Everton welcome a revitalised Crystal Palace to Goodison Park on Wednesday evening aiming to secure an eighth consecutive league victory. A sequence unmatched since the championship winning season of 1985.
Everton boss Roberto Martinez is expecting a raucous atmosphere under the Goodison Park floodlights on Wednesday as his Champions League chasing and record breaking team look to turn up the pressure on closest rivals Arsenal and Manchester City.
However, Martinez first has to plot his way through a recently unbreachable Palace defence which has given the Eagles the foundations on which to build their own best top flight run for almost 20 years
With Tony Pulis at the helm, a galvanised Crystal Palace have won their last three games (versus Cardiff, Chelsea and Aston Villa) scoring five without conceding. And Everton boss Martinez is under no illusion of the task facing the Toffees on Wednesday night.
“You look at Palace and in my eyes they are the best defensive set-up in this league, especially after Tony Pulis arrived at the club,” said Martinez.
“They don’t concede many goals, if any, and they are on their best run of the year with three consecutive wins.
“So we’re well aware at Everton that we need to create a special atmosphere under the floodlights and help the players face a very difficult fixture.”
“It will be [a fantastic evening] and I’m excited about that,” continued Martinez.
“The welcome the players will have in front of our fans is going to be special and with the highest points tally in Premier League history I think the players deserve that.”
“We’ll need that support because Crystal Palace are one of the toughest sides in the division in terms of their defensive focus and how good they are in their defensive intensity.
“The biggest compliment I can pay to Tony Pulis is that even though you know what to expect, it’s very, very difficult to compete against.”
The Toffees who have won their last nine games at Goodison Park will come in to this game brimming with confidence and according to Martinez, with a squad of players feeling fresh and ready to grab their Champions League dream with both hands.
A tenth win on the trot at Goodison would not only once again move Everton above Arsenal into fourth place, but also bring about the Blues best home run since 1969.
“First and foremost, it is just an internal feeling about Goodison,” said Martinez.
“As a player at Everton you can feel your crowd and that makes you run an extra yard and run that yard quicker, and you don’t get tired.
“But in the same way, that feeling can work against us if we take games for granted and are thinking we just need to turn up and we will win games.
“We need to get the balance right in getting a clear picture, like the atmosphere we created against Arsenal. We are the most fortunate team in the league in terms of home games.
Club captain Phil Jagielka has not yet fully recovered from a hamstring injury leaving teenager John Stones to continue in his ninth consecutive game in central defence.
“John Stones has been phenomenal,” said Martinez. “I don’t think his position in the team is going to be based on other players coming back or not.”
“It’s going to be based on how he feels and how his body is coping with this new experience.
“I would love to have that sort of problem of having three or four players in very good moments with great talent playing in the same position.”
Tony Pulis meanwhile will give late fitness tests to both midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi and winger Yannick Bolasie. Tom Ince is on stand by if Congelese international Bolasie is deemed unfit to appear at Goodison Park.
Three wins on the bounce has seen Crystal Palace move up to twelfth place in the Premier League and just three points short of the magic 40 point safety mark. Despite the remarkable turnaround of fortune under Tony Pulis, the Palace manager is determined his team remain fully focused until their own aim of securing Premier League football for next season is set in stone.
“You can’t get carried away because things can turn around so quickly. It is about maintaining the players’ focus,” he said.
“The most important thing is knowing you are mathematically safe.”
“Until then, I will be very wary.”
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Everton v Crystal Palace:
Everton Provisional squad: Howard, Coleman, Baines, Barry, Stones, Distin, Deulofeu, McCarthy, Lukaku, Naismith, Osman, Barkley, Robles, Hibbert, McGeady, Mirallas, Garbutt.
Crystal Palace Provisional squad: Speroni, Mariappa, Ward, Dikgacoi, Dann, Delaney, Puncheon, Jedinak, Jerome, Ledley, Bolasie, Parr, Ince, Gayle, Murray, Gabbidon, Hennessey, Chamakh.