselves in the first half, they took the wrong option; the otherwise tidy Barkley ignored the marauding Leighton Baines in one such instance and misplaced his pass to Lukaku while Barry passed up the easy ball to Kone who was in acres of space and ended up gifting it straight to a Spurs defender to spoil that rare counter-attacking opportunity.

Nevertheless, it was all "so far, so good" heading into first-half stoppage time until the defence switched off for the second week running and Dele Alli was allowed to plunder an equaliser. Seamus Coleman failed to track either Toby Alderweireld's raking ball foward from inside his own half or Alli's run to meet it and the young England international took it down on his chest and fired past Howard in one motion to send the two teams into the dressing room all square.

It was, no doubt, part of Martinez's plan on the day for his team to come out of the interval in more adventurous mood and they eventually did, but it took an uncharacteristically early double substitution just before the hour mark to spark them into life. Lennon was unfortunate to be the one to make way for Gerard Deulofeu while Kone came off for Muhamed Besic and the energy injected by both players transformed Everton's performance almost instantly. It meant that the manager had effectively allowed his team just half an hour in which to really try and win the game but the improvement was hugely encouraging, especially from Besic who was a virtually irrepressible live wire.

It didn't immediately translate to a direct threat to Hugo Lloris's goal beyond a flurry of corners forced by Deulofeu's probing down the right wing but the Frenchman was forced into a making terrific one-handed save to deny Besic's excellent volley from the edge of the area with 11 minutes to go. And Ramiro Funes Mori almost capped a marked improvement in his own performance following a shoddy first half by heading home the resulting corner but his effort flashed past the wrong side of the post.

That sparked a frenetic final 10 minutes in which Everton were an entirely different proposition and Spurs, having hitherto proven so difficult to play through, found themselves scrambling back to defend a succession of counter-attacks as the Blues tried to force home a winner in the closing stages. Unfortunately, Lukaku blazed a rare chance over under pressure from Alderweireld and Barkley's shot from the angle at the end of injury time was parried away by Lloris.

Again, the draw may not have done much in terms of the quest to close the gap on the pack of clubs above in the Premier League but it will hopefully provide a shot in the arm for team morale, particularly at the back, as the players prepare for the all-important first leg against Manchester City in the Capital One Cup. The importance of that tie in the wider picture of the season grows larger with each passing League game.

Lyndon Lloyd

Matchday Updates

The Everton line-up included Baines, Cleverley and Lennon for the visit of Tottenham Hotspur in this afternoon's televised live game at Goodison Park. Martinez stuck with his first choices in Howard and Kone despite massive criticisms from many fans, while Phil Jagielka returned to the bench after a long absence through injury. Deulofeu was also on the bench and, with McCarthy injured, Lennon and Cleverly started.

Everton's early ball work was not up to snuff, the visitors taking command of possession and putting together a terrifying attack with an excellent cross from Kyle Walker, Coleman in the right position to defend well and deny Alli an open goal. Spurs attacked again, with Everton looking flat and bedazzled by the fulsome praise their manager had showered on their illustrious opponents before kick-off.

It was 6 mins before Everton had some worthwhile possession but the turnover came before it went anywhere and another Spurs attack, Kane fired a long-distance shot onto the inside of the post and along the goalline behind a flummoxed Tim Howard. So close to the opening goal, with Alli lying injured.

Everton had more possession but it broke down again before it got anywhere near the Spurs penalty area, as the Blues really struggled to get a grip on their task, while Spurs took control with some excellent one-touch passing, denying the Blues a sniff.

Everton looked to break with Barry playing out to Coleman but hesitation, backward passing, Lukaku's poor first touch, a turnover, and Spurs were attacking again.

Spurs won a dangerous free-kick off Barry's high foot, and Lamela from the set-piece smacked it off the wall, Kone getting his head to save the fierce shot on Howard's goal. But still Everton could not get out, Lukaku unable to control it again.

Everton finally got the ball forward, a route one ball from Cleverly up to Lukaku who nodded down for Lennon and an absolutely superb half-volley from the former Tottenham player gave Lloris not a chance of saving it. Perfect execution that finally settled down an increasingly agitated Goodison crowd.

Everton attacked again, with much better impetus, but Kone did not step back for Baines's cross and Spurs forced the pace again, winning a corner and pinning the Blues in their own area until Cleverley was fouled. Yet again, the forward ball to the Spurs area was lost and the visitors were surging forward again.

