In the finest traditions of A Question of Sport (for those that are unfamiliar it's a novelty Sports Quiz on BBC) the contestants on one particular round are asked a question either on their own sport ("Home") or a random one ("Away"). Home Questions - worth one point - are supposed to be easier... name the last time Everton beat anyone by two goals* - whereas Away Questions ("when did Everton last play well?") are much harder & are worth two points.
Now I've not gone off topic quite yet. We are facing a rather critical three month period for the remainder of the season & the next few weeks are littered with challenges on the Home Front. Not only are we seemingly shrinking on the playing staff front - the departure of Billy seems inevitable & the arrival of anyone with the prospect of heading Leighton Baines as top scorer (so far) a critical requirement that may or may not be met - but a number of upcoming games will be at Goodison
With an upcoming FA Cup tie against Fulham on Friday night to negotiate (of which more later in this article), there following weeks see Everton at home to Manchester City, take a short trip to Wigan, face Chelsea at home, QPR away before successive home games against Tottenham & Arsenal. The visit to Anfield, currently scheduled for the 25th of February is subject to their elimination from the Carling Cup so the date of this fixture is not certain. Coupled with (hopefully) some more FA Cup ties after Friday we may well be overburdened on the home front.
Normally this would not be a source of concern but, lately, our home form has been very poor indeed. With just 3 league wins from 11 and an equal number of losses as wins in all competitions (6 of each) thus far this season this clearly is not form that offers a crumb of comfort as we face a tough task to avoid sliding into the relegation mire beneath us. I stress also that we have now fulfilled both legs of our round-robin schedule against Aston Villa (11th), Bolton (17th) & Blackburn (18th) for the return of 9 points. Thus far we have just 17 points from 16 games played in the first (legs) of the reverse encounters that still remain to be fulfilled. If we should achieve 17 further points from these games this would net us just 43 points - probably enough to finish around 12th place - but it's remains a tricky ask.
So, with that in mind & with a considerable injury list, a minimal return from the front line & limited creativity from the midfield we are desperately in need of some inspiration - either from a good Cup run starting Friday, or some improved performances (and results) in the league coupled with an injection of confidence that a couple of important signings might bring.
So, first up is Fulham, normally our favourite league opponents at Goodison but, alas, something of a bogey side in Cup encounters. We need to keep a tight shackle on Clint Dempsey in particular if we are to make any progress in the FA Cup. Hopefully either we turn up & play well or Fulham treat this cup tie with minimal respect & field a weakened side to assist our passage. Either way we need some good fortune if the recent showings are anything to go by. I've been reasonably successful in my crystal ball gazing of late (nailed on for the Spurs & Villa games in fact) so I'll be going out on a limb here and predicting a narrow, fortunate 1-0 win - Fulham to miss a bucketload of chances and the main source of our attacking inspirations, namely Victor & Landon, to combine for a late winner.
Man City (sans Mario) await on Tuesday - can we pull off a season defining performance? Wigan the following weekend represents an opportunity to seize three valuable points, which I think we will achieve by another one goal margin, to ease the mounting pressure on the beleaguered mini-squad that is the Everton first team.
*I know - those who thought it was Bolton away go to the bottom of the class - it was Tamworth in the FA Cup. The other question is much tougher, sorry!