With three straight clean sheets, seven successive home wins and facing a team who have gone fifteen games since they won away, this, many Evertonians will tell you, is a banana skin waiting to be slipped on. Everton appear to reserve their best for the toughest opponents – United, Chelsea, Liverpool, City at home, Arsenal, Chelsea, City away – and tend to be more troubled by humbler opposition, when perhaps the adrenal rush is more subdued. Like their failure to close out Birmingham when 2-0 up, or play out a draw to protect a fragile 2-1 aggregate lead at Sporting Lisbon, or find the single goal that would have killed off Wolves, the Toffees are on a learning curve, and the ability to cleanly dispatch mediocre opponents is an important part of ’growing up’. It comes down to collective strength of character and confidence.
West Ham arrive on Merseyside lying seventeenth in the league, separated only by goal difference from the drop zone, and with manager Gianfranco Zola seemingly hanging by a thread. Yet a glance down the spine of the team – Green, Upson, Parker, Noble, Carlton Cole – will tell you that this team must not be underestimated, and indeed that has been the consistent message emanating from Finch Farm all week. Their top scorer is Carlton Cole. In an injury shortened season he has netted 7 league goals in 16 appearances while young Italian midfielder Alessandro Diamante has 5 in 17. Zola will be boosted by the news that the injured Jack Collison, James Tomkins, Guillermo Franco and Herita Ilunga may all have recovered and be available, but Hines, Boa Morte and probably Keiron Dyer are out.
David Moyes rates Mikel Arteta as “unlikely” to have recovered from his groin strain in time for this one, while Joseph Yobo and Victor Anichebe are doubtful with back and rib niggles respectively. Tim Howard has not kicked a ball in training all week and his co-defenders will take goal kicks, but otherwise the American is fit to continue between the sticks. Given that Anichebe is not fully fit we expect Moyes to name the same XI that started against Wolves last week, with Jack Rodwell playing in a more advanced midfield role to help compensate for the absent Arteta. On Sunday we will be looking for; Saha sharp in front of goal; Pienaar and Baines combining on the left flank; Cahill in their faces; Osman busy and popping up with a nice surprise; Rodwell directing play and driving forward deep into the final third; no loss of concentration at the back.
EVERTON Dixies 60 starting XI (4-1-4-1): Howard; Neville ©, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Heitinga; Osman, Rodwell, Pienaar, Cahill; Saha
Substitutes from: Nash, Yakubu, Bilyaletdinov, Hibbert, Senderos, Duffy, Anichebe, Yobo,
WEST HAM UNITED (4-4-2) from: Green; Faubert, Tomkins, Upson, Spector; Parker ©, Dimante, Noble, Behrami; Mido, Cole, McCarthy, Collison, Franco, Da Costa, Ilunga, Stanislas, Kovac, Stech, Dyer, Ilan
Referee: Howard Webb Kick-off: 1600 GMT, Sunday 4 April