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Sunday 21 September 2014

Martinez aware of Palace pitfall

Published 15/04/2014 | 11:52

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Roberto Martinez

Everton boss Roberto Martinez is all too aware of the threat Crystal Palace pose to his side's top-four dreams.

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The Toffees moved ahead of Arsenal in the battle to qualify for the Champions League with a seventh victory in a row over Sunderland on Saturday.

Another five wins from their remaining matches would guarantee Everton a place in the top four for only the second time in the Premier League era, with Palace the first of those tests, at Goodison Park on Wednesday evening.

Their focus may be at the other end of the table but the Eagles' third win in a row against Aston Villa at the weekend just about ensured their survival.

It is a remarkable achievement given the club looked destined for relegation when Tony Pulis took over as manager in November.

Martinez said: "Momentum and confidence, those are the words you can feel in the dressing room, but we know how difficult it's going to be.

"The mind is very much set on the challenges that we have. Two away games and three massive home games, which start on Wednesday with Crystal Palace.

"In my eyes they have probably the best defensive set-up in this league, especially since Tony Pulis arrived at the club, they don't concede many goals, if any, and now they are probably in one of the best runs of their season with three straight wins.

"We're well aware that we need to create a special atmosphere under the floodlights and make sure we are really strong helping the players to face a very difficult fixture."

Palace had picked up only four points from their first 11 games when former Stoke boss Pulis took the job.

Since then they have won 10 matches and kept 11 clean sheets, conceding an average of less than a goal a game.

Martinez said of his opposite number: "It comes with his experience.

"He's accumulated a very strong method of working. You can see how hard the team works and how well organised they are and the defensive set-up is impressive.

"We know what to expect, and the biggest compliment I can pay to Tony Pulis is that, even though you know what to expect, it's very difficult to compete against it."

Victory over Sunderland was notable not just because of what it meant for Everton's league position but also because it took them to 66 points, a new Premier League record for the club.

They have not won eight consecutive league matches for 29 years, but Martinez is making sure his players' focus is firmly on the bigger picture.

He said: " I'm really excited that we've just broken the highest points tally in the history of the Premier League, and as a club that's an incredible achievement from the players.

"I expect a great welcome at Goodison, and from that point on it has to be a real focus on the tough job in hand.

"All we want is to make sure we fight with everything we've got for every point available from now until the end of the season.

"At the moment we've got a very good points tally, which allows us to fight for a footballing dream, and that's what we're going to carry on doing.

"It's not about runs or stats, it's how many points we end up with on May 11."

Martinez will pick from the same squad he had at Sunderland, with captain Phil Jagielka still not quite ready to come back after a hamstring problem.

Teenager John Stones has been hugely impressive in Jagielka's absence, but Martinez insists there will be no selection headache.

"He's our club captain and as soon as he's ready he's straight back in the team," the Spaniard said of Jagielka.

"We need him immensely. He's been very influential even when he hasn't been on the pitch. He's always had a real presence in the dressing room with wise words towards the young players in the squad."

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