Good evening everyone! It's certainly been an eventful couple of days of Premier League action and after waiting all weekend, it's finally the turn of Everton
and Queens Park Rangers
to take to the field in search of vital points at Goodison Park!
The Toffees have hit a bit of sticky patch of late and they have picked up just one win in their past six league games. They may have made it safely through to the knockout stages of the Europa League, but a return to European competition next season is quite a way of at the moment.
Visitors to Goodison tonight are a QPR side who have lost every one of their league games away from home since their return to the top flight. It is that kind of form that has seen them drop back into the bottom three over the weekend and Harry Redknapp
will know that his team cannot just rely on picking up points at Loftus Road to survive the drop.
Right, the teams have been announced by each manager, so let's take a look at which players will be stepping out onto the pitch in just over 50 minutes.
EVERTON XI: Howard, Baines, Distin, Jagielka, Coleman, Besic, Barkley, Mirallas, Naismith, McGeady, Lukaku
QPR XI: Green, Yeung, Dunne, Onuoha, Isla, Phillips, Barton, Fer, Mutch, Hoilett, Vargas
EVERTON SUBS: Joel, Stones, Garbutt, Alcaraz, Pienaar, Eto'o, Kone
QPR SUBS: McCarthy, Ferdinand, Hill, Wright-Phillips, Kranjcar, Henry, Zamora
So, there we have our teams for this evening. Let's begin by looking at the hosts, who welcome a number of their regulars back after last week's Europa League match with FC Krasnodar. Romelu Lukaku
leads the line, with Ross Barkley
, Aiden McGeady
, Steven Naismith
and Kevin Mirallas
making up a very attacking midfield. There is no Gareth Barry
, who is suspended, while James McCarthy
also misses out.
Meanwhile, QPR are without their top scorer Charlie Austin
, who is suspended after picking up a red card against Burnley last weekend. Taking his place upfront is on-loan Napoli striker Eduardo Vargas
. Matt Phillips
and Junior Hoilett
will look to provide the Chilean with support from out wide. Steven Caulker
is out after cutting his head last week, so Nedum Onuoha
takes his place in the back four.
A year really is a long time in football. Twelve months ago Everton were sitting in fourth place following a thumping 4-1 win over Fulham. They were just four points behind leaders Arsenal and their only league defeat had been against the eventual champions Manchester City.
Flash forward to the present day and the Toffees sit 13th in the table and 10 points behind fourth-place West Ham United. Defeat against Manchester City last weekend was their fifth of the season and a third league game without a win. Although no one expects them to be in a relegation battle, they can't feel too comfortable at the moment sitting just four points above the bottom three.
Despite their patchy start to the season, there is no need for alarm at the moment and a win tonight would lift them into the top half of the table and above their Merseyside rivals Liverpool. Getting some points on the board would be a welcome boost, with trips to Southampton, Newcastle United and Hull City to come over the festive period.
If Everton's domestic form hasn't been great, then the complete opposite can be said of how they have fared in Europe. They breezed through their qualifying group with a game to spare and having already secured top spot, they were able to play a number of youngsters in last week's 1-0 defeat against FC Krasnodar. Martinez will be confident that his side can progress even further after drawing Young Boys in the draw for the last 32 earlier today.
Moving on to the visitors now and QPR fans will not like this statistic one bit. They have the worst away record in the league, having lost every single match on the road. In those seven games they have found the net just twice, while conceding 17 goals. On that form it is no wonder they find themselves languishing in 18th in the table.
That makes it even more crucial that they pick up points at Loftus Road and their form at home is actually the eighth best in the league. They have won three and drawn one of their last four in front of their own fans and it really has stopped them from being cut adrift at the bottom of the table.
QPR could actually climb out of the relegation zone tonight with a point. It is getting quite tight at the bottom and an unlikely three points would see them jump up to 15th. Having looked at their festive schedule, there is certainly reason to be optimistic. Aside from a trip to the Emirates to face Arsenal on Boxing Day, they have three winnable home games against West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace and Swansea City to come.
Of course with the transfer window around the corner, you would expect Harry Redknapp
to dip into the market. Having scored just 16 goals in their 15 league games some forward acquisitions may be needed, although Charlie Austin
is in fine form up front, after scoring six goals in his last eight games. Perhaps shoring up the defence is more important for the Hoops. They have conceded 27 goals already, which is a joint-league high alongside basement club Leicester City.
This is the 50th meeting between these two clubs and Everton have the superior record, having won 23 games compared to QPR's 15 victories. The last time they met was an FA Cup third-round clash back at Goodison Park back in January. On that occasion the Blues ran out 4-0 winners, thanks to a double from Nikica Jelavic
and strikes from Ross Barkley and Seamus Coleman
PREDICTION: Everton have been in poor form but I expect them to end their four-game winless run tonight against a QPR side who struggle on the road. With Charlie Austin missing, it only makes the task even harder for Redknapp's men. I don't think it will be a walkover, so I'm going to tip the Blues to edge a 2-1 victory.
