Aston Villa-Everton Preview
By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - Everton's unbeaten run in January has taken them within a point of the top four.
A meeting with faltering Aston Villa should get them there, for at least one day.
The surging Toffees look to continue their rise in the Premier League by capitalizing on a meeting with the Villans at Goodison Park on Saturday.
Everton (10-11-3) put together a six-game unbeaten run (4-2-0) through January after falling 2-1 at home to Chelsea on Dec. 30.
That run, which includes a pair of FA Cup victories, has put the Toffees in fifth place in the league table, one point back of Tottenham for fourth.
Now, they have a chance to move past the Spurs since they don't visit West Bromwich Albion until Sunday.
"We have had a decent January," manager David Moyes told the team's official website. "I don't know what other teams have had but we have picked up draws and I think sometimes you just have to do that."
Everton did better than that Wednesday, beating West Brom 2-1.
"It was a bit harder than I would have liked it to have been in the end but I thought we were worthy to be in front," Moyes said. "The games in the Premier League are tight, you don't get much from any teams - you are going to have to earn it."
Aston Villa (4-8-12) haven't earned much of anything since a shock 3-1 win away to Liverpool on Dec. 15. They've been outscored 22-5 during an abysmal 0-2-5 stretch in league play, while being eliminated in both the FA Cup and League Cup by Millwall and Bradford City, respectively.
They've shockingly dropped into the relegation zone, sitting 19th while tying Reading and Wigan Athletic on points. However, Villa have a league-worst minus-26 goal differential, further putting them in jeopardy of being relegated for the first time since the 1986-87 season.
The Villans continued their downward spiral Tuesday, surrendering a pair of first-half goals on their way to falling 2-1 at home to Newcastle.
Still, manager Paul Lambert found some comfort in an improved effort in the second half.
"We never got going at all in the first half," Lambert told the team's official website. "In the second half? That's the way to play football. You can't give anyone a two-goal start. It was night and day - first and second half."
Christian Benteke continues to be one of the few bright spots, scoring a goal in each of the last three matches after converting a penalty Tuesday. The forward leads the team with 12 goals in all competitions with eight coming in the Premier League.
Defender Leighton Baines keeps giving Everton some unexpected scoring punch out of the back, scoring six times on the season, surpassing his five goals from all of last term. He got two more Wednesday, as he continues his emergence as one of the best English players in the league.
"He is turning out to be as good a left-back as there is," Moyes said. "He is great for a manager because he wants to keep improving and we are very fortunate to have him here."
Updated January 31, 2013