Everton head to south London to take on Crystal Palace on Saturday looking to maintain a mini run of form that suggests this winter may not be as bleak as the last two we have endured.
There was obvious disappointment at conceding a late equaliser against Brighton, but the manner of the battling performance suggests the team is finally developing a tough streak that makes them hard to beat.
For too long Everton have been a soft touch, with opponents able to cut through them seemingly at will. But Sean Dyche seems to have hit upon a line-up and tactical layout that works. It brought back memories of some of David Moyes’ early teams. What they lacked in quality they attempted to make up for in desire and organisation. And you knew that they would be tough to beat and any opponent would have to play well to win.
You only to look at the meeting with Brighton at Goodison last season, with the Seagulls waltzing their way to a 4-1 victory in what would be one of Frank Lampard’s final home games in charge.
They are small steps of course, with plenty of bumps in the road, one of which being a paucity of options beyond the first XI. But it feels like the tanker may just be turning in the right direction
Crystal Palace are currently enjoying their 10th successive season in the Premier League, their best ever run of top-flight football. What’s also impressive is they have rarely flirted with relegation in that time, never finishing below 15th.
The key now is how to push on, which is something they have found tricky. Patrick Vieira looked to be the kind of young coach to drive the Eagles forwards, leading them to an FA Cup semi-final in 2022 (thrashing Everton along the way), but he was sacked last spring after a poor run over the winter, paving the way for Roy Hodgson to return, initially on an interim basis before signing a one-year deal in the summer.
The 74-year-old knows how to organise a side so Palace are tough to breakdown. Their only league defeats this season have been against sides currently in the top six.
They will want to improve on their home form that has seen them win just once in five matches so far. Selhurst Park and the atmosphere created by the fans has been the bedrock of their success since promotion in 2013.
Crystal Palace 0-0 Everton, 22 April 2023
The two sides played out a nervy goalless draw in April, with the Eagles perhaps the happier of the sides as it opened up a nine-point gap between themselves and the relegation zone.
Amadou Onana is expected to feature despite missing the Brighton game with a minor injury.
Jarrad Branthwaite is carrying a knock and Abdoulate Doucoure has been suffering from illness, but both have resumed full training and are expected to be available at Selhurst Park.
Seamus Coleman featured for the U21s in midweek as he continues his return from a serious knee injury but is unlikely to feature.
Andre Gomes and Dele Alli are the only other absentees.
What they said
Everton boss Sean Dyche: “I think certain games require certain ways of playing. We hope to do better with the ball, I must make that clear.
“Counter-attacking when we got into so many good positions, the defensive side was very good, very pleasing. I admire the energy from the side and the commitment to them [Brighton] well, stop them from creating many changes.
“They get a lucky break, and sometimes that happens, they are a very good side. I think we’ve seen a balance this season with the way we can perform. We’ve seen games where we have dominated with the ball, the metrics with ball. I said earlier in the season about xG etc.
“But it’s pleasing for me to see different ways of affecting games over the season in the Premier League, I’m pretty experienced in it, unless you’re the superpowers, particularly Manchester City. You have to flex and change, that’s what I’ve learnt we can do that and we can do that.”
Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson: “There is nothing other than the ultimate respect for Sean Dyche and the job he does. We are expecting another very difficult game tomorrow because as Jeremy said, if we can get back-to-back wins, what a difference it would make.
“Then I know that Sean Dyche will be having exactly the same thoughts regarding his Everton team, and he’ll be coming here believing that they are more than capable of beating us. I watched their game on television against West Ham, where they played extremely well and took three points from West Ham.
“So his attitude, I’m sure, is going to be: ‘Well, if we can do it at West Ham, we can do it at Crystal Palace too.’ And it’s our job to stop that and shock him a little bit.”
Everton have a decent record against Palace and have won on their last three visits to London this season. But the Eagles have to get their home form right some time, so this is a game where a win, draw or defeat will not be a surprise.