Everton’s quest to suck every last drop of joy and enjoyment out of this season continued apace last weekend with their dreadful performance against Arsenal.
The steady flow of fans streaming out of the Emirates before half-time told it’s own story. Everton were terrible, but what made it worse was the fact this wasn’t a one-off.
Last Saturday was the sixth time Everton have conceded four or more goals this season, the ninth time they’ve conceded three or more. This is a team that has no backbone and - with a handful of exceptions - are content to just go through the motions.
As a result it doesn’t matter who is in the dugout. Everton have turned out some woeful, weak displays under the reign of Ronald Koeman, David Unsworth and Sam Allardyce this season.
Contrast this team to the never-say-die outfit fashioned on a shoestring by David Moyes. A team greater than the sum of its parts and one that would fight right to the end.
I’m not calling for a return to those days. But it’s clear the money pumped into the playing staff has come at the expense of character and motivation. Too many players are just content to pick up their hefty pay-packet each week regardless of results.
Not that Allardcye can get away scot-free either. His ridiculous team selection and formation at the Emirates contributed to the scoreline.
Allardyce had no intention of even attempting to get a positive result. His focus was packing the defence and hoofing it forward in the hope of nicking something at the other end.
Allardyce: "The lads have accepted, we've all accepted, we weren't able to compete with Arsenal."— Phil Kirkbride (@philkecho) February 8, 2018
The Toffees boss is only interested in securing 40 points and therefore guaranteeing safety. Hence why he said the season was already a “write-off” despite being in early February.
Allardyce is lowering expectations to such an extent that reaching 40 points is deemed a success.
So for him, games such as last weekend are not his priority. If they nick something, great. But Allardyce is clearly focusing on a select number of matches - mainly at home - to gather the requisite number of points (starting with this weekend).
Despite their woes on the road, Everton remain reasonably strong at Goodison Park and a win is simply essential on Saturday.
The Toffees, somehow, are still 10th, but the cushion separating them from the chaos below is periously thin.
Victory for Palace on Saturday will move them to within a point of the Blues. And given just four points separate 19th and 12th, Everton cannot afford to rest on their laurels.
The sooner they can reach 40 points the sooner they can try and rescue something from this wreckage of a season.
They remain just five points behind seventh-placed Burnley and although a repeat of last season’s finish is unlikely they should at least be prepared to have a go. Though under the current manager such ambition seems unlikely.
The last meeting between the two sides proved controversial as Oumar Niasse became the first player to receive a retrospective ban for diving to win a penalty in November’s 2-2 draw at Selhurst Park.
Refereeing decisions are again likely to be in the spotlight in the return meeting given the referee is Jon Moss, who took charge of Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham last weekend,
Moss got two marginal penalty decisions exactly right, but as they were against Liverpool the whiny fallout has continued for most of the week.
Don’t be surprised if, in response, Moss refuses to give a penalty on Saturday. Don’t rule out a booking or two for diving either!
Crystal Palace are currently enjoying their best run in the top flight since the early 90s but know they face a real fight to secure a fifth successive season in the Premier League.
The Eagles turned to Sam Allardyce to bail them out of trouble last season. Allardyce arrived just before Christmas with the club just one point above the relegation zone and on a run of eight defeats from 10 matches.
Allardyce being Allardyce, kept Palace up with a game to spare, the Eagles eventually finishing 14th.
They made a disastrous start to his campaign though. After Allardyce quit in the summer former Netherlands international Frank de Boer was the surprise replacement.
De Boer, who was linked with the Everton job before Ronald Koeman arrived, signalled a change in philosophy at a club used to up-and-at-em British managers.
Surprisingly for a side comprising of players brought by Allardyce, Alan Pardew and Ian Holloway, they failed to instantly adapt to De Boer’s continental methods.
After losing their first four games without scoring De Boer was sacked and 70-year-old Roy Hodgson was brought in to replace him.
To be fair to Hodgson, he has managed to turn Palace’s season around. Since beating Chelsea on October 14 Palace have lost just four out of 19 league games.
However, injury to Wilfried Zaha is a huge blow to their survival hopes. The Ivory Coast forward is likely to miss around a month with a knee problem picked up against Newcastle last weekend.
Without Zaha Palace tend to struggle. They haven’t won without him in the side since September 2016 and have lost every league game he’s missed this campaign without scoring a goal.
Expect Palace to win 5-0 this weekend then.
Predicted starting XI
Pickford, Coleman, Holgate, Williams, Martina, Davies, Gueye, Rooney, Sigurdsson, Walcott, Calvert-Lewin.
Sam Allardyce is expected to make changes to the side after last weekend’s embarrassment. He is likely to revert to a back four, with Seamus Coleman and Phil Jagielka in contention.
Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson are also likely to return after both were surprisingly benched at the Emirates.
Leighton Baines and Ramiro Funes Mori are back in training but aren’t yet ready to return.
If, deep in the bowls of Finch Farm, Sam Allardyce has a whiteboard listing Everton’s fixtures, this game will have a big circle around it.
While this isn’t quite a must-win, they certainly can’t afford to lose or risk being dragged right into the mire.
This is the start of a run of games against sides in the bottom half of the table before Man City and Liverpool back to back in the spring.
It represents a wonderful opportunity to put any fears of relegation to bed and begin to rebuild.
It’s also a chance to give some enjoyment back to the fans who, more than anyone, are owed a display to make going to Goodison Park an enjoyable experience rather than the chore it has often felt like this year.