Saturday’s game against Norwich City marks the start of a succession of winnable games over Christmas and the New Year – Swansea City (h), Sunderland (a), West Brom (a), Bolton (h), culminating in the FA Cup 3rd round tie against Tamworth on 7th January. However talking of wins might be putting the cart before the horse because in order to win you first have to score and in their last two games Everton’s forwards have kept unwelcome clean sheets. Given his limited resources David Moyes has tried just about everything he reasonably could; starting Saha, starting Vellios, pushing Cahill further forward, trying Conor McAleny, even giving the hopelessly out of his depth Dennis Stracqualursi game time.
Of course it’s not just, or perhaps even, an issue of chances not taken, it’s also a problem of chances not created. Royston Drenthe is the quickest and most penetrative player on the books. His absence over the past month, initially with an ankle injury, latterly, if the rumours are to be believed, after a bust-up with David Moyes, has been damaging. His return, and one blistering run and shot, or sharp cut-back, might instantly resolve lots of problems and send a warm pulse of confidence flooding through the team. Magaye Gueye could also be thrown further into the fire, at least beyond appearances limited to seven minutes here and two minutes there. The injuries to Leon Osman and Jack Rodwell are frustrating but Ross Barkley, fresh from his match-winning performance in the 2-1 Youth Cup win at Selhurst Park, always looks a goal threat, and must surely come right back into the thick of it after being withdrawn from the firing line by his protective manager.
Given the urgency of reinforcements up front we predict a flurry of activity when the transfer window opens on January 1, perhaps including the departure of Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. One positive addition would be the return of Stephen Pienaar, who despite his diplomatic comments about life on the bench at Spurs, must be deeply frustrated. The news of Darren Fletcher’s illness has inevitably reignited the rumours that Manchester United might turn their attentions in the direction of our lad Jack; we think this wide of the mark, Ferguson needs an established, experienced, high-quality midfielder capable of slotting straight in, not a player like Rodwell who – despite his England cap – is still very much a work in progress.
Unless Rodwell and or Osman have recovered from their hamstring injuries we suspect the inherently cautious David Moyes will start the team, which in the opinion of many neutral, reasonable observers did well in holding the Gunners to a wonder strike to nil. In a perfect world a fit, or forgiven, Drenthe would return to replace Bilyaletdinov; that change alone would give morale a much needed boost. A real throw of the dice and totally un-Moyes-like move would see Vellios and McAleny starting up front in a 4-4-2 formation.
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Heitinga, Baines; Fellaini, Neville (c); Coleman, Cahill, Drenthe; Saha
Substitutes from: Mucha, Neville, Distin, Barkley, Vellios, Gueye, Osman, Rodwell, Bilyaletdinov, McAleny, Stracqualursi, McFadden
NORWICH CITY (4-4-1-1): Ruddy; Naughton, L Barnett, Martin, Tierney; E Bennett, Crofts, Johnson, Pilkington; Hoolahan; Morison
Substitutes from: D Rudd, Whitbread, Holt, Fox, Surman, Jackson, Wilbraham, de Laet
Referee: Howard Webb
Kick off: 1500, Saturday 17 December, Goodison Park