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Keep Your Enemies Closer: NUFC v. Everton Q/A Preview With Royal Blue Mersey

After a long break (thanks to lack of interest in the FA Cup among other reasons), Newcastle get back into action against Everton. We did a question and answer session with SBN's Everton blog Royal Blue Mersey to get their perspective on the Toffees.

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Newcastle United and Everton get back to Premier League action on Sunday.  In preparation, we sat down with Tom Mallows, the Managing Editor of SBN's Everton Blog Royal Blue Mersey.  We posed the following questions.  My answers to the questions from RBM will be up on their site on Friday since they actually have a match today in the Europa League.

As we know, the Europa League is almost always more of a curse than a blessing.  How much of this season do you blame on the Europa League travels?  (Oeolycus)

It has definitely been a factor, the extra games and the traveling that entails has meant we have struggled to pick up points on the Sundayafter a Thursday Europa League game. However, it cannot solely be blamed for our struggles this season. We have played poorly all year, regardless of whether we have been playing in Europe the previous Thursday or not. For example one of our worst runs was over Christmas, when he just had the Premier League to focus on.

Outside of the extra matches and travel, what has been the biggest challenge for Everton this season?

Replicating our European performances back in the league. It has been so frustrating to see the team take teams apart in the Europa League but then look so inept three days later. For example we have beaten Bundesliga’s second-placed side Wolfsburg twice with an aggregate score of 6-1, yet have failed to beat bottom club Leicester home or away this season.
One of the reasons for that is the fact Premier League sides have learnt how to play against us this year, mainly soaking up pressure and hitting on the break, and the manager has failed to adapt. We have also made too many basic errors at the back, gifting goals to the opposition.

How are Everton fans feeling about Roberto Martinez now?  I know of a club that is supposedly looking for a manager.  (Robert)

The recent 2-0 defeat to Stoke looked to be the final straw for many supporters, particularly the more vocal ones on social media. His dedication to a passing-style of play is admirable, but many feel his stubbornness and tactical inflexibility is also costing the team dear.
However, there is a feeling that he deserves the chance to turn things around given what he achieved with the club last season so he has been given a stay of execution.  He remains on shaky ground though and even if we end the season strongly, a poor start to next year and he will be in trouble.

What’s the benchmark for success when just considering the rest of the season?  (Robert)

Staying in the Premier League is the absolute minimum. It would be catastrophic if we went down and would represent abject failure on Martinez’s part given the players he has at his disposal. The quicker that can be achieved then the more Everton can focus on the Europa League. Their displays in that competition makes them one of the favourites, so there is no reason why they cannot have a real go at reaching the latter stages.

Are we nearing the end of the Tim Howard era?

Sadly, yes. As much as I love Tim Howard he has been poor this season and finally looks to be on the wane. He still has a few years left on his contract but I wouldn’t be surprised if he moves on to the MLS at the end of the year. He’s not made many howlers, but there have been too many goals that you can label "should have done better" and it has cost us vital points. Joel Robles came into the side while Howard was injured and did a fine job – including keeping three straight clean sheets. Yet he was dropped as soon as Howard was fit again and we haven’t kept a clean sheet since.

With Papiss Cisse suspended, are you just absolutely quaking in your boots at facing the Newcastle United attack?

I’m a big fan of Cisse so I’m certainly glad he isn’t playing. However, Everton’s defending has been terrible this season so even the weakest of attacks will have a chance against us. We certainly won’t be taking anything for granted that’s for sure!

Care to make a prediction?

Plenty of games have been labelled ‘must win’ this year but this one really is given our current predicament. For that reason I expect it to be tight, tense and not very pretty. A scrappy 1-0 win for Everton will do me fine, though that’s said in hope rather than expectation.