Roberto Martinez may deny it, but Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Chelsea looks increasingly like a defining moment in the Spaniard’s tenure at Goodison Park.
Victory would keep Everton’s season coughing and spluttering along for a few more weeks and may just keep the doubters at bay.
Defeat, and it would be hard to see how Martinez could continue beyond the end of the season.
Last weekend’s defeat to West Ham was so calamitous it is difficult to think of a more gut-wrenching way to lose a football match. Everton have certainly tried this season, with December’s disaster against Stoke as well as 98th minute equalisers at Bournemouth and Chelsea convincing many that Martinez’s gung-ho approach is simply to reckless to succeed.
With Everton’s Premier League season dying a slow painful death, the FA Cup run is just about keeping the campaign alive, much like the Europa League did last season.
Humiliating defeat in Kiev last March not only dumped Everton out of Europe but put their domestic failings in sharp focus. Defeat on Saturday would leave even someone as endlessly positive as Martinez with little reason to be optimistic for the rest of the season.
Everton’s last home FA Cup quarter-final saw Martinez’s Wigan side dismantle David Moyes’ side 3-0 at Goodison, a result than many see as influential in persuading Bill Kenwright to bring the Catalan to Merseyside later that summer.
In a cruel twist of fate it may well be yet another Goodison quarter-final that hastens Martinez towards the exit door.
The one reason to be optimistic? Farhad Moshiri will be present to watch his first game at Goodison Park and already brings with him a positive message about the future.
Saturday’s game is just as important for Chelsea as it is for Everton. Wednesday’s Champions League exit at the hands of PSG all but ended the Blues’ hopes of playing in Europe’s premier completion next campaign.
It also left the FA Cup as their only hope of silverware and salvaging some glory from a desperately disappointing season for the Premier League champions.
Guus Hiddink has steadied the ship since replacing Jose Mourinho and has yet to lose in 16 domestic games in charge since taking over in December.
He also has history with Everton given he was also in interim charge of Chelsea when they beat the Toffees 2-1 at Wembley in the 2009 FA Cup final.
They do, however, have a distinctly mixed recent record at Goodison Park, with Everton’s last seven games at home to Chelsea in all competitions reading WLWLWLW.
Everton are assessing Aaron Lennon and Bryan Oviedo ahead of Saturday’s game. Lennon picked up a minor hamstring strain against West ham last Saturday while Oviedo was admitted to hospital earlier this week with a chest infection.
Gareth Barry and Tom Cleverley have also been suffering from illness but are fit to make the squad.
With Oviedo a doubt Leighton Baines could return to the starting XI after reacting positively to treatment on an ongoing ankle problem.
Chelsea could be without Diego Costa after the striker aggravated a tendon injury during the midweek defeat to PSG.
Eden Hazard was also forced off at Stamford Bridge with a hip injury and will be assessed.
Chelsea captain John Terry is also expected to miss out as he continues recovery from a hamstring injury.
The final word
For the second time this season Everton find themselves one game from Wembley with the hopes and dreams of the supporters resting on the next 90 minutes.
The mood has certainly taken a turn against Martinez this week after that West Ham defeat with even a win probably doing little to persuade a doubting public that he is the man for the job in the long-term.
It would, though, mean a day out in London and edge the Toffees closer towards ending that painful 21-year trophy doubt.
Predicted starting XI: Robles, Baines, Funes Mori, Jagielka, Coleman, Barry McCarthy, Besic, Barkley, Lennon, Lukaku.