January 7, 2013
Cheltenham aim for Everton upset
#INSERT type:image caption:David Moyes' side face a potential banana skin END#
David Moyes' Everton travel to League Two Cheltenham in the FA Cup third round on Monday, for their the first ever competitive meeting - live on ESPN UK at 19.45 GMT.
With a busy festive period seeing the stretched Premier League side handed four matches in the space of just 12 days, Cheltenham may fancy their chances of an historic upset. However, only once since 1912 have the Toffees been eliminated by a team from the fourth tier or below. (By Shrewsbury in 2003 at this stage of the competition.)
Moyes' men are short on resources, but are riding high in the league this season and have taken nine points from the last 12 available. Just one win away from moving back into the top four, they have impressed with their brand of physical, dynamic football and the likes of Marouane Fellaini have received much praise already this season.
Still, the Gloucestershire-based club have also been in fine form at Whaddon Road this season, winning eight and drawing two of their 12 home league games. Sitting just one point outside the top three, Cheltenham have every hope of sealing automatic promotion at the end of the season and are well capable of a cup run as well as confidence is freely flowing.
History, of course, is against the underdogs as Cheltenham have progressed just once in their last eight ties against teams from higher divisions - never against a top flight side (from three games) - and Everton have won three and lost none of their last five FA Cup games on the road. But the magic of the cup pays little attention to statistics and the Toffees could easily come unstuck in front of the ESPN cameras on Monday night.
Cheltenham player to watch: Shaun Harrad. Harrad is Cheltenham's top scorer this season with seven goals and will be a constant danger to the Everton defence. The 27-year-old joined Northampton from Burton Albion for £35,000 in January 2011 and, although he has suffered a little in front of goal at times, always seems to step up for a big game. Against Hereford it was a Johan Cruyff-style flick which put them on the way to a 1-1 draw in the first-leg, before a cool penalty helped them to secure a second-leg win. “I always seem to do well playing in front of the cameras and I was happy to keep that up against Hereford," he said after the game.
Everton player to watch: Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian midfielder has missed a large part of Everton's festive games after he was banned for three-matches for a headbutt on Stoke's Ryan Shawcross. That is bad news for Cheltenham as he is fighting fit and will likely spearhead the Everton attack with his imposing presence and delicate touch. Scorer of eight goals in 16 games in the league, Fellaini has made himself an opponent to fear and will be asked to bully the League Two club's defence to create space for his team-mates and well as taking the goalscoring burden upon his shoulders.
Key Battle: Darren Carter vs. Phil Neville Carter, an ex-West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham midfielder, has chipped in with five goals since joining on a free transfer in the summer and provides an attacking threat from the midfield. Looking to stop him could well be a veteran who Moyes thinks could match Ryan Giggs for longevity if he continues to play for another couple of years. Neville is still as committed as they come and is exactly the kind of player that the Toffees need in their midfield in order to handle lower-league opposition. Carter may have the legs on Neville, but the Everton skipper will edge the mental battle.
Trivia: This will be the first ever competitive meeting between Cheltenham and Everton.
Stats: It has been seven years since Everton were last held to a draw in the FA Cup third round. In 2005-06 it took a replay to beat Millwall, with Tim Cahill scoring against his former club in a 1-0 win at Goodison.
Odds: Cheltenham (10.00), Everton (1.36) and the draw (5.25) are on offer with bet365 and Leighton Baines to score two or more goals comes in at 21.00.
Prediction: Everton are heavy favourites and should have enough, even with a small squad, to ensure that they come through the tie.