When the cold wind of recession blows, Merseyside feels the draught sooner than most areas. Keith Harris, the broker charged with finding a buyer for Everton as well as Newcastle, chose his words carefully in midweek, but did not attempt to disguise the message: "There is no progress at all," he said of his attempts to find an investor with deeper pockets than those of the club's current owner, Bill Kenwright. "The demographics of Liverpool as a city are not hugely compelling. It is not a very wealthy city. Everton share the city with another club which arguably have been in the vanguard for the last decade, and they both have a stadium to build."
The radical solution proposed by Harris, a former chairman of the Football League, was a ground share, which is an option supported by the leader of the city council. The proposition is probably even less popular with supporters than Everton's current proposal to relocate to Kirkby, outside the city boundaries, although it was not rejected out of hand by the club's manager, David Moyes, on Friday. Speaking at the impressive new training centre in Halewood that the self-styled "People's Club" managed to complete before credit began to crunch, Moyes said: "It's been mooted and a lot of people didn't like the idea of it. I don't think you can just brush it away and say it definitely couldn't happen, but I think most people from both sides are probably not keen on it."
Everton's last home game, against Fulham, drew their lowest League attendance for six-and-a-half years, and Moyes has been struck by the number of poor crowds on his scouting trips around the country recently."It's a bad time probably for most people," he said. "It will be a difficult time for football clubs to be sold. We've got a good, stable club without excessive debts. The one thing we need is a stadium, and the current climate makes it very difficult."
With this afternoon's game against Middlesbrough also live on television, the crowd figure at Goodison willbe scrutinised carefully. Like any manager, however, Moyes knows that the most important numbers are the points next to his team's name in the League table, which have recently picked up. Down to 15th a month ago, having beaten nobody other than two promoted clubs, Everton have just won three games on the bounce with a rush of late goals. Louis Saha has picked up three of them, justifying Moyes' faith in signing him from Manchester United despite a reputation for never being fully fit. "My policy was always to bring in younger players for the future, but I've broken my own rules a bit," the manager said.
Unlike today's opponents, Everton are not always given the credit they deserve for producing young talent. As the debate stirred up about youth development by Sir Trevor Brooking continues, Moyes even has a radical plan of his own: prevent clubs from signing up any more than six boys each year at the age of 16, allowing the others to join smaller Football League clubs and progress there.
Everton v Middlesbrough (1.30, Sky Sports 1) Like most of the League, when they're good this pair are very good and when they're bad, they're horrid. Both are unbeaten for a month, so it should be tight.
Hull City v Manchester City (4.0, Sky Sports 1).
City have Gelson Fernandes and Richard Dunne suspended, and although Dunne has not been at his best recently, the defence may look even worse without him. Expect goals at both ends.