Another promising start, Lukaku playing Cleverley's good ball back to Kone, as he turned to run forward but Kone crucially failed to give him the return ball to run onto, and it was a corner for Spurs in no time, that Davies smashed past a flailing Howard but into the underside of the bar and out... another incredible let-off for the beleaguered Blues.

Spurs were hunting in packs the second they lost the ball, Barry with FOUR white shirts around him as he tried to clear the ball from the edge of the Everton area. Lukaku did better despite Spurs pressure, but could not play in Barkley and Spurs attacked again. But it was cleared by Coleman and Barkley finally got the ball but ran straight into Walker. Coleman was bizarrely carded for an accidental handball, after the Spurs player stopped the move with his hand!

Everton finally got out down the right, and Coleman was allowed to cross but the ball bounced off Kone's head and behind, the goal-kick leading to another frightening Spurs attack down the right and panic defending by Everton. Their next attack saw another lethal cross that somehow was not converted.

Lukaku picked out Kone's run but he had broken too early and was flagged offside. Everton's much-maligned defence, however, had held out through a remarkable onslaught, more perhaps by good luck and solid woodwork. A great ball by Barkley looked to release Coleman but he too had stepped up too early, and was called offside.

From the free-kick, a tremendous long ball by Alderweireld was controlled brilliantly by Alli and smashed past Howard for a superb finish to level the score in added time before the break. A tremendous game for the neutral, but frustrating for Everton fans to see their side so comprehensively out played... yet at half-time they were still somehow in the game.

Second half, and perhaps the time to bring on Deulofeu or Mirallas to provide more of a forward challenge? But Cleverley and Lennon had done well and could not be replaced, and Kone had been okay.

Everton put in a couple of decent attacks to start the half, after a poor touch by Kone, Barkley just nudged as he fired wide after a great run. Then Baines wasted a free-kick with a weak chip that saw the Blues pushed back. Lennon did well to cut a ball back from the byeline but Vertonghen stopped it becoing a real chance.

Spurs put together another lethal move, and Kane seemed set to score but Stones was in to put him off. The game became pretty even for a while as both sides looked more equal to each other. Two changes before the hour: Besic and Deulofeu on for Kone and Lennon replaced, with booing apparently for the decision to take off Lennon.

Lamela bamboozled Coleman but the ball was cleared as Everton perhaps now had an incentive to play up, if they could get Deulofeu into the game. Besic showed signs of rustiness as he tried too hard to get into the swing of things... Stones did well in defence and Everton should have built an attack but it was snuffed out again.

Barkley delivered a fantastic cross-ball to Deulofeu whose cross was blocked for Everton's first? corner, taken by Baines resulting in a great glancing header. Then Deulofeu with a fantastic cross to the far post but Lukaku could not reach it. Everton were now really playing well but as soon as they lost the ball, Spurs surged forward. However, a long pass just ran out from Dier, as Son replaced Eriksen.

Lamela was finally booked after smacking Coleman in the face. Besic did well to hassle Lamela then Carrol fouled Barkley for a yellow. Deulofeu got the ball again and tried to beat his man but another corner. Baines's delivery was okay but it was headed away. At the other end, Alli fired a hard shot straight at Howard.

Barry gave away a soft free-kick and Howard came out but made a poor punch, Funes Mori rescuing him with a better header. Deulofeu was forced to play the ball around in defence, and Everton were soon attacking, Besic firing in a lovely first-time volley, that Lloris tipped over well. From and excellent corner, Lukaku and Funes Mori challenged for the ball, the header dropping inches wide of the far post as Everton sensed they could certainly win this absorbing contest with a little more application.

Deulofeu was pumping balls into the danger area but the anticipation was lacking. Spurs saw a little more of the ball, Chadli replacing Alli. Everton looked to advance again but Spurs blocked all the channels and the long ball to Lukaku was collected by Lloris.

Besic tried to play to Lukaku's feet but the ball was just a fraction too strong for the big man. Deulofeu played another perfect ball straight to Lukaku's feet but his horrendous first touch gave the ball away. Cleverley played a great ball to Barkley's feet but his cross was straight at Vertonghen rather than Lukaku. The corner caused some panic with another near-post flick-on by Barry but the follow-up behind him was not there.

Stones was forced to play the ball around with some brilliant controlled dribbling in some style, forcing Son into a foul, all inside the Everton penalty area. Everton looked to build something down the left in the final minute. But each ball in met a white shirt, including a tremendous strike from Stones. Besic with some fantastic ball play near the Everton corner flag to clear, and the match culminated in a tremendous atmosphere as a goal from Everton seemed inevitable, Lukaku lashing one over.

