Some sad news ahead of the weekend. Both Everton and Hull go into Saturday’s match-up in good form, upbeat about the rest of the season, but – and it’s not easy to say this – it makes absolutely no difference. Everton have only lost to Manchester City this season and Hull have supposedly done well too – though nobody can actually verify this properly because that would require watching a Hull game – but Everton will finish 8th or 9th and Hull will go down or finish 17th. It’s fact.
And yet they both persist with this charade, insisting on playing out their remaining fixtures – even ones against each other for crying out loud – whilst leaving match previewers to pull apart the grim nuances right in the face of the futility of it all. Have they no shame? Evidently not. Here are those grim nuances.
Everton come into this game with four players returning from notable successes in the international break. Romelu Lukaku scored twice for Belgium against Croatia to help them qualify for their first World Cup in 12 years. Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines helped England secure an admirable qualification of its own. And Gareth Barry completed Halo Reach on legendary, arguably the best of the lot – watch out for that winning smile on Saturday.
Hull, on the other hand, come into this game with Ahmed Elmohamady returning from losing 6-1 to Ghana with Egypt. Football journalists the world over are calling it the worst atrocity on middle-eastern soil in decades. They’re wrong, of course, because the game was played in Ghana, but clearly Elmohamady might need a little pick-up before this game. And so might the entire Hull squad, because they’re living and working around Hull.
To the game itself, then. What matters most in this game is which club’s supporters can lie to themselves best about why they’ve turned up to watch it – the postponement of death being a losing answer, despite its correctness.
Well, Everton’s fans have a convincing line of argument – that they’re passing the ball better under Roberto Martinez – but it’s somewhat undermined by the fact that Phil Jagielka has hit more long passes than any other outfield player in the Premier League this season. Hull fans, meanwhile, also have a convincing line of argument – presumably – but that, equally, is somewhat undermined by the fact that their team is managed by Steve Bruce.
In all likelihood, a compromise will be reached: both sets of fans will end Saturday equally unhappy and disillusioned.
So to the result. Or rather, what will determine it. This game may well be decided by which team comes back from international duty freshest. Hull’s players look, on a quick skim through, to have travelled the furthest, and Steve Bruce in particular looks to have travelled more than any man ever has in history, so Everton might be a good bet. Or not. Who knows? This is merely a match preview, not a manual for achieving fame and fortune – I should know.
A key match stat to end on. Ken Billwright, the Everton chairman, is the same Ken Billwright who presents a show on Radio 2. And he is also the same Ken Billwright who “is a leading West End theatre producer and film producer.” Who knew? More aptly, who wanted to know?