Everton must improve their awful away form if they are to avoid the drop as they travel south to take on in-form Crystal Palace.
The only issue is they have just one away league win to their name all season.
Last weekend’s dismal home defeat by Fulham means the Toffees have just three home games left, two of which come against Champions League-chasing Newcastle and title-chasing Manchester City, meaning they have to start picking up some points on the road.
It was an afternoon where nothing went right. The settled, effective system Sean Dyche used in his first few weeks has crumbled in the absence of the suspended Abdoulaye Doucoure, with Amadou Onana another huge miss in midfield and Seamus Coleman’s injury opening up some holes in the defence.
It was a worryingly flat performance, with everyone in the ground seemingly resigned to defeat as soon as Fulham went ahead again at the start of the second half.
Defeats elsewhere for the rest of the bottom five mean Everton did not lose any ground and remain out of the bottom three on goal difference, but it also represents a huge missed opportunity to open up some breathing space between themselves and the danger zone.
Far from feeling sorry for themselves though Evertonians, one social media at least, have roused themselves for the fight. Like 12 months ago the backing of the fans is needed to try and drag the team over the line.
The imminent return to fitness of Dominic Calvert-Lewin has also got the supporters believing that another great escape could be on.
Strap yourselves in.
Crystal Palace were one of nine teams potentially facing the drop a few weeks ago but the decision to sack Patrick Vieira and bring back 75-year-old Roy Hodgson has proven inspired.
The Eagles have won all three of their matches under the former England boss, including a 5-1 win at Leeds.
Saturday’s game against Everton will mean Palace have faced four of the current bottom five in successive matches, with a tough-looking fixture list over the winter and early spring giving Vieira some mitigation for their struggles.
Their rise back up to 12th and nine points clear of the drop zone means they are virtually safe so Evertonians will be hoping Palace ease off on Saturday, though the boisterous Selhurst Park crowd are unlikely to stand for that.
Everton do have a decent record against Palace, losing only one of their last 16 Premier League meetings and were worthy 3-0 winners at Goodison back in October.
They lost twice at Selhurst Park last season though, including a 4-0 spanking in the FA Cup, with the Eagles looking to make it three successive home wins over Everton for the first time.
Everton 3-0 Crystal Palace, 22 October 2022
As mentioned, this was a rare stress-free afternoon this season as goals from Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Anthony Gordon and Dwight McNeil set up a comfortable victory that suggested last season relegation woes may be behind us. How wrong we were…
Sean Dyche says Dominic Calvert-Lewin is “in his thinking” after coming through training ground game against Chester unscathed after 11 weeks out with a hamstring injury.
Amado Onana could also return after missing the Fulham game with a minor groin injury. Seamus Coleman remains out with a hamstring problem while Abdoulaye Doucoure serves the final game of his three-match ban.
What they said
Everton manager Sean Dyche: The [away record] hasn’t been great for a couple of seasons. For sure, it’s tactical, but it’s also a mentality thing as well. You’ve got to be ready as if it’s a home game and deliver as if it’s a home game. Generally speaking, it’s a mental shift.
“It’s taking on the challenge. People say, ‘They can’t do this away, they can’t do that away’, so I remind the players to change that. Let’s change that noise. Let’s change that story. You can’t just wait for some magic dust to make it change. It’s down to us as a collective force to make that happen.
“That’s what I’ve been relaying to the players. Let’s not wait for things to happen. Let’s make things happen. Let’s change the rhetoric and the story.”
Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson: “Knowing that we were in a position that was gloomy, and players were being hit with unpleasant statistics, the players had to live with that – that noise from the outside, the criticism. It’s very difficult for players to live in those moments.
“If the team does well enough to deserve, as I think it has done, three consecutive victories, suddenly that noise dissipates, and you feel a little bit better about yourself and a bit more confident. We always thought we could do this and now we’re starting to prove it.
“We’ve got to make certain, as a club, we don’t lose anything that has got us these three victories.”
A draw would not be the worst result in the world but a win would be huge. A defeat? Don’t go there...