There comes a time when a manager has taken a club as far as he can. Both David Moyes and Tony Pulis have faced accusations that their time has come at clubs they have been highly successful at. That's success in relative terms, of course, since neither has won a trophy. Both share the unwanted distinction of being losing managers in an FA Cup final.
"Be careful what you wish for" is one of English football's evergreen motifs. It is a warning usually applied when a group of supporters become antsy and bored of a manager who has been unable to progress his club to the next level. The best case study to prove that advice is Alan Curbishley at Charlton Athletic. Fifteen years came to an end in the summer of 2006 when Curbishley decided he had taken the club as far it could go. There was a sizeable proportion of Addicks fans who embraced the change but Charlton were soon careering down the divisions. Such disquiet often happens at mid-table clubs. Pushes for Europe and relegation battles share an ability to focus minds and bring together a sense of unity.
Rumblings of discontent have been heard at both Goodison Park and the Britannia Stadium. Moyes' team are in danger of blowing what could have been their best season under his aegis. Stoke fans have begun to express boredom at the style of play that Tony Pulis has employed and will forever continue to employ.
The nadir for Everton came in their 3-0 defeat to Wigan in the FA Cup quarter-final. This was their most clueless performance of the season and a trip to Wembley to recompense the misery of losing to Liverpool in last season's semi had been denied. The sight of Goodison Park emptying well before the final whistle was a stark vision of massed exasperation. It came at a time that the challenge for fourth place that been target number one was dwindling fast. Beating Manchester City the following week was a necessary win to quell the seeds of rebellion.
It was also Everton's best performance of the season. And there have been several good performances this season. They just haven't been rewarded with victory often enough. Everton have a fighting chance of the top four again, with Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea still to face. Only fifth this season will guarantee Europa League qualification, since the FA Cup's place will go to the loser - Millwall or Wigan - if Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea lift it. A win against Stoke is important to put Everton further back in the hunt.
Some might suggest that Stoke actually have few problems at all. They are eleventh in the table, and seven clear of a bottom three where only one team in Wigan looks capable of getting out of the mire. However, their form-lines provide telling clues to why some might question Pulis' continuing stewardship. Stoke have won just once in 24 away matches, their only league victory in 2013 was against hopeless Reading, and their last two home matches have been utterly barren wastelands for football quality.
Their game with West Brom a fortnight ago was a contender for worst game of the season, and the mood was one of resigned apathy according to those unfortunate enough to have attended it. Football fans want excitement and entertainment, and though Pulis and the Coates family have done a fine job in returning Stoke to the top division, it is in the DNA of supporters to want something beyond the mid-table. It just has to be weighed up against a fear of the unknown too.
Everton player to watch: Seamus Coleman
The star man in the defeat of Manchester City, Coleman's total command of his flank made up for the disadvantage that Everton were at following the dismissal of Steven Pienaar. Coleman was excellent in defence, but it was his runs deep into City territory that were particularly eye-catching. It caught the eye of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni in particular, who suggested his mystifying selection of Paul Green in midfield was to free up Coleman to attack. Coleman is finally looking the player he looked he could be when he broke through in the 2010-11 season.
Stoke City player to watch: Jonathan Walters
Apart from the outpouring of both grief and ridicule that followed Michael Owen's retirement announcement, Stoke strikers have made few headlines this season. They have scored very few goals. Walters lead their scoring list with a mere six, having been ever-present in all 30 matches this season. He achieved his own headlines after an infamous January afternoon against Chelsea when he missed a penalty and scored two own-goals to boot. Yet Walters is not one to hide, and scored a penalty against Austria in midweek for Ireland. He is clearly a believer in the adage that perseverance will always pay off.
Key battle: Victor Anichebe v Ryan Shawcross
One of the reasons behind Everton's fall from the top four was a lack of goals. The blame for that lay squarely with Nikica Jelavic, who has been a shadow of the free-scoring signing that arrived in January 2012. In his stead, Moyes has turned to Anichebe's rugged charms. He ran City ragged last week, and offers more of a moving target for his team-mates than the Croat. His physical strength will be needed against Shawcross' powerhouse defensive play. It says something about Shawcross that he did not get an England call at a time of national shortage for centre-backs though getting Zlatan-ed against Sweden did not help his cause. His battle with Anichebe is bound to be a tale of mortal combat.
Trivia: The 1984-5 season in the old First Division saw Everton crowned champions after winning 90 points from 42 matches. That placed them fully 73 points clear of bottom-club Stoke. Their 17 points were then the lowest ever posted in the English leagues, and would stand for 21 years. It took them 23 years to return to the top division.
Stats: Everton may be a 'bogey team' for Manchester City but Stoke fulfil a similar role for them. The Toffees have won just one (D4 L2) of their last seven Premier League games against Stoke City, with the Toffees netting just four goals in these matches.
Odds: Everton are heavily favoured at 1.53 at bet365, the company run, of course, by the Coates family who own Stoke City. Their team is a mighty 7.50 to win at Goodison Park, and the draw is 3.75.
Prediction: It is difficult to see beyond victory for Everton.