Having already received the boost of sitting above Liverpool in
the league at Christmas for the first time since the
Championship-winning season of 1986/87, Everton go into the Boxing
Day clash with Birmingham City hoping to extend their points
advantage over the dirty Reds (who host Blackburn) and maybe even
leapfrog Manchester United (who face a tricky trip to Middlesbrough)
into 3rd spot.
Based on his experience of St Andrews from his time at Preston,
David Moyes has called on match referee David Elleray to be strong
in the face of Birmingham's "intimidating" fans. The
Blues have fallen victim to some poor officiating in recent games
and Moyes will probably also be hoping for a little rub of the
He will also be hoping that the Toffees can carry over some of
that form from the mid-1980s as well. Everton last played at St
Andrews in the league in January 1986 and have won all but one of
their last five there matches there. Victory this time will be
the third successive league win at the Birmingham Blues.
Steve Bruce's newly-promoted outfit have been making a decent
fist of their first foray into the Premiership and came within a
minute of taking all three points in the reverse fixture at Goodison
back in August. David Unsworth's last-gasp equaliser saved
Everton then. However, while they've collected two recent away
wins, City haven't won at home since 2nd November.
Lairy Welsh midfielder Robbie Savage is set ignore a knee injury
and play through pain while defender Darren Purse is another doubt
For Everton, Joseph Yobo will probably retake his place in
central defence after serving a one-match ban and Tony Hibbert may
play again despite the gash in his leg that nearly kept him out of
the derby and the groin strain that he sustained as a result of
playing without having trained the week prior.
Espen Bardsen, who has been drafted in from Watford as emergency
cover for the injured Paul Gerrard and Steve Simonsen, will be on
the bench, as will Wayne Rooney.
With victories at places like Sunderland, Blackburn, West Ham and
Leeds already under their belts, this is certainly an opportunity
for Everton to build up a head of steam over the busy Christmas
period. Unfortunately, the team has found goals hard to come
by this season and that appears to have prompted a more direct
approach when the early season successes were founded more on
feeding the pace of Tomasz Radzinski and creating chances down the
Although it isn't all about Rooney, it's tempting to suggest that
the timing of his introduction may be an important factor.
Giving him long enough on the pitch to terrorise Birmingham's
defence could be the key to securing three vital points from a
potentially tricky fixture. Avoiding further loss of personnel
to injury or suspension will probably also be part of Moyes's