Everton prepare for pivotal week on and off pitch after spark of defiance fades

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Dwight McNeil;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Dwight McNeil</a> and <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Jack Harrison;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Jack Harrison</a> at the Etihad Stadium, where <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Everton;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Everton</a> lost 2-0 to Manchester City.</span><span>Photograph: Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images</span>

There are weeks that can define a club’s season and then there are weeks that can define a club’s future. It is not hyperbole to suggest the latter awaits Everton. Monday brings a must-win Premier League home game against fellow strugglers Crystal Palace, the only team Everton have beaten in their past 11 matches.

The release of victory in that FA Cup third-round replay proved fleeting as a fourth-round exit to Luton followed 10 days later. No date is fixed in the diary but Everton also anticipate a verdict this week on their appeal against a 10-point deduction for a single breach of Premier League profit and sustainability rules. The ramifications will be considerable whenever it arrives.

The return of points already won on the pitch by Sean Dyche’s side would obviously aid their fight against relegation but, by virtue of an independent commission accepting some or all of the club’s arguments, it should also strengthen Everton’s defence against the second PSR charge that was brought last month. Lose the appeal, however, and not only does the 10-point punishment stand but the threat increases of a second points deduction before the end of the season. The second charge, after all, covers two-thirds of the period for which Everton have already been found guilty of a £19.5m breach.

A club that is third from bottom, heavily in debt, whose ownership status is shrouded in uncertainty and is at present being run by an interim chief executive and interim chief finance officer, would be at grave risk of hosting Championship football in its final season at Goodison Park. And Palace think they’ve got problems.

Barring the return of 10 points – which seems unlikely given Everton admitted to breaching PSR by £9.7m at October’s hearing – the risk of a first relegation in 73 years is real. Everton insisted the appeal was their primary focus when charged by the Premier League for a second time in January. The appeal took up the first paragraph of a commercial update last week from the chief commercial and communications officer, Richard Kenyon, who revealed progress was being made on a naming rights deal for the new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock.

But an appeal that has understandably absorbed the club’s time cannot distract from the onerous task confronting a team that have lost potency, energy and momentum since Christmas. Dyche says he prefers to deal in realities than maybes. The reality is Everton desperately need the appeal to go in their favour as, on current form, they are running out of road to save themselves on the pitch.

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Everton were on a good run before being hit with the biggest sporting sanction in Premier League history in November. Afterwards, Dyche’s defiant unit made light work of rising from second from bottom of the table with four consecutive victories. The fourth in the sequence came at Burnley on 16 December. Everton had their 2-0 result by half-time when leading goalscorer Abdoulaye Doucouré went off with a hamstring injury. They have not won a league game since.

The subsequent downturn does include home and away fixtures with both Manchester City and Tottenham, but also two morale-damaging cup exits at Goodison against Fulham and Luton. Dyche maintains Everton have seriously underperformed of late only in the 3-0 away defeat at Wolves. Character and commitment have been otherwise fine, but the lack of threat from open play has been glaring throughout the barren run.

Everton’s forward line is not doing enough to ease the burden on the team’s often impressive defence. Dominic Calvert-Lewin has not scored in 18 games. Beto’s contributions from the bench have served to demonstrate why Calvert-Lewin continues to start despite his goal drought.

Doucouré has missed 10 of the past 11 games having aggravated the injury on his comeback against Aston Villa. The return of last season’s relegation saviour, who has resumed full training, will fuel Everton’s hopes of another escape providing he remains fit. The influential midfielder has been the only notable absentee from the team that impressively beat Newcastle and Chelsea before Christmas.

Dyche explored several alternatives during Doucouré’s time out – James Garner, Jack Harrison, André Gomes and Arnaut Danjuma – but with little success. His options beyond a small core of first-team talent are limited, hence the lack of rotation that caught up with Everton over the festive period. The spark that was inflamed by a sanction the club labelled as “wholly disproportionate and unjust” has gone out. It needs reigniting urgently, and regardless of the appeal verdict.

Everton’s case, while the result of years of mismanagement that prompted mass fan protests against owner Farhad Moshiri and the club’s former board, has exposed serious flaws in the Premier League’s regulatory framework. The argument for an independent regulator has been strengthened even further. The suspicion among Evertonians that the Premier League has used their club as a convenient scapegoat to show an independent regulator is not required has hardened since the appeal.

The culture, media and sport committee was so unimpressed by Richard Masters’ appearance before it last month that it wrote to the minister for sport, Stuart Andrew, requesting the introduction of the football governance bill as soon as possible. Another request that, in the interests of transparency, the Premier League discloses how it arrived at its own formula for docking Everton points was rejected by the organisation’s chief executive. Masters replied: “As the committee will appreciate, being a private business, it is not our practice to provide or publish minutes of Premier League board meetings. Nor are we able to publish submissions the Premier League board or executive make as part of confidential legal proceedings.”

Behind one mess lurks another, in the form of Everton’s protracted takeover by 777 Partners. It is now 156 days since the announcement that the controversial US investment firm had agreed to purchase Moshiri’s majority shareholding and still the deal awaits approval by the Premier League.

By comparison, there were 51 days between the agreement and the approval of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s investment in Manchester United. The delay appears understandable in light of 777’s legal disputes in the US and Masters’ comment to the CMS committee that some takeovers inevitably take longer than others “if we haven’t received satisfactory answers to the questions we’ve asked”. A separate, unanswered question is why Moshiri remains committed to the 777 deal when there is interest in his shareholding from elsewhere.

777 remains optimistic and claims Premier League approval could arrive this month. Officials from the company have attended Everton games, visited Finch Farm training ground and the club’s offices at the Liver Buildings despite the impasse. It is understood the structure of 777’s agreement with Moshiri means it will pay less for Everton in the event of relegation from the Premier League. Meanwhile, more funding has to be secured to complete the stadium build at Bramley-Moore Dock. A defining period indeed.