Goal shy-Stoke can still surprise Toffees
It's been a mixed bag, to say the least, at Goodison Park over the past few weeks. Last time out, Everton put Premier League champions Manchester City to the sword with what was a superb performance. But the 2-0 win left the question, 'why the hell had they not played like against Wigan?' Getting knocked out of the FA Cup was one thing, but to lose 3-0 at home to a team struggling in the league was really unpalatable for the fans. There's no doubt Stoke will be looking at that Wigan game for inspiration as they look to pull off a major shock of their own at Goodison.
Stoke haven't pushed on this season in the way that Tony Pulis and the chairman Peter Coates would have wanted, which is disappointing after some good investment. Tony's tried to change the way they play a little bit but for one reason or another it hasn't quite worked out yet and at times they've seemed to be regressing. It's definitely a period of transition for the club. They're trying to shed this stigma of being a 'long-ball' team, which to be honest is a completely unfair assessment. Yes they've got big, physical lads who can dominate set-pieces but there are plenty of tidy ball-players in that Stoke team as well. It's frustrating for Tony and his players that people still level this accusation at them.
Their main Achilles' heel this season has been goalscoring, with their five strikers - Peter Crouch, Kenwyne Jones, Jonathan Walters, Cameron Jerome and Michael Owen – managing just 18 between them. They've only won once in 2013 and it's the home form – a constant during their time in the Premier League – that has been surprisingly letting them down of late. However, you can still always guarantee that when Stoke come to town you will be in a game and I don't think there is a cat in hell's chance they are at risk of being sucked into the relegation scrap - they are much better than their recent form suggests.
Since the last round of Premier League fixtures, the big news to come out of the Britannia Stadium has been the retirement of Michael Owen, who has decided to call at a day at the end of this season. Michael can be very, very proud of what he's achieved in his career, he's done magnificently. It's a shame because you reflect now and, though it's a career that anyone would be proud of, you think about what might have been if he hadn't had all the injury problems. It's a shame because he could have had four more years and bucketloads more goals – he's hardly played the last few years. It's always easy to look back on the 'what ifs', though.
I had Michael when I was manager of England and of Newcastle and always found him a genuine lad, who listened well and was very bright - an intelligent footballer. He could play anywhere and although everyone saw him as a forward, he was also a very good midfield player. I often played him deeper when he was at Newcastle, and it worked. You can be sure that his career will be remembered for the outstanding moments rather than the injuries. I was in Saint Etienne when he scored against Argentina - covering the game live with the late, great Brian Moore – and Michael's goal was one of real beauty. He'll enjoy the rest of his life, he loves his horses and he's always been a big family man so retirement will treat him well.
Another player who has been talking about his future this week is Everton captain Phil Neville. While Michael always showed a reluctance to drop down a level to continue playing, Phil has stated that he'd play in a lower division if it meant prolonging his career. It's not everyone's cup of tea but if he feels that way then great. Phil's an incredible pro, another player who I've worked with for England, and he loves the game. I think David Moyes likes having players like Phil, with all the experience he offers around the club and, although he's not been a regular this season, he still offers something at the top level and could stay at Everton a little longer yet.
Whether David remains at Everton a little longer, though, remains to be seen. His contract is up at the end of the season and he's been very coy about his plans, but I think it's just a bit of posturing for position on his part. However, I don't know David as well as some managers, so maybe he really is thinking he's ready to move on after having a great 11 years at the club. He's won the Manager of the Year Award twice but he's not won any silverware so perhaps he wants to see what else is out there. No Everton fan could begrudge him if he did leave as he's done an incredible job there but he has to be careful how he goes about it because I'm not really sure what club he could go to that's better than Everton at the moment. You can't see him getting a job at Manchester United or Arsenal or Chelsea, so where does he go? He does deserve a chance but I really feel that David Moyes and Everton fit like hand and glove.
Any talk of David's contract situation unsettling the players is wide of the mark as far as I'm concerned. The players will have opinions and some of them have voiced opinions already about wanting the manager to stay but it's not going to change the way they play. There were similar noises coming out of Southampton when Nigel Adkins left and then within a few weeks, or even days, they were talking about how much they were enjoying the training. Players just focus on playing.
This Everton side have been really impressive at times this season, not least against Man City, but I think they will fall short of that top four again come May. They are still to play Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs away so if they do make it and prove me wrong and finish in the top four, they will definitely have earned it!