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Everton need to put the Lukaku saga to one side against Hull

Off-field distractions have dominated recent days, but Everton now have the chance to show their ambition on the pitch

Hull City v Everton - Premier League Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

The return of some actual football this weekend will bring some blessed relief for Evertonians after a week of tedious off-field disruption.

I get the sense Romelu Lukaku has always had an uneasy relationship with the Toffees, and new contract talks – 99.99% done just a few weeks ago – spilled over into a very public spat.

Lukaku and Mino Raiola had their say earlier in the week, first with a quiet whisper in the ear of gathered journalists before a full and frank interview was released 24 hours later. Ronald Koeman then fired back in glorious style on Thursday, telling the Belgian in no uncertain terms to ‘respect your contract’.

My head tells me that Lukaku has made his mind up and a move away may already be in motion. My heart hopes that Everton will pull off something spectacular in the transfer market this summer to persuade the 23-year-old to stay on.

Either way this week’s shenanigans suggests a fuse has been lit and an explosive conclusion will only come about this summer.

The fear, of course, is that this rumour, claim and counter claim will disrupt Everton’s season just as it was gathering momentum.

Everton’s form since the turn of the year has been superb, particularly at home where they have won every league game in 2017.

Another victory against Hull on Saturday will lift Everton up to sixth, for 24 hours at least.

Man Utd will have three games in hand by Saturday evening, but even a short time in the top six will send out a message that Everton’s ambitions (you reading, Romelu?) are far higher than simply finishing best of the rest.

Given one of United’s games in hand is against Man City and Everton are yet to get Old Trafford it’s not fanciful to suggest Everton can still gatecrash the top six party.

The opposition

Even though it’s less than three months since we last faced Hull City a lot has changed for the Tigers.

Back on December 30 a hard earned 2-2 draw briefly lifted Hull off the bottom of the Premier League.

Five days later they were back at the foot of the table and manager Mike Phelan was out of a job.

Hull City v Everton - Premier League Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Marco Silva – a relative unknown in the UK – was his surprise replacement, with many skeptics writing off his appointment as a foolish experiment.

However, Hull’s haul of 11 points from eight games is more than they managed in their previous 17 matches stretching back to the end of August.

They have also found an unlikely hero in Everton’s forgotten man Oumar Niasse, who has scored four times in 10 games since joining on loan in January.

Home form has been the cornerstone of that mini revival with wins against Liverpool, Bournemouth and Swansea. And while just one point has been earned away from the KCOM Stadium, that was a gallant goalless draw at Manchester United.

The worry for Hull fans is that for all that improved form they remain in the bottom three, albeit just a point a drift of the safety line.

They have dragged other sides into the relegation mire and shown some fight and mettle, but games are starting to run out.

Team news

Leighton Baines is expected to be fit despite coming off at half-time with a back injury against West Brom last weekend.

James McCarthy is also likely to miss out with yet another hamstring strain while Muhamed Besic needs to play a few U23 games before making a first-team return.

Hull will be without Everton loanee Oumar Niasse under the terms of his loan from Goodison Park.

Evandro is also out with a calf problem while Markus Henriksen is likely to miss out with a shoulder injury.

Final word

After this match and the ensuing international break Everton will then face Liverpool and Man Utd away in the space of four days.

Everton’s ambitions for the remainder of the campaign are likely to be decided by those two matches, but they must be supplemented by points in games like Saturday.

Anything other than all three points will be classed as a failure.

Predicted starting XI: Robles, Baines, Williams, Jagielka, Coleman, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Barkley, Davies, Mirallas, Lukaku.