I think that during the celebrations and back-slapping that followed Everton’s win over Tottenham in the week of the David Moyes’ tenth anniversary, all the champagne must have gone to the Scot’s head.
Because I don’t care what anyone says, Moyes dropped a huge clanger in ‘rotating’ his squad ahead of Tuesday’s 3-0 Merseyside derby defeat to arch-rivals Liverpool.
In making six changes to the team that beat Spurs 1-0, Moyes basically threw the match: an unacceptable state of affairs if you’re an Everton manager travelling to Anfield.
The logic goes that an FA Cup quarter-final against Sunderland five days later is more important than a derby match at a ground you’ve never won at in 11 attempts.
Give over. I don’t care for the arguments for the defence: you do not play half a team when coming up against your main rivals, especially not with the opportunity Everton had in going above the Reds had they won.
Could you imagine the reaction from Moyes’ apologists if Kenny Dalglish had rested six players, got battered 3-0 and then turned round and said ‘we’ve got Stoke in the cup at the weekend and that is my priority’? It would have been somewhat different, I can tell you.
No, I’m sorry but only Everton winning the FA Cup in May will convince me that any good came from that decision. The Toffees were beaten before they kicked off on Tuesday and all that has happened now is that the pressure on them to perform and beat Sunderland at Goodison on Saturday has just increased tenfold.
The only positive that can be said for the mess of Moyes’ own making is that, in his own perverse way, he is at least looking at the FA Cup as something worth winning.
Moyes has been at Everton for a decade without any silverware to show for it – a fact that he admits gnaws away at him – and in what could well be his final year with the Toffees, he sees a quarter-final draw without the Manchester clubs and views the other teams in the last eight as eminently beatable.
Could you imagine the reaction from Moyes’ apologists if Kenny Dalglish had rested six players, got battered 3-0 and then turned round and said ‘we’ve got Stoke in the cup at the weekend and that is my priority’?
The thing is, his opposite number Martin O’Neill will be thinking exactly the same. Sunderland will not have a better chance of lifting the cup for the first time since 1973 and it makes a tie between two evenly-matched sides a difficult one to call.
Everton are the favourites in bwin’s 3way football betting market at 91/100, with Sunderland the 31/10 outsiders to claim a place in the semi-finals with victory inside 90 minutes. The draw is quoted at 23/10 and that is the way I am leaning.
You only have to look at the Premier League table to see how tight this match could be. Sunderland lie in eighth position, one place above Everton, and the teams are separated by goal difference only.
After both endured poor starts – Everton always do, Sunderland had the handicap of being managed by Steve Bruce – they have elevated themselves to a far more realistic position for the talent at their disposal and both have been in pretty good form of late.
Sunderland did what Everton couldn’t and beat Liverpool last time out, their third win in their last six league games, and a thumping at West Brom apart have been solid on their travels under O’Neill, conceding only three goals in their last five trips (again, West Brom apart).
With suspensions to Lee Cattermole and, more significantly, Stephane Sessegnon to contend with, Sunderland are a bit short and the emphasis will undoubtedly be to avoid defeat first and foremost, with a midweek replay at the Stadium of Light not something Everton would relish.
So I expect Sunderland to adopt a safety-first approach and that could be enough to frustrate their hosts. Everton have been in fine form at home, winning the last four to nil, but they have only scored ten goals in their last ten Goodison outings.
So it’s going to be tight and with little to choose between the teams, the draw at 23/10 is the most sensible play.
Recommended bet: Everton and Sunderland to draw @ 23/10
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