If David Moyes was to pick any time this season to put the fate of his future employment into the hands of the Everton fans, now is probably the right time to do it.
Not that there were deafening calls for his head when the side were struggling near the bottom of the table but up in to 8th place, the customary 40 point mark reached and unbeaten in their last four league games, there’ll be few faults found with the manager right now. One we could perhaps pick out has already been highlighted by Moyes himself and that is the possible acquisition of at least one other striker in either of the previous two transfer windows. But this is a relatively minor fault and one which has been accentuated by a fairly miserable run of luck on the injury front.
Despite the extended break from club football thanks to the FA Cup and internationals, Moyes’ injury headache will pounding away as he sorts his team-sheet for the visit of Aston Villa to Goodison Park. Louis Saha’s season looks to be over, Mikel Arteta is unlikely to be back for another few weeks yet, the ankle knock Jack Rodwell picked up against Fulham is more serious than first feared, Fellaini is gone until the summer and Seamus may now miss a few weeks after returning home early from the Ireland squad. Not just are they all big players for Everton but with a squad that’s thinner than a book on chivalry by Andy Gray. Only eighteen of Moyes’ current squad have played in the Premier League this season and with five of them ruled out, he’s not going to have to spend too long agonising over his starting eleven, giving him more time to spend writing a rousing speech to motivate those fit enough to play. Hopefully Tim Cahill will be one of them.
It’s nothing new to David Moyes though and even with his skeleton squad he’ll be very hopeful of extending their unbeaten run with a win over Villa. The midlanders may have a larger squad and fewer injuries but they look like less of a team and are very much mired in this season’s near all-inclusive relegation battle. They’ve won just one of their last six Premier League games, losing their last three in all competitions. Away from Villa Park things look even worse. Just two league wins on their travels all season, with just one in their last twelve on the road, makes the 4/5 on an Everton win look a pretty good bet. A bet which will look better again if Tim Cahill is fit and ready to start.
Jermaine Beckford is the obvious favourite to score first at 9/2 with Tim Cahill offering slightly better value at 11/2. Villa have some issues at centre half so it could be worth backing Phil Jagielka at 25/1 to open the scoring from a set-piece. Although Darren Bent has had some early success, Villa’s strikers have managed just eight goals between them this season so if Everton’s midfield can shackle their more prolific midfield, taking on the home-side to keep a clean-sheet at 6/4 is a decent bet. At that price it could be one for your accumulators.
When the two sides met earlier in the season, Everton dominated much of the game and were unlucky not to have taken all three points. Going on both sides’ most recent form, even with Everton’s injury problems, the Merseysiders will go into this game with the more positive mind-frame. Though Villa do have the ability to play expansive attacking football, if Everton can frustrate them early on by denying them space to play then we should see them start to falter. The scoreline should be tight and Everton to win 1-0 at 6/1 and 2-0 at 15/2 shouldn’t be too far off the mark. A fourth win in five at 4/5 and the thoughts of Europe will fill the minds of most Everton fans.