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Premier League preview: Everton v Stoke City

Everton have renewed hope of fighting for a Champions League place, ahead of their hosting of Stoke City on Saturday.

David Moyes’ men have won back-to-back league fixtures to stalk fourth-placed Tottenham by six points – and also have a game in hand on Andre Villas-Boas’ men.

Arsenal sit in fifth, four points off Tottenham, but Everton will have all eyes on fourth spot – although there is another carrot of Europa League for the side that misses the top four.

They will however be missing key figures Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini for the visit of Stoke – with both suspended.

Pienaar was red carded in their 2-0 victory over Manchester City – and subsequently ruled out for two games – while a 10th yellow card for the season for Belgian midfielder Fellaini saw him earn a two-match ban.

Adding injury to insult is the absence of goalkeeper Tim Howard (back) and Tony Hibbert (calf), although Phil Jagielka (ankle) should be fit to return to the matchday squad.

Tony Pulis’ Stoke have next to nothing to play for in their final eight games in the league, although on closer inspection of their standing in 11th spot, they are just seven points from the drop.

Wigan – who are 18th – could feasibly be within four points of Stoke if they win their game in hand, which is why there is a little bit of pressure starting to heap on Pulis’ sturdy shoulders.

Pulis has been at the Britannia Stadium since 2006, but they have been winless in four league matches and have just one goal to show for their past 360 minutes on the pitch, and it was a Jon Walters penalty.

Walters has managed to score more for his country in the meantime after he netted a brace for Ireland in their 2-2 draw with Austria in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

There is going to be a fair reliance on him to do so again when they travel to Goodison Park, as Cameron Jerome (one goal in 10 league matches) and Peter Crouch (one in 23) have been found wanting of late.

While their form of late spells doom and gloom for their Merseyside trip, Stoke have not lost to Everton in four – drawing the past two, preceded by two wins.

Last time at Goodison, Stoke earned a 1-0 win courtesy of a Robert Huth goal.

Thu 28 March, 2013
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