Everton are rapidly running out of games if they are to avoid a humiliating first relegation in 71 years, with anything less than a win against Newcastle unlikely to be enough to save them in the final shake up.
That may sound dramatic with 11 matches still to play after this game, but anyone who witnessed Sunday’s miserable result against Wolves would likely agree with me.
The eerie silence as I left the ground suggested the fanbase has finally been broken, beaten down by one miserable defeat after another.
The team appeared gripped by fear and looks to lack the fight, desire and quality to get enough results required to avoid the drop. At this stage it is hard to see where even the next point is coming from with a frightful set of fixtures to come in April.
Frank Lampard also has to take his share of the blame. He looked to have got his tactics wrong in the last two games. Everton were far too open against Tottenham, but too passive against Wolves. That is natural for a young coach still working his way into the job with a squad of struggling players, but the Toffees do not have the luxury of time. Things need to click and quickly.
Despite the despair we somehow have to dig deep into those Evertonian reserves of faith, hope and loyalty, and go again.
Thursday’s game is now colossal. Some are suggesting it is the biggest game in decades, almost on a par with those last-day survival matches against Wimbledon and Coventry.
In fact the 1990s were littered with matches like the one against Wolves, when all hope seemed lost, only for the team to pull it out of the fire at the last. It’s time to buckle up.
Newcastle are a prime example of just how quickly things can change in this division.
When the two sides last met the Magpies were below Everton and in the relegation zone. They are now nine points clear of the bottom three in 14th place after a run of six wins from seven games, having won just once all season before then.
The £90m spent in the January helped, particularly in defence, though credit has to go to Eddie Howe for improving some of the existing players such as Joelinton.
Of course, you cannot talk about Newcastle without mentioning their controversial Saudi-backed ownership.
The issue of who owns English football clubs is firmly on the agenda following the sanctions issued to Roman Abramovich, while Everton have rapidly cut ties with Alisher Usmanov’s companies. The Magpies ownership has also led to some awkward questions for boss Eddie Howe, who as a representative of the club is expected, rightly or wrongly, to give some sort of response.
Will Newcastle fans care? Some will, some won’t. The majority I imagine will feel slightly conflicted while looking forward to seeing what the Saudi riches will bring in the future.
Frank Lampard’s first Premier League game in charge of Everton started well when Jamaal Lascelles put through his own net. But the lead lasted barely a minute before Mason Holgate did the same at the other end. Second half goals from Ryan Fraser and Kieran Trippier secured the points for the Magpies.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin will be assessed after missing Sunday’s game against Wolves through illness.
Jonjoe Kenny definitely misses out through suspension after his red card at the weekend.
Yerry Mina is still a few weeks away from a return, Fabian Delph could resume training after the international break, while Tom Davies is unlikely to play again this season.
What they said
Everton boss Frank Lampard: “The biggest thing is to absolutely stay with a belief we can do that. I’m not asking for casual belief, I’m talking about a proactive belief.
“For us, it’s not about having fear about what might be – it’s what we can action and what can we deal with.
“We can deal with these 12 Premier League games in front of us.
“Things can change very quickly. It can change on a not-so-good performance that gets you three points and that feeling of a boost.
“Our focus has to be on what can we do with these 12 games to get us where we want to be.”
Newcastle boss Eddie Howe: “I’m sure it’ll be a very big occasion. We have to be fully prepared for what I’m sure will be a really good atmosphere.
“I think there’ll be a lot of emotion in the game. We need to handle that ourselves and control our own start to the game, and try and impose ourselves as we have done in this spell of away games; I’ve been really impressed with how we’ve conducted ourselves and how we’ve managed certain elements of all of the games we’ve had in recent weeks
“It’s going to be a severe test because Everton have got a really good squad of players. I really admire Frank and the work he’s doing, and we know we’re going to have to be at our best.”
Everton may not be in the last chance saloon, but they are on their way there. Newcastle have shown what can happen if you can string a few wins together, but even drawing games looks beyond this side at present. They have to turn things around quickly otherwise it will be too late.