But it was end-to-end, with one final attack from Spurs, then Everton got the ball and Lukaku's shot was blocked, then Barkley's attempted saved by Lloris.... a breathless finish to a tremendous if ultimately frustrating game of football.

Scorers: Lennon (22'); Alli (45+1')

Everton: Howard; Coleman [Y:35'], Stones, Funes Mori, Baines; Cleverley, Barry; Lennon (58' Besic), Kone (58' Deulofeu), Barkley; Lukaku.
Subs: Robles, Jagielka, Mirallas, Osman, Galloway.

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Davies; Carroll [Y:73'], Dier; Eriksen (69' Son), Alli (83' Chadli), Lamela [Y:68']; Kane.
Subs: Vorm, Rose, Trippier, Bentaleb, Onomah.

Referee: Michael Oliver

Attendance: 38,482

Michael Kenrick

From My Seat: Tottenham (H)

With more water on the roads than in the Mersey we met up in our temple of learning and entered the Room of Nonsense. Managers were either being sacked or given extra time to build, players being bought and sold and boards being urged to find buyers or leaving well alone. All arguments you could not hope to win and if we were a committee running Everton we would be in the old conference league. Much the same as ToffeeWeb I suppose except in your face and live. The discussion over the team selection when it arrived was priceless.

Time for the walk up and with heads and bodies slightly bent forward against wind and rain we made our way to a drenched Goodison Park. All looked drab in Goodison Road as fast food wrapper bins overflowed with limp rain sodden paper and what horse droppings and heavy rain mixed together produce is best spotted and avoided.

In for Z-Cars and that dirge thats played for players to shake hands makes one wonder if that is the reason crowds are so quiet on and just after kick off. Anyway the game set off and somehow you could sense that Spurs had started while we were just thinking about it. There was an undercurrent amongst some sections of the fans that you could almost touch and our opening play did very little to dampen it and this was evident through a half that was totally dominated by Spurs but our answer to the bad defending jibes was to play deep leaving Lukaku so isolated it looked like he was looking for a game of footy to join in with.

Time after time we would defend deep and with Spurs playing high and chasing and closing everything down whether we played the ball out or hoofed it out the same result was achieved. I started to worry about a rout. I could write forever about how many last ditch tackles we made, how many goal-line and near goal-line clearances being made but I can sum up the first half by detailing the 10th minute. The 20th minute 30th minute and 45th minute.

10th minute. A Spurs attack and Kane lets fly from some 30yds beats Howard and crashes against the inside of the post somehow comes across goal and just misses the far post and then goes out for a goal kick. Phew!

20th minute. Cleverly again put in that raking long ball, a la Stoke, up to Lukaku who this time headed down for the supporting Lennon who took no time at all to hit a sweet half volley where lloris had no chance of reaching and somehow we were one ahead. It was also brilliant when the crowd sang He is one of our own

30th minute. Spurs gain a corner with the whole team defending cleared but to just outside the box where left back Davies was lurking and he hit straight and true but a gnats too high and the ball smashed against the bar, talk about riding your luck. This game was reminding me about our first half v Norwich.

45th minute. Spurs centre back sends in a long arcing ball into our box and Alli was first to react and got to the ball just before Coleman and slotted past Howard with aplomb. Oh the groans and the words Typical Bloody Everton that resonated around the place.

To put that first half bluntly, they murdered us into a 1-1 score-line.

In that first half after all the criticism regarding defending we over compensated and almost paid a big price so something would have to change.

Second half and we kick toward the street end and after a few minutes I was heartened to see Barkley looking to get on the ball and make some positive runs. His final ball was not really in evidence but it was a step up from his first half showing where he was almost invisible. We were now making a game of it with Barkley and Cleverly pushed on a bit. I took a little time to watch Cleverly without the ball and was surprised at the ground he covers and the awareness he shows. He looks a different player than the one you see by just following the ball.

We gave as good as we got up to the hour mark but we just could not get the final ball right or players willing to get up and around Lukaku who was getting flick-ones but only to Spurs players. Then the present manager made subs. Lennon off and Deulofeu on, parts of the crowd boo-ed that decision, also Besic replaced Kone. Besic got a good welcome back as he kissed the hallowed turf. For me they were the right subs at the right time as they brought something different to the game with Cleverly moving left to allow Besic to join Barry but as the box to box man and he gave a good display too. One dipping shot from the edge of the box almost beat the excellent Lloris and brought great acclaim. From the Lloris tip over a corner was taken and Mori headed inches wide.

