Goodison Park will mourn the death of one of their own, defender Gary Ablett in the Saturday FA Cup fixture against Tamworth. Ablett played nine years in the red half of the city before crossing over to the Blues and being part of the famous '94-'95 squad. He started at left-back in the the memorable FA Cup final victory against Manchester United, the last trophy Everton won.
After a home loss against then bottom-club Bolton midweek, Everton need to rally to nip non-League Tamworth's upset ambitions in the bud on Saturday in the third round fixture of the FA Cup. Tamworth, who play in the Conference National (the fifth-highest tier in English League football), will be fancying their chances after beating Crewe Alexandra then narrowly losing to Carlisle United in the second round last year. Everton have been miserable lately, and in the light of those recent performances, the gap between the two sides might not be as colossal as it looks on paper.
Everton manager David Moyes acknowledged in a recent interview that falling attendances at Goodison reflected the lower quality of the product put forth on the pitch. With the recent crop of injuries, he will be hard-pressed to play any form of cohesive and attacking football, though one feels at this point he will settle for a few ticks in the 'Win' column no matter which way they come.
In the previous round, Tamworth beat Conference National rivals Gateshead 2-1 with a late goal and boss Marcus Law has been encouraging his players to catch the cup fever again. The Lambs have been singularly unimpressive in league play in December, but the beauty of the FA Cup is that no determined team is ever that far away from a miraculous upset.
This has not been a good week for Moyes, with the news that central defender Phil Jagielka is going to be out for about six weeks with medial ligament damage to his knee. Midfielders Leon Osman and Jack Rodwell both hobbled off injured against Bolton and likely will not feature in this game, and neither will defender Tony Hibbert who pulled his groin. Loanee defender Shane Duffy has been recalled from Scunthorpe for some squad depth.
Lambs manager Law is notorious for squad rotation and will probably indulge in the mindgames and keep his starting XI tightly under wraps. The only confirmed absentee for the game will be captain Paul Green, serving a three-game suspension for a previous sending off.
Keys To The Game
While we know this is the FA Cup and a giant-killing is always possible, the bookies are looking past the Toffee's poor form in installing them 1/10 favorites to win outright. The Everton players will be served well to play with some swagger and confidence, without underestimating their non-League opponents. This is also an opportunity for some of the fringe players in the squad to prove that they belong.
Law will likely be picking the brains of forward Kyle Patterson who featured briefly alongside Landon Donovan while with the LA Galaxy. The Lambs have struggled in League play, positioned at 14th of 24 clubs. Going by some of the games that have been witnessed at Goodison, Tamworth will attempt to weather an early storm by the Toffees and try to get a first half goal, and then proceed to let Everton beat themselves.
- Everton last played non-League opposition at home in 1991, beating Working 1-0.
- The last non-League side to win at Goodison was Tottenham Hotspur, in 1904.
- David Moyes will be looking for his 300th win at the helm of Everton on Saturday
- Tamworth's greatest success has been lifting the FA Vase in 1989.
- The Lambs have won five of their last eight away games on the road in the FA Cup proper.