The early kickoff game on Saturday will be one of Everton's biggest of the season. Possibly bigger than the two annual derby fixtures too. Sunderland come to Goodison Park for the FA Cup quarterfinals, and at stake is the chance to travel to hallowed Wembley and win the oldest and most renown knockout competition in football. This represents the last opportunity this season for either team to win some silverware and no doubt it will be a hotly contested match too.
After the midweek debacle at Anfield, vindication will be on David Moyes' mind as he has a chance to prove that his selection policy was indeed the right one. The lesser said about that game the better, and the Everton faithful should be back in full voice cheering on their beloved Blues after lying low and licking their wounds the last few days.
Everton and Sunderland have been neck-and-neck lately in the Premiership table, and both have 37 points but the Mackems are comfortably ahead on goal difference. The Martin O'Neill effect has been visible in the team's performance as they have risen from the depths of 15th place when Everton last played them to their current 8th position. In their last fixture, Everton dominated the opening exchanges before the Black Cats found their foothold and the Toffees were lucky to come away with a 1-1 draw from the Boxing Day fixture.
This game marks the end of David Moyes' 10th anniversary celebration week, and in a microcosm this week summarizes his decade at Goodison - tough and hard-tackling football, solid defence that can be prone to mistakes, toothless finishing in front of goal, injuries across the board, lack of squad depth, no success at Anfield, chances of FA Cup glory and a league position on the outside looking in at the European spots.
The Blues came away from their short trip across Stanley Park with only their egos bruised and no additional injuries. Apart from long-term absentee Darron Gibson, the only other player out is Steven Pienaar, who is Cup-tied. It will be interesting to see who Moyes has in his starting XI after the six changes to the squad did nothing to improve their credentials in the derby.
Sunderland is well-rested after last playing a week ago, beating (ironically) Liverpool 1-0 at the Stadium of Light. O'Neill will be relieved to hear that Nicklas Bendtner suffered no serious damage to his knee and will be fit to play tomorrow. Leftback Kieran Richardson has not recovered from his calf injury and Wayne Bridge will start instead. Wes Brown and Titus Bramble are out injured as well. Dangerous forward Stephane Sessegnon will miss the game due to suspension, as will Lee Cattermole.
Keys To The Game
Moyes has stated his desire to win a trophy so we can expect him to be aggressive tomorrow, especially being at home. New signing Nikica Jelavic looked good in his only start against Tottenham Hotspur and will probably start. In their previous game this season Everton had come out gangbusters but Sunderland wrested back the initiative and took the lead. For this game the Toffees cannot risk falling behind and will look to dominate possession and convert any chances they get.
Sunderland have discovered some defensive resilience lately though their 4-0 hiding at West Bromwich Albion showed that when hit early and at crucial junctures, they will wilt. Sebastian Larsson is lethal at set-pieces and though Bendtner talks a bigger game than he plays often, he can be very dangerous when on song. If Sunderland can score early however, O'Neill has shown himself to be quite adept at defending one-goal leads during his time at Aston Villa.
Of the eleven times the two teams have faced off in the Cup, Everton have progressed seven times.
Everton have been in the quarterfinals of the Cup more often than any team - this is their 41st appearance.
In the last four times Everton have hosted Sunderland in all competitions, they have scored fourteen goals and given up just one.
David Moyes has not lost to Sunderland in his last fourteen games, with ten wins in that period.
Sunderland last reached the semifinals in 2004, where they were eliminated by Milwall.
The winning goal in that game was scored by Everton's Tim Cahill.