Everton-Queens Park Rangers Preview
A season of maddening inconsistency continued for Everton with their ouster from the Europa League, but Roberto Martinez will try to get his team to make a strong push to safety starting Sunday against relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road.
The Toffees (7-10-12) were bounced from the continental competition after a 5-2 defeat at Dynamo Kiev on Thursday in the second leg of their round of 16 tie. Everton had entered the match with a 2-1 lead and were level in the Ukraine after 29 minutes on a goal by Romelu Lukaku, but two goals in a two-minute span condemned the Toffees to elimination.
"Once we scored the away goal I thought we would be stronger and tighter in our performance but it was the kind of night where everything they tried went into the back of the net," Martinez lamented. "I agree there were instances when we could have defended better but there is not a lot you can do about goals that go right into the top corner."
Everton now turn their attention to the Premier League, where they are still fighting to secure their top-flight status. The Toffees are 14th on 31 points, six above the relegation zone, and will try to build on their last league effort - a 3-0 rout of Newcastle United that ended a five-match winless spell.
"It has been the story of our season where we have had a couple of decent results and you hope it will kickstart things for us and it just hasn't happened," defender Phil Jagielka said. "We got a good result against Newcastle but it doesn't mean anything if we don't go and perform at Loftus Road."
Martinez will be without four key pieces as midfielder Gareth Barry finishes serving his two-match ban, and Bryan Oviedo, Tony Hibbert and Steven Pienaar are all sidelined with injuries.
Queens Park Rangers (6-4-19) have been in a season-long battle to avoid the drop thanks to their road woes, which continued on Mar. 14 with a 3-1 defeat at Crystal Palace in which they conceded all three goals in the first 42 minutes. They've dropped four on the bounce, giving up nine goals in that span, and even their once-solid play at Loftus Road has deserted them - losing to Arsenal and Spurs in their last two matches on their London patch.
"We need to get back on the horse to give our fans something to shout about," coach Chris Ramsey told the team's official website. "I still think we can get the wins we need to stay up. We all believe we can do it.
"We will stay together as a squad and as a club. We need to cut out the basic errors and focus on the task at hand."
Richard Dunne and Leroy Fer continue to be absent through injuries, but Mauricio Isla could return. Ramsay will also have Joey Barton available after the contentious midfielder completed serving his three-match ban for pushing Hull City defender Alex Bruce and hitting Tom Huddlestone with a low blow in their Mar. 2 match.
Everton were easy 3-1 winners in the reverse fixture as Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas and Nedum Onuoha all scored in a 20-minute span around halftime. Bobby Zamora pulled back a late consolation for the R's, who are 0-2-3 in their last five against the Toffees across all competitions but 1-2-0 in their last three against them at Loftus Road.