Stoke v Everton
Those expecting Everton’s season to fizzle with a whimper following their FA Cup semi-final defeat to Liverpool have been duly disappointed over the past fortnight.
The Toffees have picked up four points – including one at Old Trafford – and scored eight goals in the two games since their Wembley heartache. And there’s no reason why they can’t add another nine points in their remaining three games, thus improving on last season’s points tally.
It has also been a memorable season for Stoke as they surpassed most people’s expectations in the Europa League, whilst maintaining a comfortable distance away from the relegation zone throughout the campaign. They too can yet surpass last season’s points tally, and could even post their best ever Premier League return.
Tony Pulis could be without Andy Wilkinson and Salif Diao for the game with both players rated as doubtful, while Mamady Sidibe remains a long-term absentee.
The visitors have concerns surrounding the fitness of Leighton Baines and Jack Rodwell, both with hamstring problems. While Royston Drenthe is unlikely to play for Everton again after reportedly being told to stay away from the club following a series of disciplinary incidents.
When the teams met at Goodison Park earlier this season a Robert Huth goal early in the first half was enough to separate the sides and earn The Potters all three points. The result set Stoke on a run of just one loss in eight games.
However, it is Everton that come into this game as the league’s form team and it is they who look the value bet at odds of 2.70.
While Nikica Jelavic has taken much of the headlines in recent months it is the performances of Marouane Fellaini upon which The Toffees’ success has been built. I expect the Belgian to once again win the midfield battle, this time against Dean Whitehead and Glenn Whelan, and that could well be the key to another three points for Moyes’s men.
Jelavic is proving to be, along with Papiss Cisse, the signing of the January transfer window. The Croatian’s two goals against Fulham at the weekend took his tally to eight goals in seven Premier League appearances since joining Everton. A run that has already helped him gain cult status amongst the Evertonians. At 2.30 to score at anytime in the game he is an obvious bet.
Goals in general, however, may well be hard to come by. Only one side has scored in each of the last four meetings between the clubs and all of the last five head-to-heads have ended with fewer than 2.5 goals. Under 2.5 goals at odds of 1.62 may appear short at first glance, but the above stats suggest that they are justifiably so. The 1.78 available on the No selection in the Both Teams To Score market is also worth a betting interest.
Although neither side has a great deal to play for in the sense that they are neither aiming for a European spot for next season or battling to avoid relegation, recent results suggest that neither set of players have started planning their summer holidays just yet. Everton, though, appear to be riding the crest of a wave; a wave that has only grown into a tsunami, rather than fading into a ripple, since their loss to Liverpool in the FA Cup.
If only David Moyes could figure out a way for his side to start a season in the way that they now almost habitually finish it. Then talk of what might have been could quite quickly turn into a realisation of Champions League dreams.
PREDICTION: Stoke 0-2 Everton
BEST BET: Everton to win @ 2.70