Once Besic is match fit and up to speed and put in 90mins of that box to box stuff we could go up a notch in my view. Besic seemed to have galvanised Barkley as he was now showing the confidence that had been missing and this was exemplified by a glorious Crossfield ball to Deulofeu on the opposite flank, the Spaniard beat his first man but his cross was blocked for a corner which if memory serves me right was our first and Baines pulled rank and took a beaut and a scramble occurred with the ball finding Deulofeu who put in a fast cross that eluded the head of Lukaku by a very small margin.

From fearing a trouncing I was now thinking a win was quite possible but also aware of the danger of many a Spurs attack. Barry was immense in his reading of the game and he had improved with the introduction of Besic who seemed to know when to do his running for him giving Barry more time to organise a few defenders from time to time.

Before the end we had time to see Lamela booked for sticking his hand in Colemans gob. Alli had a well struck shot straight at Howard who held it well and got a little cheer. Deulofeu got back to do his defensive shift and ended up doing a Stones in our box by twisting and turning but somehow he held on to the ball and left four or five Spurs men in his wake as he cleared the box and passed into mid-field He got a cheer. Then Stones showed us the real thing by dribbling in our area, Cryuf turns and all, twisting and turning as the Park End patrons requested him to perhaps just kick it up field a little. Such was the anxiety shown John had to request them to calm down. He got a free kick anyway and the game went on. We fans do get panicky at times!

The ground now was deffo Goodison as the atmosphere became electric as we looked likely winners. Spurs defended desperately as Lukaku hit over, Barkley hit straight at the keeper, Deulofeu put in dangerous crosses but each one just favoured a Spurs man. 3mins added and then the whistle .Talk about a game of two halves? You betcha we just saw one

M.o.t.M. Barry. also well played Funes Mori

All in all a rocky journey but most I spoke to were happy with a point after that first half. A quirk of football is shown when you consider we have played Spurs twice and all square in both games yet they are 4th and we are 11th and they have drawn as many as us, maybe the word consistency covers it.

With the introduction of Besic and how he was played today I wondered if our present manager has hit on a formation that could work by accident. For some time now I have thought that it hasnt been all the defences fault for throwing games away as from my seat I can look down on play I noted that we were not a team as such. We had gaps between the back and mid-field and another between mid-field and forwards and each group seemed to play independently of each other.

Today when Besic came on and played with Barry they seemed able to stich the team together and become one unit and we looked the better for it. We attacked and defended with some cohesion in those last twenty minutes, if only we could put that together on a consistent basis for the rest of the season and have all the squad clued in to the system to cover absences.

Man City twice will be a testing time and awaiting the team he picks for the FA Cup tie will be interesting. Never a dull moment eh? See you soon


Ken Buckley

More frustration at Goodison Park

With the rain seemingly endless I was glad that Ste offered to drive to this one. We rolled up near the ground a little after 2pm, meeting Gary and Sue in the pub. The team news came. Tim Howard and Arouna Kone retaining their respective places in the starting XI bringing the most annoyance for most.

We trudged on to Goofison Park in the rain and were in place well in time for Z-Cars to boom out. Gareth Barry led the team out, Everton winning the coin toss and attacking towards the Park End in the first half. Andre Marriner officiated.

The first half in the main belonged to Tottenham who were on the front foot with an energetic start to the game. A cross to the back post was well hacked clear by Seamus Coleman which prevented an almost certain goal. Shortly afterwards Harry Kane drove at goal and was desperately unlucky not to give Tottenham the advantage when his angled effort from distance cannoned away off the inside of the post, across the goal and out of play. Tottenham desperately unlucky.

This was Everton's cue to up the tempo and Gareth Barry carried the fight to the opposition more than most as we tried to get a foothold. As it transpired we got our noses in front with practically our first meaningful attack of the game when a ball by Cleverley was well flicked to Aarron Lennon by Romelu Lukaku. The ex-Spurs winger steadied himself and hit an unstoppable drive past Hugo Lloris. Entirely against the run of play, we found ourselves a goal to the good.

We seemed to gain confidence from this though Tottenham certainly weren't feeling sorry for themselves either and almost equalised when Ben Davies drove from distance with a spectacular effort that came back off the crossbar and away to safety. At the other end Kone headed wide with a half chance.

