Everton-Wigan Athletic Preview
European Football Headlines
By CHRIS ALTRUDA
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - Everton have done most things right in a surprisingly fast start that has them near the top of the table.
Staying there requires taking the next step - beating lesser teams away from Goodison Park.
The Toffees have such an opportunity Saturday at DW Stadium when they play a Wigan Athletic squad still looking for its first home victory.
Manager David Moyes has the opportunity to head into the international break in no worse than second place with a victory or potentially atop the Premier League with a win and a loss by Chelsea to Norwich City. A win would give Everton (4-1-1) their best seven-match start since racking up 17 points in the First Division during the 1978-79 season.
The days of lamenting the lack of funds appear to be over in the blue part of Merseyside, though the Toffees still rely more on shrewd lower-costing personnel moves than opening the purse strings. The attacking trio of Nikica Jelavic, Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini has combined for seven of the team's 12 goals, and offseason addition Kevin Mirallas also has made an impact that has allowed Everton to entertain thoughts of a finish high enough for European play next season.
"We now have a bunch of players who are comfortable on the ball, who can take the ball and be match-winners," goalkeeper Tim Howard told the team's official website. "That is something all the top teams have, and we have got a few of them on our team. I think (the top four is a realistic aim), but we know it is going to be a hard ask as well.
"We are not a huge squad, and we don't have boatloads of money like other clubs, so in order for us to get the job done we have to stay really consistent for quite a few months."
An in-form Jelavic would be a huge help. The Croatian had a first-half brace in last Saturday's 3-1 win over Southampton, giving him 14 goals in 22 total matches with the Toffees since arriving from Rangers during January's transfer window.
Everton also received good news of a different sort Tuesday when Pienaar surprisingly opted to retire from international duty with South Africa, citing the taxing physical demands of playing for both club and country.
The Toffees, who have a division-high 119 shots, have not won three straight league matches since the 2009-10 season.
Wigan (1-1-4) appear to be stuck in the same pattern that has plagued them in recent years - starting slow before sprinting to the finish to avoid relegation. This is the fourth straight season the Latics - currently 15th in the table - enter their seventh league match with six or fewer points and have dropped three on the trot following last Saturday's 1-0 setback at Sunderland.
Manager Roberto Martinez was encouraged by his side's first-half play, but the match turned after Jordi Gomez was sent off for a straight red card - which was rescinded by the FA on Tuesday to make Gomez eligible for this match.
"From our point of view the first half was a very good performance. After a game like this we understand we need to improve our game," Martinez told the team's official website after that match. "We have to show what we are made of next weekend because it is the game before the international break."
Everton salvaged a point in the corresponding fixture last season with a 1-1 draw on Victor Anichebe's goal in the 83rd minute. The Toffees have lost just two of the 15 all-time matches between the sides, winning eight.
Updated October 4, 2012