Newcastle United go into their last game of the season against Everton at Goodison Park needing a win to keep their Champions League qualification hopes alive.
Who on earth thought I’d be writing that sentence back in August?
Hostility for the ‘Cockney Mafia’ of Mike Ashley, Derek Llambias and the like was at fever pitch as experienced pros Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Jose Enrique (not to mention Andy Carroll a few months earlier) were sold and replaced by what looked like inadequate cut-price options.
Yet what did we know? Somehow, Alan Pardew has moulded a very good side and the only noises the Geordies have been making have been about the quality of their team rather than the failings of the boardroom.
It is a truly remarkable achievement, but goes to show what clever scouting and astute investment can do (someone at Liverpool should take note).
European football of some kind is already assured at Newcastle next year, but can they take the ultimate step and qualify for the Champions League for the first since Sir Bobby Robson was in charge in 2003?
The odds are against them twofold: they need Arsenal to lose or Spurs to not win, but they also need a victory themselves and unfortunately I don’t think they will keep up their part of the bargain.
Pardew’s men are 21/10 to pick up all three points (and 7/2 to clinch a top-four finish), with the draw at 5/2. But I’d be looking towards the 23/20 on Everton to break Toon hearts.
Punters registering with bwin can claim a free £25 bet and placing this on an Everton win would return a cool £53.75 if they do manage to sign off for the season with a home triumph.
Moyes will see it as a feather in his cap to finish above Liverpool and will demand every last effort from his men. Furthermore, form suggests they are deserved favourites. Everton have won six of their last seven home games, all without conceding a goal.
Superficially, Everton have nothing to play for, but to think that is to misunderstand the Goodison psyche – to finish above Liverpool would constitute a great season for the blue half of Merseyside and the prize that is currently being dangled before Everton is one they will be desperate to take.
One place and one point better off than the Reds, the Toffees will finish above them for the first time since 2005 with a win. That would also go some way towards easing the pain of their defeat by Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final in April, where they somehow blew half-time superiority to lose 2-1.
David Moyes will see it as a feather in his cap to finish higher than Liverpool and will demand every last effort from his men. Furthermore, form suggests they are deserved favourites.
Everton have won six of their last seven home games, all without conceding a goal. Their only defeat was a 1-0 loss to Arsenal, but victories over Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham in that run are typical of Everton, when the second half of the season sees them continually overturn the big boys at Goodison.
Fourteen goals have been scored in that sequence and the pain of the semi-final loss doesn’t seem to have dented confidence – the Toffees are unbeaten since that Wembley reverse.
Newcastle, by contrast, have struggled away from home against the top sides, losing five of their eight trips to teams in the top half.
They have taken some beatings too: they have conceded three or more goals on eight separate occasions on the road in all competitions and have won only five of their last 15 away trips in league and cup.
With Everton scoring plenty of goals (Nikica Jelavic has been a revelation since joining from Rangers in January), I think Moyes’ troops can make the most of their home advantage and trample on the Magpies’ Champions League dreams.
Recommended bet: Everton to beat Newcastle @ 23/20
New customers can register here to claim a free £25 bet or click here to see all our Premier League odds.
Follow us on Twitter @bwinbetting