BEFORE this season’s third round, Everton were an exorbitantly priced 16/1 to win the FA Cup.
Which perhaps doesn’t say much about how the bookies thought they’d fare at League Two Cheltenham, given that they’ve been drawn away from home in round four and have now been slashed to 11/1.
Tipping the winner of the FA Cup is a punting nightmare. In the last 20 years only Portsmouth have interrupted the top six hegemony of the competition, while in the past six years Chelsea have polarised that sphere of influence even further with four wins.
But if anyone’s going to break up that monopoly, why not the Goodison outfit?
David Moyes’ teamsheet on Monday night at Cheltenham sent out a firm statement of intent.
Leighton Baines has been his most influential figure all season, and he was sent out with a niggling ankle injury.
There was no messing round with goalkeeping switches – and Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic were both asked to start.
Moyes wants to win this competition, while many of his top six rivals would be happy to – and all except Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion are still involved in European competitions.
And don’t be put off by a testing looking fourth round draw at either Bolton or Sunderland.
That third round replay is at the Stadium of Light – and if the Black Cats prevail as expected, Everton would be facing a team who haven’t beaten the Blues home or away since Niall Quinn, Jason McAteer and Gavin McCann were in their line up more than a decade ago.
Of course those kind of runs are made to be broken, but David Moyes side fit the profile of an FA Cup side.
They have no European distractions, they are run by a manager with a rich vein of ‘trying’ to win the FA Cup, and in recent seasons they have reached the final, the semi-final and the fifth round (but the less said about that Reading tie the better).
You only have to take a look at the current statistics to gauge the worth of Everton right now.
They have lost just three times all season – were desperately unlucky to be beaten by Chelsea – and have come through unscathed against Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Spurs.
They are currently generating 19.4 shots per game overall – the highest SPG total in the Premier League – and along with their possession average of 54% and their shots conceded average of just 12 shots per game, it’s quite clear that Everton are finally putting it all together.
The real difference though is in the bottom line.
Everton and goal scoring hadn’t seen eye to eye for quite a few seasons – 1.31 goals scored a game last season, 1.34 goals scored per game the season before that and 1.57 in 2009/10.
In fact, that 1.57 average is Everton’s clear highest performance for a decade.
But this season, with Nikica Jelavic, Marouane Fellaini, Kevin Mirallas and Leon Osman behind the gun, it has been a different story with that quartet generating over 130 shots and 14 goals between them – and as a result, their goals scored per game average is sitting at a whopping 1.8.
The one negative where Everton are concerned is the size of their squad – but with Kevin Mirallas due for a return soon, and Darron Gibson possibly back after the fourth round is completed, the Blues could soon welcome back two highly influential figures.
Then there’s the Gibson lucky charm factor.
The Irishman has made 24 appearances in his Everton career – his side have lost just two.
Everton for the Cup at 16/1 was a great price, 11/1 is still attractive – or was until I penned this!