THE RACE for two of the Champions League places would appear to be wide open this season . . . and Everton's welcome return to winning ways in a dramatic turnaround against Tottenham Hotspur certainly underlined that fact last weekend.
The late, late heroics performed by Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic may have secured the Merseysiders only their second win in ten matches, but significantly it lifted them into fourth place and above the Spurs side stunned by that fightback.
David Moyes' side had drawn seven of their previous nine matches to leave the hovering just below the top four and would probably have settled for another point when Pienaar popped up with a rare headed goal against his former club in the final minute.
But there was a further twist as Jelavic latched onto an overhead kick from Apostolos Vellios' overhead kick and fired home the injury time winner.
The sequence of results prior to the victory over Tottenham had taken the edge off what had been a highly encouraging start to the campaign in which they beat Manchester United and then followed it up with emphatic triumphs at Aston Villa and Swansea.
Financial restraints have meant that Moyes has once again made only minimal changes to a squad which missed out on qualification for Europe by finishing in seventh place last season; the £12 million generated by the sale of Jack Rodwell to Manchester City being spent on Belgian international Kevin Mirallas and Costa Rican star Bryan Oviedo.
The star of this season's rise into Champions League contention has undoubtedly been another Belgian in Marouane Fellaini, while left back Leighton Baines has been the subject of much transfer speculation due to his growing influence.
Fellaini is enjoying his most productive season in front of goal, a contribution notable for crucial ones scored in the games with the two Manchester clubs, while he was also on target recently to help earn a point in the Goodison Park encounter with Arsenal.
While the potency of Fellaini and Jelavic in attack makes them formidable opponents, there is a vast amount of experience within their ranks, especially at the back with the likes of Baines, Phil Jagielka, Sylvin Distin and Tony Hibbert backed up by Tim Howard.
Full name: Everton Football Club
Stadium: Goodison Park
Chairman: Bill Kenwright
Manager: David Moyes
2011/12: Premier League (7th), FA Cup (Semi-Final), League Cup (Fourth Round).
Record transfer fee paid: £15m for Marouane Fellaini to Standard Liege, September 2008
Record transfer fee received: £29m for Wayne Rooney from Manchester United, August 2004
Introducing the Gaffer
SILVERWARE normally provides the best gauge of a manager's success . . . but David Moyes has performed remarkably well for more than a decade in charge of Everton without having the trophies to show for his efforts.
Fellow Scotsmen Sir Alex Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish were among those who praised the achievements of Moyes when he celebrated the tenth anniversary of his appointment at Goodison Park back in March this year.
Everton's boss is behind only Ferguson and Arsene Wenger as the longest-serving managers in the Premier League, having kept the Merseyside club challenging among the leading clubs in the top-flight for much of that time.
The high spots have been qualifying for the Champions League in 2005 and then reaching the FA Cup Final four years later where they eventually lost 2-1 to Chelsea despite the fact that Louis Saha fired them into a first minute lead.
Although Everton have never had the spending power of some of their closest rivals, they are still more than a match for the best teams in the country on their day, all of which is great credit to Moyes for the job he has done.
A central defender during a playing career spanning more than 600 appearances in all competitions, most notably for Bristol City, Shrewsbury Town and Preston North End, the Glaswegian then cut his
managerial teeth at Deepdale.
During his four years at the helm with Preston, he guided them to the Division Two title and then the Division One play-offs, success which sprung him to the attention of Everton who lined him up as the successor to Walter Smith.
TONY PULIS has hinted that Charlie Adam will return to his starting line-up for Saturday's encounter against Everton . . . however, he says he is yet to make a decision on who will replace the suspended Ryan Shotton at right back.
Adam, who sat out the Potters goalless draw with Aston Villa last weekend having incurred a one-match ban of his own, is expected to be included in the side as the Potters look to extend their unbeaten run at the Britannia Stadium to 15 games.
The most likely player to make way for the Scotland international is Dean Whitehead, although he could still feature in the team after Pulis confirmed that he is an option he is considering to deputise for the absent Shotton in defence.
The most likely candidate to feature in that role however, would be Andy Wilkinson, after he made a return to full training after picking up a back injury during the 1-1 draw with West Ham United last month.
The City boss also confirmed that Michael Owen is unlikely to be risked against the Toffees, despite coming through 70 minutes of Tuesday's behind closed doors friendly against Preston North End unscathed.
Newcastle United v Manchester City (12:45)
Liverpool v Aston Villa
Manchester United v Sunderland
Norwich City v Wigan Athletic
Queens Park Rangers v Fulham
STOKE CITY V EVERTON
Tottenham Hotspur v Swansea City (Sunday, 13:30)
West Bromwich Albion v West Ham United (Sunday, 16:00)
Reading v Arsenal (Monday, 20:00)
Head to Head
League: 29 Stoke City wins; 53 Everton wins; 30 draws
FA Cup: 3 Stoke City wins; 5 Everton wins; 1 draw
TOTAL: 32 Stoke City wins; 58 Everton wins; 31 draws
Last Five Encounters
Stoke City 1-1 Everton (Premier League) - 01/05/2012
Everton 0-1 Stoke City (Premier League) - 04/12/2011
Stoke City 2-0 Everton (Premier League) - 01/01/2011
Everton 1-0 Stoke City (Premier League) - 30/10/2010
Stoke City 0-0 Everton (Premier League) - 01/05/2010
Stoke City win 2/1; Everton win 11/8; draw 23/10
Referee - Mark Halsey
SATURDAY's game will be Mark Halsey's second visit to the Britannia Stadium this year... after he refereed the Club's 0-0 draw with Sunderland back in October.
In the thirteen games he has officiated so far in 2012/13, he has dished out three red cards to Tom Huddlestone, Jonjo Shelvey and Luke Varney.
On top of that, he has given out 29 red cards, including four in his most recent Premier League game - Chelsea's 3-1 win at Sunderland last weekend.
His last game involving Everton was their 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in March.