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Everton at Stoke City: Match Preview

Everton travel to Stoke in their first game of 2014.

Jan Kruger

The second half of the season is now upon us. 37 points and 4th place in the first half is a better return than all but the hardiest Roberto Martinez supporters expected after the Spaniard was brought on-board at the beginning of the season. A similar performance this spring would almost certainly garner a European football spot.

First up though is a trip to the Britannia Stadium on New Year's Day. Stoke had actually been on a decent run of form before the train came to a grinding Christmas halt with spankings at Newcastle and Tottenham. They've only lost once at home all season, while Everton have only lost once away from Goodison. The home side are twelfth, right in the middle of the pack within striking distance of the top half of the League. Mark Hughes, who was sent off in the refereeing debacle at St. James' Park, will be keen to avenge the 4-0 drubbing at Everton's hands a month ago.

Team News:

Tim Howard will be returning to his spot between the sticks after serving his suspension in the last game. Phil Jagielka remains out with his hamstring issues while Leighton Baines came through last week and should continue in his left back spot. Gareth Barry is also back from suspension and will resume his midfield pivot role. Darron Gibson, Gerard Deulofeu and Arouna Kone also miss out with long term ailments.

For Stoke, Glenn Whelan and Marc Wilson will return to the starting eleven but veteran duo Robert Huth and Asmir Begovic are out. Defender Andy Wilkinson will also miss out with a foot injury.

Keys To The Game:

Seamus Coleman has been irrepressible in recent games, and poses a threat with his bombing runs down the right. He has three goals in the last four games and poses a dual threat for defenders with his fierce shot and dangerous cutbacks that find the open man. Martinez will also be heartened by Romelu Lukaku's return to form with his winning goal against Southampton.

Stoke pose a considerable aerial threat and Everton have been quite poor at setpiece situations this season. Antolin Alcaraz gave a good account of himself stepping in for the captain Jagielka, and his pairing with Sylvain Distin will be important.

While not the same side as they were under Tony Pulis, Stoke maintain a physical edge to their play and will attempt to disrupt Everton's midfield passing game. Steven N'Zonzi provides some direction in the middle of the park and is the key linkman with Peter Crouch up top. Charlie Adam and Jonathan Walters are also useful players to have.

Match Facts:

Everton are tied with Arsenal for the stingiest defence in the League, conceding just 18 goals this season.

The Blues are also tied top of the League with 8 clean sheets in their first nineteen games.

Everton have beaten Stoke nine times in their last sixteen, with five draws as well.

Stoke are undefeated at home against Everton in their last four games.

The Potters are also unbeaten in their last six at the Britannia Stadium.

Toffees defenders have nine goals this season - Stoke's strikers have managed four between them.

Everton have scored within the last twenty minutes in eight of their last eleven games.