As always, the guys down at Sports Mole
HQ have previewed tonight's match, so make sure you take a look at their thoughts as kick off edges closer.
The teams are out on the pitch and the handshakes have just taken place between the players. We are now just a couple of minutes away from the start of the match!
KICKOFF! We are underway at Goodison Park!
As expected, Everton have seen plenty of the ball in the opening stages, but it's the visitors who the first shot of the evening. They break quickly and Vargas has the chance to hit one from 25 yards out, but Jagielka is quickly in to block his attempt.
There is plenty of pace on the wings for each side and Coleman gets in down the right for the first time after some good build up from the hosts. He gets to the edge of the box, before appearing to be fouled by Barton, but the referee waves away his appeals and instead gives a goal kick to QPR.
QPR have shown plenty of promise in the early stages and there is a nervous moment at the back for Everton when Vargas swings in a free kick that Jagielka manages to clear behind at the front post. From the resulting corner, the ball is cleared and eventually drops to Phillips on the edge of the box, but the winger volleys his effort over the bar.
The visitors have a worry here as Hoilett goes down and is in need of some treatment. He had gone in to a challenge with Jagielka but ended up coming out slightly worse off.
CHANCE! Everton haven't seen a lot of the ball in the final third so far, but they spring into life here. A long ball is pumped down the left and Naismith manages to get in behind. He then whips a great ball across the six-yard box, but it is just too far in front of Lukaku who is at full stretch and still unable to make any contact.
The game has yet to really spark into life and we are already seeing a few fouls creep into the proceedings. It's QPR though who have seen the ball in more promising positions and they threaten again when Barton's dangerous free kick is well cleared by the hosts.
On quite a number of occasions, Everton's final ball has really let them down. They have misplaced a number of passes when in decent positions and Martinez will surely be frustrated at how they are playing at the moment.
It's taken until the midway point of this first half, but Everton have finally recorded a shot on goal. It's not one to remember though, as Naismith's drive from just outside the box is straight down the middle and very comfortable for Green so save.
Everton are starting to take control of this game now and they are seeing the ball much further up the pitch. QPR have just dropped back slightly, which has enabled the hosts to start putting more pressure on their backline.
CHANCES! The hosts are creating chances now and after Coleman bursts clear down the right he pulls the ball back to Naismith in the box, who sees his effort blocked by Lukaku. Moments later Mirallas cuts in from the left and fires in a power drive that only just misses the top corner.
QPR have had some joy from set pieces and they cause some more panic when Barton whips a free kick into the box. Howard comes out to punch and when the ball is fired back in, Vargas sees his close-range effort brilliantly blocked by Jagielka. The strike wouldn't of counted had it gone in as Vargas was offside, but it was great defending from the England international.
GOAL! Everton 1-0 Queens Park Rangers (Ross Barkley)
What an goal this is from Barkley. The midfielder picks the ball up in the centre of the pitch, before he exchanges passes with Lukaku and drives forward. He then finds himself with time to shoot and fires in a powerful strike into the top corner from 25 yards out. It took a slight deflection on it's way to goal, but it was still a fine hit from the 21-year-old.
QPR may feel slightly hard done by that they are behind, but there was nothing Green could have done about the goal. Everton are now looking to press home their advantage and try to add to their lead before half time.
I'm not sure what Mirallas is doing here but he tries to dribble his way out of trouble, before giving the ball away to Fer just outside the box. Luckily for the Belgian, his teammates bail him out and manage to clear the ball away before the visitors could get a shot in.
GOAL! Everton 2-0 Queens Park Rangers (Kevin Mirallas)
Everton have doubled their lead before the break, but it comes from another huge slice of luck. Mirallas is the man who scores, as his free kick from just outside the box takes a huge deflection and ends up completely wrongfooting Green before ending up in the back of the net.
CLOSE! McGeady comes within inches of giving Everton a three-goal lead, as he picks the ball up in the box, before working some space and bending a strike just wide of the post. The hosts are firmly in command now and it looks a long way back for QPR.
There are going to be two minutes of stoppage time.
HALF-TIME: Everton 2-0 Queens Park Rangers
It's half time at Goodison Park and Everton are well on their way to three points. Two deflected efforts from Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley have given them a commanding lead and it's going to take something extraordinary from QPR to end their losing streak on the road.
Well, in that first half Everton saw plenty of the ball, enjoying 60% of the possession. They also had more goalscoring chances, with seven efforts on goal compared to five from QPR. The visitors have not been able to seriously test Tim Howard
and they are desperately missing Charlie Austin up front.
So, if Everton see out this game and claim the three points, then they will be up to 10th in the Premier League and above neighbors Liverpool on goal difference. QPR will still be rooted in 18th place, but they now have the worst defensive record in the top flight.
