Belfast Telegraph

Mirallas could return against Stoke

Everton forward Kevin Mirallas (ankle) is pushing to return for the Boxing Day clash with Stoke in the Barclays Premier League.

James McCarthy (hamstring) could also be back in action during the Christmas programme, which continues with a trip to Newcastle on Sunday.

His fellow midfielders Leon Osman (ankle) and Darron Gibson (knee) are not yet ready to return while defender Tony Hibbert faces a fortnight out after suffering a knock in training.

Manager Roberto Martinez is prepared to make changes as he seeks a winning formula - but in personnel and not style.

The Toffees have lacked consistency and are 13 points down on the figure they had at the same stage last season.

They have won just one of their last five in the league and suffered a 3-0 defeat at Southampton last Saturday.

Some critics have called for Martinez to modify his tactics, perhaps to scrap more, but the Spaniard has no intention of altering his flowing, pass-based approach.

Asked if he might consider a change, Martinez said: "No, never. What we need to do is get better - it is not about style.

"Our style is very clear at Everton. We are a football club that really enjoys playing in a certain manner and we need to master it. That is where the work is.

"The competition for places is huge. When you get a disappointing result you always consider giving any member of the group that is doing good work on a daily basis an opportunity on a match day, and that is healthy.

"But I am not concerned in terms of performances. I don't think we are far away from where we were last season. I would say we are even better in many aspects of our performances.

"There is a strange relationship between performances and results that at the moment we don't seem to get, but that is what we need to focus on.

"We are going into the second half of the season with a huge amount of points to fight for.

"I know for a fact we have got the quality and determination in the group, and the character, to have a really strong second half of the season."

Stoke boss Mark Hughes is "reasonably pleased" with the way things stand for his side heading into Christmas, despite his frustration over their ongoing struggle for consistency this season.

Seventeen games into what is Hughes' second term in charge, the Potters - 13th in the table with 19 points - are still yet to record back-to-back top-flight wins during the campaign.

Hughes - who guided Stoke to ninth last season - said of the lack of consistency: "It has been frustrating, because we have been able to have very good performances and results against top teams, but then we haven't backed it up.

"But it is difficult. It is not easy for a team like ourselves to win consecutive games.

"Only probably the top six teams have the capacity to do that regularly - the rest of us have just got to take performances and results when they appear, and make sure we don't make too many mistakes.

"I think at the moment it is a little bit difficult to get those back-to-back results in particular - we are in a run of top-class opposition.

"But we are reasonably pleased with where we are. We are not a million miles away from where we thought we'd be given the run of games we have had."

Stoke are looking to bounce back from Monday's home loss to leaders Chelsea when they take on Everton, before hosting West Brom two days later and then Manchester United on January 1.

Hughes hopes a neck problem that forced Peter Crouch off in the Chelsea contest will not rule the Potters striker out of the game at Goodison Park.

It remains to be seen whether midfielder Stephen Ireland, who missed Monday's match due to a knee injury, will be fit enough to be involved against the Toffees.

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