Everton v Birmingham: Match Preview

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - MARCH 05: Leon Osman of Everton celebrates his goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Everton at St James' Park on March 5, 2011 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)


Fingers crossed the pipes have thawed this time allowing Everton and Birmingham to complete a fixture that should have been played on Boxing Day.

There was much frustration when the match was called off just four hours before kick-off back in December, especially for those who had travelled or were travelling large distances to make the game. I’m sure many who had tickets for what is one of the best attended games of the season won’t be able to make a Wednesday night in early-March either.

But in hindsight it may work in our favour.

For starters it gave some of the players a rest over Christmas (not that it helped I suppose) and now we have a ‘free’ game with no other Premier League teams playing this week.

A quick glance of the table sees the Blues in 10th place (the beauty of FINALLY winning two gamesin a row) and a win against relegation threatened Birmingham (I’m tentatively moving us out of the ‘immediate relegation danger’ list – for now) can see us move into the giddy heights of …wait for it… eighth.

With all the regularity of a pair of lungs Everton's season fills with hope and expectation only to be punctured and then expunged with another dismal defeat soon after, week-by-tortuous-week.

If they can somehow stop this erratic run against Alex McLeish’s men and make it three League wins on the bounce the season we all thought was finished after the Reading result may have some life in it after all.

We can’t get ahead of ourselves though; this season more than any other we have seen this Everton side produce a decent performance only to let themselves down in embarrassing fashion in the next match.

David Moyes has been scrambling around to try and find a solution to our inconsistencies and a clutch of under-performing players.

With no cash to bring people in he has had to try and play players into form. At times he has looked like he has run out of ideas – at the miserable Bolton match in particular. But he may have stumbled upon a formation that could see us through to the end of the season.

With Seamus Coleman looking increasingly tired Moyes chose to give the Irishman a well earned rest up at St James’ Park. With Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini injured and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov out-of-form Moyes had to re-jig his midfield and either by accident or design he hit upon a winning formula.

Bringing Phil Neville back into midfield brought a bit of leadership and organisation into the middle of the park that was sorely missed in the Reading game while Tony Hibbert was as steady as ever in at right back.

The match-winning move though was moving Mikel Arteta back out onto the wing where he enjoyed his best game in nearly a year.

True, he was helped by the fact he had a makeshift Newcastle defence in front of him – Steven Taylor in particular looked badly out of shape – but he has played against weaker sides before this season and not performed.

It was such a refreshing sight to see him running with the ball, spraying passes about and generally doing what he does best.

Moyes has a habit of stumbling onto new formations, generally with successful results.

After a poor game against Wigan in 2008 the opposite tactical switch was made, with Mikel Arteta moving from out wide into the middle in order to exert more influence on the game. It resulted in a spectacular return to form that was only halted by a serious knee injury up at Newcastle the following February.

Around a similar time there was also the infamous 4-6-0 formation with Cahill and Fellaini pushed on to make up for a complete lack of fit strikers.

When Wayne Rooney was sold in 2005 Moyes, again faced with a lack of forwards, employed a 4-5-1 formation with Cahill just behind the lone front-man. It was a formation that got us into 4th place and has since been used by a number of Premier League managers, usually in the lower reaches of the table.

It would be a bit disparaging of Moyes’ tactical abilities to suggest most of his tactical moves are flukes but I’m sure he would agree that sometimes formations are forced upon a manager and yet just fall into place perfectly.

That seemed to be the case up at Newcastle as we saw arguably their best league performance in months.

The trick is though sustaining it against a Birmingham side still flying high after their Carling Cup win.

A Wembley hangover was in evidence on Saturday when they lost 3-1 at home to Midlands rivals West Brom and with a FA Cup quarter-final to come on Saturday, I am hoping this game will be one where they lose focus, despite dropping into the relegation zone after last weekend’s defeat.

Team news wise they also have a string of injuries with doubts over Barry Ferguson, Craig Gardner, Martin Jiranek, Alexander Hleb, Liam Ridgewell and Nikola Zigic.

For Everton Phil Neville is out definitely out after he limped off against Newcastle with what looked like a hamstring strain, Jonny Heitinga would probably step up into his place. Victor Anichebe is a doubt, Cahill is still another fortnight away from returning while Fellaini, of course, is done for this season.

Fingers crossed this fixture has come at a good time for us and bad time for them.

But as ever with the Toffees this season, expect the unexpected.

Match Facts

• There has not been a home win on the last five occasions these teams have met.

• Everton won 2-0 at St Andrew's earlier this season and are looking to do their first double over Birmingham since 1986.

• Birmingham have not won in the league at Goodison Park since 1957, a run of 25 matches.

Everton

• Everton have won three of their last four Premier League matches and are looking for a third consecutive league win for the first time this season.

• The Toffees are the only Premier League side yet to be awarded a penalty this season.

• Everton have not lost any of the 12 matches in which they have been drawing at half-time.

Birmingham

• Birmingham have lost their last two Premier League matches and are in danger of losing three league games in a row for the first time this season.

• The Blues have scored 26 goals, the lowest tally in the Premier League. They have scored at least three goals in six of their 10 cup matches this season but have not managed to score more than two goals in any of their 27 league matches.

• Only once before has a club won the League Cup and been relegated in the same season: Norwich in 1985.

LEADING GOALSCORERS

Everton Cahill: 9 goals (9 league); Saha: 9 goals (6 league)

Birmingham: Zigic: 8 goals (5 league); Gardner: 7 goals (5 league)

MATCH OFFICIALS

Referee: Peter Walton

Assistant referees: Glenn Turner & Billy Smallwood

Fourth official: Neil Swarbrick



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