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Everton look to avoid upset - and salvage their season - against Lincoln

The Toffees’ FA Cup campaign kicks off against the League Two leaders

Lincoln City v Port Vale - Sky Bet League Two Photo by Chris Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

Everton’s FA Cup third round tie with Lincoln has taken on a whole new level of importance after the Toffees’ miserable Christmas.

A run of four defeats from five games over the festive period has seen top six hopes all but evaporate and expose holes in the squad we perhaps didn’t realise were quite so gaping.

There has been the odd knee-jerk reaction on social media calling for Marco Silva’s head (we even had former cricketers Darren Gough and Michael Vaughan having their say as things took a bizarre turn), but thankfully most right-minded Blues have shouted down the extremists and appealed for calm.

It was a gruelling period of four games in eight days, not helped my that morale crushing defeat at Anfield that appears to have sparked this slump in form.

As Silva attempted to freshen up the side the players he brought in have shown to be not good enough - something we knew anyway.

Yes, there have been mistakes made and questions asked of Silva, but he deserves the time to answer those questions. It will take more than one transfer window to rebuild the squad after the chaos of the past two years.

That may mean things could get worse before they get better - a particularly unpalatable prospect in this era of instant gratification. But it may be some medicine we all have to swallow.

Everton FC v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

What would help our inconsistencies in the league (and keep our spirits up) is a trip to Wembley. A decent run in the FA Cup can breathe new life and sustain a flagging season. And for Evertonians it would be the chance to end our painful trophy drought that has now stretched into a 23rd year.

Silva was caught out against Southampton in the Carabao Cup, paying the price for making two many changes. The temptation will be there to make a number of changes once more given the energy-sapping schedule of late, but Silva will be wary of making the same mistake twice.

The opposition

Lincoln City are a team on the up. After six seasons in the non-league wilderness the Imps secured promotion back to the Football League in 2017 before reaching the League Two play-offs the following year, only to lose to Exeter over two legs.

They have made a storming start to this campaign, winning 15 of their 25 league matches to hold a four-point lead at the top of table as they look to reach the third tier of English football for the first time since 1998.

They may have spent much of their history in the bottom two divisions but there is a buzz about the club at present, helped of course by their recent FA Cup pedigree.

Lincoln City v Port Vale - Sky Bet League Two Photo by Chris Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

The Lincolnshire side enjoyed memorable run to the quarter-finals as a non-league side in 2017, beating Championship sides Ipswich Town and Brighton & Hove Albion, followed by Premier League side Burnley, on the way. Becoming the first non-league team to reach the last eight since QPR in 1914

They are managed by Danny Cowley, who has developed into one of the most highly-rated managers in the Football League since taking over at Sincil Bank in 2016.

A sell out away section in excess of 5,000 will travel to cheer them on as they seek yet another upset, meaning Everton cannot afford to take things lightly.

The last meeting between the sides was a goal-filled two-legged FA Cup tie in 1993, with Everton winning 8-3. I’d happily take a repeat on Saturday!

Team news

Marco Silva has confirmed Ademola Lookman is fit after missing the last four matches with an ankle injury.

James McCarthy is also included in the squad as he continues his comeback from a broken leg and may make his first appearance for 11 months.

The likes of Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka and Cenk Tosun could also feature as Silva looks to shuffle his pack after the hectic Christmas period.

Lincoln goalkeeper Josh Vickers is doubtful with a calf injury suffered against Crewe on Boxing Day.

With reserve ‘keeper Grant Smith cup-tied it could mean an appearance for third-choice Sam Slocombe, who has played just five times this season.

Predicted starting XI

Everton projected line-up: Stekelenburg, Baines, Mina, Jagielka, Kenny, Schneiderlin, Davies, McCarthy, Bernard, Lookman, Tosun.

Final word

Crashing out at this stage of the competition for the fourth time in five seasons would be nothing short of disastrous, effectively killing off any hope and excitement for the rest of the campaign.

The team should be good enough to secure the win but Lincoln will certainly sense blood given the team’s poor form and flagging confidence.

A professional job is needed to avoid an embarrassing upset and revive this stuttering campaign.