As the half time break approached you prayed and begged for Everton to for once just see the game out and get to half time with the scoreline intact. Wishful thinking of course and as Everton jittered you sensed a goal may be coming and unfortunately it came far too easily when a hopeful ball was punted forward and was missed by I think John Stones and Seamus Coleman, though was smartly finished by Dele Alli. Tottenham level just on half time. "Typical Everton" is all you could think.

I worried that Spurs may really gain momentum from the equalising goal and take advantage in the second half though it was Everton who made more of a fist of things after the break and we can perhaps count ourselves a shade unlucky not to have taken all three points, though a defeat may have been hard on Tottenham given their first half superiority.

We were defensively much more solid and didn't give much away at the back, whilst pressing for the winner at the other end of the pitch and with better composure as the game stretched we might have got the decisive winning goal. A wonderful effort by substitute Muhamed Besic almost resulted in his first Everton goal though Lloris tipped his effort over the crossbar, whilst right at the death we passed up a couple of decent openings when Romelu Lukaku blazed over the goal under pressure from Jan Vertonghen; and, in a separate opportunity Lukaku's shot was blocked though it fell in the penalty area to Ross Barkley who engineered some space with a fabulously audacious bit of skill, though unfortunately his drive was well stopped by Lloris in the last action of an absorbingly entertaining game.

So another frustrating draw (our third in six games against Spurs, though we lost the other three!) in this maddeningly frustrating season, though performances similar to that of the second half against Manchester City will more than give us a chance of progressing to the Capital One cup final. Let's hope that's the Everton we see on Wednesday evening at what is sure to be a rocking Goodison Park.

Player Ratings:
Howard: Saved all that was struck at him and was fine other than a few moments of indecision when it came to commanding his penalty area. Distribution not bad. 6
Baines: Did well, always up in support of his teammates and defended pretty well also. 6
Funes Mori: After a hesitant first half he improved in the half and can be satisfied with his days' work. 7
Stones: I think it was his lapse which let Tottenham in for the equaliser but otherwise he was very good and much more fierce in the tackle and dominant that he has been for some time. 7
Coleman: My man of the match. The goal aside, he lead by example at the back and was always helping out Lennon and, later in the game, Deulofeu in attack. 7
Barry: Not everything he does is always the right thing to do but he always takes responsibility and will take one for the team. I think he would benefit from a rest though. Get him through the cup semi-final then let him rest against Dagenham & Redbridge. 6
Cleverley: I was surprised he was available but he did well to last the game. Showed some clever touches though mis-placed a few things late in the game. Given the performance of Muhammed Besic as a substitute, and the performance, or there lack of, of Arouna Kone on the left, I wouldn't be surprised to see him feature on the left against Manchester City. 7
Kone: Hard to fathom how he remains in the team with so many other options available. His contribution with goals and assists is minimal and there are certainly better candidates who deserve an opportunity. 5
Lennon: Seized his opportunity and got around the pitch well with a typically energetic display. So much so that most were rather disappointed to see him substituted on the hour. Will be pleased with his goal against his former employers. 7
Barkley: Worked hard in there and would have brought the house down had he have found the net after his brilliant flick to create an opportunity at the death. I've an inkling he'll come up trumps against Manchester City in the league cup. Don't know why. 7
Lukaku: Perhaps tries to do too much sometimes but has really developed into a genuinely class player. Another excellent performance with an excellent assist to boot. 7

Besic (for Kone): Got stuck in and made a real impact on the game. With McCarthy injured he may be able to seize the opportunity in the middle. Unlucky not to score. 7
Deulofeu (for Lennon): Got involved though didn't quite hit the heights he has done previously this season. 6

Paul Traill

Match Preview

Everton complete what has been a mixed festive programme with a tricky-looking home game against high-flying Tottenham Hotspur in the main Sunday match-up.

Just as he did a year ago, Roberto Martinez begins 2016 under a degree of pressure but this time, far from struggling to find solutions at the attacking end of his team, it's mostly the Toffees' defensive and goalkeeping woes that have ensured they will kick off the New Year in cut adrift in the bottom half of the table – albeit only five points off fifth position.

Having played all of last season's top eight in the first 10 games, Everton's recent nine-match stretch since October was expected to provide them the opportunity to rack up points and propel themselves into the reckoning for the top four but they managed just three wins against the current bottom three.

Starting with tomorrow's opponents, Tottenham Hotspur, Martinez's side now enter a busy part of the fixture list against a host of top sides searching for the keys to solidity at the back and a collective mentality to start grinding out wins. Under Mauricio Pochettino, the North Londoners appear to have found the blend of consistency, solidity and potency that has eluded Everton and they came into the weekend in fourth place, just four points off the top of the Premier League.

