Coming Down the Home Stretch: Everton with Plenty to Play for with Eight Matches Left

Paul Thomas

Spirits are high among supporters after a four match win streak breathed new life into Everton's once stagnating season. What will they be able to do next?

After February's losses at Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, things at Goodison Park looked bleak. Everton seemed destined for a 6th place finish, with the Champions League looking a distant dream, and Spurs taking back 5th place.

But since that loss to Chelsea, Everton have managed four consecutive league victories, propelling the club back into fifth place, only six points adrift of fourth place Arsenal, with a game in hand on the London club.

Certainly the question on many supporters' minds at this stage is, "Is catching the Gunners really an attainable goal?"

The answer, it seems, is yes, provided the Toffees can do two things.

First, they must beat Arsenal when they come to Goodison on April 6. That match will be a sure 6-pointer, with a victory putting massive pressure on Arsenal, while a loss or draw will likely end the Champions League dream.

Second, they must win their game in hand, the make-up match against Crystal Palace at home on April 16. Palace have been an improved club under Tony Pulis, but are still a team who will be thrilled just to avoid relegation at the end of the season. Nothing but a victory will keep Everton in the top four hunt.

Both of these conditions are far from guaranteed, but if they can be met, Everton and Arsenal will be even on points with six more matches to play.

Unfortunately for the Toffees, the Gunners' April and May schedule is relatively simple (after a brutal spell in February and March). Arsenal ends the month with a home match against Manchester City on March 29, then the rest of their schedule is as follows (excluding the already discussed Everton match): v. West Ham United, @ Hull City, v. Newcastle, v. West Bromwich Albion, @ Norwich City.

Outside of the Manchester City match, one could argue that Arsenal should win the rest of their games. But of course, football is full of shoulds, and Arsenal should have beaten Swansea City at home this week as well.

For Everton, the home stretch is somewhat more difficult. The Toffees will host both Manchester clubs, and face a difficult task at Southampton, in addition to going to Fulham, Sunderland, and Hull.

With the strong home form the team has displayed this season, there's no reason to think the Toffees cannot beat anyone at Goodison right now, but it certainly won't be easy with title contenders Manchester City, nor with David Moyes' Manchester United in what will surely be an emotion-driven match.

I believe though, that the true separator will be the away matches at Fulham, Sunderland, and Hull City. Everton's away form against bottom half teams has been shoddy at times, with draws at Norwich, Cardiff City, Palace, and West Brom. That's a draw in four out of seven matches played away to bottom half teams thus far this season. If the Toffees can avoid any repeats of those performances, there's no reason why they cannot at the very least keep the race tight to the end.

Even if Everton falls short of the Champions League, fifth place still ought to provide a decent target for the club. Views of the Europa League aside (and I know those span from "It would be great!" to "It would be awful!"), finishing fifth would still signal a definite success for the season. Fifth place would also be the club's highest finish since 2008-09, and would mean ending the season above both Tottenham and United, clubs with significantly more resources than the Toffees.

In the end, it is clear that the club still has a ton to play for. Everton has the players and the manager to make a dangerous run right now, and as supporters, there's no better time to get behind the club.

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