It’s been a long week hasn’t it? With all the drama of phantom take-over deals, mysterious secret investment talks and internet murmurings, it could be easy to forget that there is a big match on Saturday, as Everton look to kick-start their spluttering season up at Newcastle.
They very much remind me of some of our previous teams. No real superstars to speak of, but a defensive solidity with sprinklings of quality where it matters means they are adept at getting results. There are so many evenly matched teams in the division so if you can somehow convert draws into narrow wins and defeats into snatched draws you can quickly see yourself high up the league – as Newcastle find themselves now.
For Everton this game was supposed to represent the end of a nightmare run that has seen them play Man United, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea in the space of five games. But low and behold they are playing yet another team in the top six.
It has to be said that Newcastle are yet to play any of those teams and Saturday’s game represents the final match before a three-game run against City, United and Chelsea – boss Alan Pardew has already spoken of his determination to go into those top-of-the-table encounters still unbeaten. But that should not take anything away from a superb season from the Magpies so far.
Last time out Everton huffed and puffed but just couldn’t find a way through Manchester United’s defence. The Red Devils were not particularly impressive but so impotent was our attack that goalkeeper David De Gea barely had to get his shirt muddy. Given Newcastle have the tightest defence in the league; goals may be hard to come by for the Toffees.
The return of Royston Drenthe from suspension is a massive boost; the Dutchman has barely had a bad game since joining on deadline day and looked to be reaching full fitness against Fulham before his unfortunate red card against Chelsea denied him the chance to face United. We are a much more threatening force with him in the side, he is very much picking up the attacking mantle from Pienaar and Arteta. If we are to prosper in the north-east he is most likely to be the main man.
Following this game are three fixtures – against Wolves, Bolton and Stoke – that we have to go and win, which would give our league position more respectable look. Our season so far has told us that our relative decline means we can no longer give the top teams a fright, but Newcastle have taught us that defensive organisation and team spirit can get you far.
If after these next few games – with Newcastle facing United, City and Chelsea in that time - the two teams are closer together in the league, we can reflect on a steady if unspectacular start to the season.
Now, someone get me the Jain Group on the line......
Venue: St James' Park
Kick-off: 12:45 UK time
- Everton's 2-1 win at St James' Park on 5 March was their first league victory there since 2000. They had gone eight games without a win on Tyneside.
- This will be the 161st time these sides have met in all competitions; each side has recorded 63 wins, with 34 draws.
- Demba Ba has scored 15 Premier League goals in 2011. Only Robin van Persie (28) and Wayne Rooney (19) have scored more.
- The Magpies are unbeaten in 13 league games (including their final three matches last season). It is their best run of form in the top flight for over 61 years.
- The only occasion that Newcastle went undefeated in their opening 11 Premier League games was in 1994-95. If they avoid defeat on Saturday they will equal that record.
- Everton have not kept a clean sheet in nine league and cup matches. Their only shut-out this season came in a 1-0 win at Blackburn, who missed two penalties.
- The Toffees have suffered defeat in five of their last six matches in all competitions.
- They have lost five of six league games this season when they conceded the opening goal.