The Argentine has overseen a steady improvement in his outfit's performances since the two teams met in a goalless draw at White Hart Lane at the end of August, a game that Everton might have won were they in the same goalscoring groove as they are at the moment, and they are being mentioned as possible title contenders.

Spurs's situation is one that will nag at Evertonians who feel it could easily be the Blues in this unpredictable season but the congested nature of the top half means that the opportunity is still there if they can finally put together a run of victories in a campaign where they have so failed to win two League games in succession.

Coming into the end-of-year programme, Martinez was trumpeting the imminent return of a number of his players that he hoped would get him close to full strength to start 2016 but a setback for James McCarthy who, it would appear, was rushed back too soon to face Stoke on Monday, and an injury to Tom Cleverley in the same game means he will be forced into changes for this one.

McCarthy is definitely ruled out, with rumours suggesting he won't play again until February, while Cleverley will be a doubt with an Achilles problem and that could provide an opportunity for Muhamed Besic or Darron Gibson to make a rare start in central midfield alongside Gareth Barry.

Further back, while Joel Robles will surely get the nod as the "cup 'keeper" against Manchester City in the semi-final first leg on Wednesday, there has been nothing to suggest from the manager's comments that Tim Howard's position is under threat despite his erratic form so it will probably be as-you-were between the posts. Leighton Baines is expected to return at left back, meanwhile, after being rested against Stoke.

Most eyes might have been on the centre-back pairing, however, where it was hoped Phil Jagielka would make his long-awaited return from the knee ligament injury he sustained in October. The captain's experience and comparatively stronger defensive organisation has been missed, particularly in recent weeks but it's unlikely he will be declared fit enough to come back into the side, and Ramiro Funes Mori should continue in his stead for one more game at least.

In the attacking third, Arouna Kone and Kevin Mirallas will probably vie for one starting berth while Gerard Deulofeu and Aaron Lennon will be in the frame for the other.

With Harry Kane back in the kind of form that made him the surprise goalscoring package of last season, Erik Lamela showing the kind of consistency that has eluded Mirallas, for example, and the likes of Tom Carroll and Dele Alli probing precociously from midfield – Spurs will be without Mousa Dembele who has a groin injury – this will be a stern test for Everton's fragile back line.

If they can shore things up and take a more mature approach to what will be a difficult game, then they obviously have the firepower to make the difference at the other end. A defeat would represent a body blow to a team already short on confidence at the moment; a win would be a massive boost to morale, not only for the Capital One Cup tie but the rest of the tough month ahead.

Kick-off: 4pm
Referee: Michael Oliver
Predicted line-up: Howard, Coleman, Stones, Funes Mori, Baines, Barry, Besic, Barkley, Deulofeu, Kone, Lukaku

Lyndon Lloyd

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Match Reports
2015-16 Reports Index
Stoke (H) Man City (H)
 Match reports
 Lyndon Lloyd Report
Ken Buckley Report
 Paul Traill Report
EVERTON (4-5-1)
  Funes Mori
  Lennon (Deulofeu 59')
  Kone (Besic 59')
  Subs not used
  Browning (injured)
  McCarthy (injured)
  Oviedo (unfit)
  Garbutt (loan)
  Junior (loan)
  Ledson (loan)
  Eriksen (Son 69')
  Lamela (Onomah 88')
  Alli (Chadli 83')
  Subs not used

Premier League Scores
Arsenal 1-0 Newcastle
Leicester 0-0 Bournemouth
Man United 2-1 Swansea
Norwich 1-0 So'hampton
Sunderland 3-1 Aston Villa
Watford 1-2 Man City
West Brom 2-1 Stoke City
West Ham 2-0 Liverpool
C Palace 0-3 Chelsea
Everton 1-1 Tottenham

Team Pts
1 Arsenal 42
2 Leicester City 40
3 Manchester City 39
4 Tottenham Hotspur 36
5 Manchester United 33
6 West Ham United 32
7 Crystal Palace 31
8 Liverpool 30
9 Watford 29
10 Stoke City 29
11 Everton 27
12 West Bromwich Albion 26
13 Southampton 24
14 Chelsea 23
15 Norwich City 23
16 AFC Bournemouth 21
17 Swansea City 19
18 Newcastle United 17
19 Sunderland 15
20 Aston Villa 8


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