Everton Preview

And so to Goodison for the last road trip of the season for a traditional 3pm kick-off.

Everton have managed to keep well up the table despite spending large parts of the season playing with a makeshift attack using converted midfield players in place of strikers. They currently lie in 6th place, 9 points clear of ourselves and 7 clear of Fulham who currently occupy the 7th place Europa League slot, so they're hardly looking over their shoulders at the moment.

In different circumstances there might be an incentive for the Toffeemen to ensure a fifth place finish, something that would be enough to ensure qualification for the last play-off round before the group stages of the Europa kick-in rather than having to play in one of the qualifying rounds before that stage. However, their appearance in the Cup Final appears to mean that they'll go straight to the play-off round anyway. Probably. The rules are a wee bit on the complicated side and everywhere I look the dreaded words "subject to change" raise their ugly heads. If my interpretation is correct, the main advantage of finishing ahead of Villa would be the glory. And the prize-money.

Everton's current form has been mixed with two wins and three draws coming from their last six. Last time out they drew 0-0 with Spurs. Interestingly, the events post-match from that game finally gave a clue as to what Spurs are actually for. It seems they exist for the sole reason of ensuring that there's at least one club that Ledley King can get into.

Everton's last victory came at the Stadium of Light where they overcame a lacklustre Sunderland, whilst their last home outing before Spurs ended up in a 2-1 defeat to Man City - though even the consolation goal came in the 94th minute.

The striker crisis at Goodison has eased slightly in recent weeks, though neither the on-loan Jo nor the fit again Saha have been exactly prolific. Cahill has been used up front at various stages, though his ability in the air means that he is often a threat irrespective of his position in the line-up.

One player who will be missing from the starting line-up will be Phil Jagielka, a player that was so traumatised by his transfer from Hypocrisy FC to a Premiership side, together with the vastly increased salary and place in the England squad that came with it, that he announced that he wanted to join in with the "Let's profit from our own incompetence" bandwagon by suing West Ham. This, remember, came from someone whose deliberate - and exceedingly suspicious - handball at Wigan could have sent us down but for the fact that we got a result at Old Trafford. Now Preview Percy has played a fair bit of football in his time and, like most players, would never wish injury on anyone. However, one can't help feeling that Jagielka's absence from the FA Cup Final represents a small blow for justice in the whole affair and, were there to be some sort of football equivalent of Tutankhamun's Curse upon all who tried to make a fast and dishonest buck out of the whole thing, few around here would complain.

One player who is usually difficult to miss is Belgian cap Marouane Fellaini. Fellaini was born to Moroccan parents in Belgium and elected to play for the country of his birth. His Dad had been a 'keeper with the splendidly-named Raja Casablanca club, as well as the somewhat less coolly-named Hassania Agadir whence he earned himself a move to Mechelen in the Belgian league. Or at least he would have done had Hassania played ball and signed the paperwork. For reasons best known to themselves they refused to do so, at which point Fellaini senior quit the professional game and decided to become a bus driver in Brussels. As you do. Fellaini junior impressed with a variety of Belgian academy-level sides before ending up at Standard Liege, with whom he won - and this is a genuine award - the "Ebony Shoe" awarded to the best player in the Belgian League of African Descent. It is to be hoped that, in the interests of political correctness that they have similar awards out there for other ethnic groupings and Preview Percy is looking forward to coming out of retirement to play, where he should be a shoe-in for "Best English-Born Player whose Mum's family are Irish but there is an English Great Grandfather on that side as well", if only because of a lack of competition.

Fellaini is of course noteworthy for the dodgy barnet he sports but, should you be unclear as to which one he is, he'll be the one stood a couple of feet in front of the ref looking at a yellow card. Brushes with authority being a feature of the Belgian's inaugural Premiership season, in which he has picked up no fewer than 12 cautions. He missed the Cup Derby match with Liverpool, but there again so did ITV so he wasn't alone there.

Between the sticks will be Tim Howard who, indirectly and unwittingly, bears some responsibility for the aftermath of Tevezgate. Howard was the subject of a "Gentleman's Agreement" that allowed a reserve 'keeper to hand Man Utd the title that fateful season. The agreement blatantly broke the same rule concerning outside influence on team selection for which we'd been hung and, when the agreement became public, the Premier League found themselves in a bit of a pickle as any points deduction would have had an impact on the destination of the title. So they bottled it and looked the other way. All of which meant that when our friends at Bramall Lane were caught out entering into an identical agreement - and lying through their teeth about it - the Premier League found that their hands were tied, thus allowing McCabe to pursue his dishonest quest for cash rather than crawling back into the sewers whence he came. How different might things have been had the same punishment been dished out to all those who merited it. Cheers Howard.

What about us, I hear you say. Probably. Well after a fine performance at the Britannia it was back to earth with a bump. An early sucker punch and a few moments of refereeing insanity (we have to put up with that every week Chelsea) meant that the game was over before we'd started and, with a number of off-days occurring simultaneously, we never really threatened. On the bright side, Jack Collison continued his return from injury and, assuming there are no ill-effects from his half-hour last Saturday, he must be close to a start, especially in view of Satnislas' lack of effectiveness last week.

The big decision for Zola will be up front where much will depend on whether or not Carlton Cole is fit enough to start. If he is fit the natural partnership would be to pair him with DiMichele. However the Italian's form of late has been poor and, whilst Tristan hasn't exactly pulled up any trees, Schnorbitz's form has improved to the extent that he has been the better (less worse?) of the two front men in recent weeks. A Cole-Tristan pairing may therefore be in the offing, though expect an improvement in Di Michele's play if he's partnered with the more mobile Cole.

This is a difficult one to call for a number of reasons. For all the usual talk of wanting to finish the season well and players having something to play for, history suggests that teams with a Cup final only a few weeks away have one eye on Wembley. They were far from impressive at the Boleyn, somehow nicking all three points despite being second best for all but the last 8 minutes in a 3-1 win that gave new meaning to the phrase "daylight robbery". The possible return of Cole and the fact that our away form isn't bad means that a point shouldn't be out of the question, especially since Everton are the Premiership's draw specialists, having shared the points on no fewer than 12 occasions this term. So I'll go for a battling 1-1 to keep things just a little bit more interesting for the final week.

Enjoy the game!

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