Norwich City-Everton Preview


Everton return to Premier League action Saturday when they entertain Norwich City at Goodison Park, where manager Roberto Martinez seeks a victory to boost the Merseysiders' challenge for a top-four finish.

The Toffees (10-8-2) have lost only two league matches all season but have slipped to fifth after dropping five points in their last three league matches.

The suffered a shock 1-0 home defeat against Sunderland on Boxing Day before beating Southampton 2-1 at home Dec. 29. It then took a converted penalty by Leighton Baines to rescue a 1-1 draw for Martinez's side at Stoke City on New Year's Day.

"We have got nine vital games at home," said Martinez. "We want to use that advantage. We want to make sure we are as good as we can be. We just want to reach the same levels we did in the first half of the season.

"We have a couple of doubts. We will assess Sylvain Distin, Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka and Ross Barkley. They are the four we have doubts on. They are close to making it but just on the verge. If they miss, they will be ready for West Brom."

The Toffees beat Championship side Queens Park Rangers 4-0 in an FA Cup third-round match at home last weekend. Nikica Jelavic scored twice and missed a penalty in his first start since September, while Barkley and Seamus Coleman also tallied for the Merseysiders.

Norwich (5-5-10) are 15th in the standings and only three points above the relegation places, having failed to win any of their last five Premier League matches. They drew 1-1 at Crystal Palace on New Year's Day in their last league outing. Bradley Johnson scored for the Canaries, who had Leroy Fey sent off during the last 10 minutes for a second bookable offence.

The Canaries also drew 1-1 when they played Fulham at Carrow Road last weekend in the FA Cup. Robert Snodgrass netted for the East Anglian side, who then wasted a number of gilt-edged chances to score a winner and avoid an unwanted replay at Craven Cottage.

Norwich manager Chris Hughton confirmed during training on Thursday that midfielder Wes Hoolahan, who has been linked with a transfer window move to Aston Villa, will be in the squad for the Everton game.

"Wes is here, he is training and he is fit so he is very much in my thoughts for Everton," said Hughton. "I have been fairly consistent in the way we deal with things here at this football club.

"Wes is a player who first and foremost is under contract. Apart from the recent cup game he had played in the last two games. He is as important as every other player in this squad. What we are trying to achieve here is build the best squad we can to get us as high up the league as we can and to do that we know to keep hold of our good players and Wes is very much part of the squad at the moment."

Hoolahan, Johnson and Sebastien Bassong are all back into contention after missing the cup match against Fulham. Michael Turner (hamstring) and Jonny Howson (back) remain sidelined.

The sides opened the season with a 2-2 draw at Carrow Road in August. Steven Whittaker put Norwich ahead early in the second half, but goals by Barkley and Coleman fired Everton in front after 70 minutes. Ricky Van Wolfswinkel scored on his Canaries debut just a minute later to restore parity. Everton dominated the game, holding 60 percent of the ball and outshooting the Canaries 20-8. Norwich's only two shots on target resulted in goals.