Everton travel to London on Wednesday to face a resurgent Spurs before meeting a middling Aston Villa on Saturday. The season has now passed the half-way point & Moyes' band of diminishing soldiers face some tough questions in the final four months of the season if they are to salvage anything positive from this shipwreck of a season.
The first two challenges must be to put out a competitive side for these tough fixtures.
With injuries problems taking the likes of Jagielka, Osman, Rodwell & Hibbert out of the equation & more questions to be asked of the likes of Billy, I suspect Moyes will adopt the usual, cautious approach against these 2, pretty decent opponents. Despite getting very much the better of Spurs at White Hart Lane in recent seasons we have to assume that a point here would be an excellent return as well as providing a much needed fillip before almost as tough a challenge against Villa on Saturday. It would be great to see Everton go toe-to-toe with both of these opponents - especially Tottenham who will give you more room to play good football but, sadly, where are the Toffeemen capable of taking the game to the opposition? Perhaps we'll have to hope that Landon Donovan will provide the much needed spark or that somehow Tim Cahill (if fit!) can get on the end of a Baines cross or set piece and finally end his goal drought. Meanwhile at the other end of the pitch we'll have to be at our very best to keep Spurs quiet. My heart says we'll get a 1-1 draw but my head is telling me 0-2 loss.
Should Everton emerge from White Hart Lane with their heads held high it may give them the necessary belief to challenge a moderate (i.e. similar to ourselves) Aston Villa. Villa have always been a team that blows hot & cold for me but, being strictly fair to them, one that we never seem to beat. We often play some excellent football against Villa & still they get at least a point against us.
Tactically we need to win the midfield battle & take control. If we are at our best this is a game we can win. We need to avoid defeat at all costs here (especially if the Spurs game goes the way many assume it will) so I'm guessing Moyes will be just as cagey. A narrow 1-0 win is achievable if we are at our absolute best, however a 1-1 draw is a more realistic target.
Another problem for Everton in both these games - quite apart from the opponents - could well be the referees. Unless you subscribe to the 'referee owes us one' theory, and I do not, then you need to remember that Messrs Atkinson & Clattenberg are the respective arbiters for these two games. One can only hope that they make a better fist of it than their last Everton games - both of which are of course very fresh (and raw) in the memory. I'd rather not have to think that we might get a lucky break as a result of a favour from either of these gentlemen - it's scarcely the way the game should pan out - but equally I'm not looking to be spitting feathers later this week as a result of another dubious call going against the eternally unfortunate Toffees.