What can QPR do to get back into this match then? Well, they may turn to the bench and bring on veteran striker Bobby Zamora
to grab a goal or they could hope that fellow sub Niko Kranjcar
can inspire something magical from a set piece situation.
The players are now back out on the pitch and we are just moments away from the start of the second half.
Everton take the kick off and get the match back underway.
PENALTY APPEAL! The hosts feel that they should be awarded a spot kick as Mirallas drives into the box from the left and goes down under pressure from Dunne. The referee doesn't give anything and it would have been a harsh call as there was minimal contact between the two players.
Everton have dominated the opening five minutes of this half and they are looking very comfortable in possession. Their opponents just can't seem to string a number of passes together and some changes may be imminent from Redknapp.
This is a decent opening for QPR, but it has fallen for the wrong player. A corner is played in low and Dunne gets on the end of it. He takes a touch and then fires in a strike, but the defender ends up blazing the ball well wide of the goal.
GOAL! Everton 3-0 Queens Park Rangers (Steven Naismith)
QPR may have been slightly unfortunate with the first two goals, but they have shot themselves in the foot here. A poor clearance from Green is pounced upon by Mirallas who works the ball wide to McGeady. The Irishman then looks up and picks out an unmarked Naismith to head in at the back post. It was far too simple and surely the points are Everton's now.
It's hard to see how QPR are going to come back from this, but at least they are seeing more of the ball and working some chances on goal. They are no closer to scoring though, as Hoilett ends up dragging a strike wide of the post following some good play in the build up.
SUBSTITUTION: QPR make their first change of the match, with Zamora coming on for Phillips.
SHOT! The visitors are enjoying their best spell in the game and they come close to finding the net when Fer works some space on the edge of the box, before lashing a strike over the bar. Of the nine shots that QPR have managed, only one of them has found the target.
CHANCE! It's another attempt on goal for the visitors. Barton plays a decent ball out wide for Isla who looks up and spots Mutch in the middle. The midfielder then tries to guide a first-time effort into the net, but his strike heads over the top.
You get the sense that Everton could score a fourth at any moment, as they look so dangerous when they come forward. They are quickly into the challenge and are forcing QPR to make plenty of mistakes, while Barkley and Besic have dominated the midfield.
SUBSTITUTION: It's a first change of the match for Everton, with Pienaar coming on for McGeady.
A comeback has never looked likely for QPR and they are running out of time to cause a shock here this evening. They just haven't caused Howard any problems and once again they miss the target, when Barton drills a low strike wide of the post.
SUBSTITUTION: Both teams make their second change, as the visitors bring on Kranjcar for Fer, while Lukaku is replaced by Eto'o for the Blues.
GOAL! Everton 3-1 Queens Park Rangers (Bobby Zamora)
QPR do find the net and they've got 10 minutes left to find a couple more. Howard won't be happy, as he is finally tested when Mutch curls in a low drive, but the keeper can only palm the ball away. It then falls kindly to Zamora at the back post, who has the simple task of tapping the ball home for his first goal of the season.
The visitors are making a really good go of this now as they try to salvage a point. The crowd are a bit nervous, despite their team's two-goal lead, and they just need the Blues to settle down a bit and find their passing game again.
Everton were in complete control, but they do look very shaky at the moment. Even the reliably Baines has a moment to forget as he loses the ball and allows Isla to get in behind him. Fortunately for him, Besic is there with a crunching challenge on the Chilean to put the ball out of play.
SHOT! Fair play to QPR for how they are ending this match, but they have left it slightly too late. They have another attempt on goal with Kranjcar trying his luck from 25 yards out, but his low drive is comfortable for Howard to claim.
With just a minute of the game left the first booking for QPR is handed out by Neil Swarbrick
. It goes to Mutch who put in a really poor challenge from behind on Mirallas that has left the Everton man on the floor and in need of treatment.
SUBSTITUTION: Sadly Mirallas has to be stretchered off and Kone comes on to replace him for the remaining minutes.
Despite a sloppy period in the game from the hosts, they are now in possession and very confidently playing the ball around. They are even pushing for a fourth goal and Barkley places a low free kick wide of the target.
OFF THE POST! Everton very nearly end the night with a flourish. Kone finds Eto'o in space just outside the the box and the striker sidefoots a lovely effort that ends up hitting the post, before bouncing off Green to safety.
FULL-TIME: Everton 3-1 Queens Park Rangers
It's all over at Goodison Park and Everton have bagged the three points this evening. They never looked back after Ross Barkley's opener and although it was a nervy finish, they held out to move up to 10th in the league.
That just about does it for tonight's coverage. I will be bringing you analysis and player ratings of the match so stay tuned for that. We will also have more live coverage this week of the League Cup quarter-finals. Until then, goodbye!