Everton are halfway to paradise, otherwise known as Europe; Wigan halfway to hell. The need for three points at either end of the Premier League table adds a literal dimension to this Boxing Day clash at Goodison. Everton found the big punch at West Ham on Saturday to secure a third away win of the season. Wigan fell to the sucker-punch of a soft penalty to slip into the bottom three with a home defeat by Arsenal.
Everton, who face Chelsea at home on Sunday, have made European qualification the goal this season. A win tomorrow, and another against Chelsea, would reinforce confidence that is already soaring and secure a platform for the continued assault on fourth place in the new year. "While we are up there we are not going to talk it down, we are going to go for it," Everton manager David Moyes said.
"We played really well at West Ham and deserved the win. Even at half-time I couldn't fault the players. If we could attain European football at Everton, and I don't just mean the Champions League... the Europa League would be a great success. We are bobbing in and out."
Central to Everton's prospects is the form of Barcelona tribute duo Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman, who dominated the midfield at West Ham in the tiki-taka tradition of Xavi and Andres Iniesta. The pair combined brilliantly for Everton's winner, bundled in by Pienaar, after Osman had earlier seen a fine header disallowed.
"To come away with a win is never easy in the Premier League but we did a really good job. We played our football and stood up as a team when they bombarded us with long balls," Osman said. "We showed great character when things went against us, heads didn't drop and we continued to play good football. It is a while since we won away from home."
A return of only four points from the last seven games has seen Wigan thrust into the habitual fight for survival. One penalty given when Theo Walcott went over in the box and another disallowed when Kieran Gibbs handled at the other end ultimately determined the outcome of a closely fought clash with Arsenal. Wigan are playing well enough but earning little other than plaudits.
Roberto Martinez is right to emphasise the quality of his team's displays but will not want to see the present run acquire terminal velocity. "We didn't get the result our performance deserved [against Arsenal] but that is the only negative feeling to come out of the game, because the display was as good as it gets.
"The penalty decisions were big ones. The referee has given one to Arsenal which is very soft and then you at least want consistency when Kieran Gibbs clearly handballs Jordi Gomez's shot. His arms are not in a natural position and it is a clear decision. We have to accept that we were stopped from getting a positive result, but if we continue performing in the same manner we're in for an exciting second half of the season."
Martinez was without seven players for the Arsenal clash and must wait until the new year for reinforcements, led by Manchester United's Chilean prospect Angelo Henriquez, who has already trained with Wigan. Martinez believes the 18-year-old flyer can make the difference where it matters most, in front of goal.
"Henriquez is a goalscorer," Martinez said. "He's going to be a top player, he's an out-and-out finisher and he can bring us goals. He comes in straight away to a very familiar dressing room."