Merry Christmas everyone!
Spirits among Evertonians going into the festive season are a lot higher than we thought they would be just a few weeks ago.
Six games unbeaten – five under Sam Allardyce – means that sense of blind panic has now been lifted after a pretty miserable autumn.
After being such a soft touch under Ronald Koeman the team now seems competitive again, to the extent where we can go into most games confident of getting a result.
It won’t always be pretty, certainly in the short-term, as shown by Saturday’s dogged draw with Chelsea.
It was a match that perhaps summed up the Allardyce era so far. They looked well drilled at the back in the face of intense Chelsea pressure. However, they offered very little up front and relied on a combination of good fortune and good goalkeeping to get a result.
You won’t hear me complaining though, Allardyce couldn’t be doing much more in such a short space of time with the players he has at his disposal.
The long-term aim is, of course, to try and compete with the likes of Chelsea toe-to-toe. But given what we witnessed during the first half of the season, it’s nice just to see an Everton team with a bit of backbone.
Next up for Allardyce is West Brom, a team Everton really should be looking to beat.
Unlike the Chelsea game, Evertonians will be looking for the side to be much more positive at the Hawthorns – with a draw the minimum expectation given recent form.
Given Tony Pulis is known as a relegation fire fighter, you have to wonder how bad things had got for West Brom to dispense of his services.
Ok, Pulis’ style of play isn’t the most entertaining, but it is generally effective.
However, a run of 10 games without a win saw the Baggies drop to within a point of the relegation zone.
Whenever the spectre of relegation comes into view, Premier League chairman panic, so it was no surprise that chairman Guochuan Lai pulled the trigger in November.
What was surprising, for me anyway, was the appointment of Alan Pardew as his replacement. The 56-year-old has a pretty average track record with clubs such as West Ham, Charlton and Newcastle.
But, a bit like Allardyce at Everton, clubs turn back to the same experienced managers rather than take a risk on a young lower division bosses becase the cost of relegation is so great.
Pardew has yet to secure his first win, drawing two and losing three of his first five games in charge.
That leaves the Black Country side second bottom in thr table, two points adrfit of safety.
The usual ‘new manager bump’ has failed to materialise, which has only increased the sense of unease around the club.
A productive Christmas period, followed up by a shrewd January window, is essential if the Baggies are to secure an eighth successive season in the top flight.
Idrissa Gueye misses out and is likely to miss the whole Christmas programme after he limped off against Chelsea with a hamstring injury.
Wayne Rooney missed the game because of the flu and will be assessed ahead of Boxing Day.
Ashley Williams and Mason Holgate were only fit enough for the bench after illness and will also be monitored.
Yannick Bolasie was among the substitutes against Chelsea and is likely to be named on the bench again as he continues his comeback from a serious knee injury.
Given Everton’s new-found resilience and West Brom’s struggles this is a game the Toffees should be aiming to win.
The Baggies struggle to score and given Everton’s defensive organisation I’d be confident of keeping a clean sheet.
However, the lack of cutting edge may prove costly against side that can prove stubborn defensively – like they were at Anfield last week.
Therefore I wouldn’t be overly disappointed with an away point, even if we could – and should – be aiming for more.