Nigel Martyn has “lovely" memories of returning to Crystal Palace as an Everton player – but is urging the Toffees to beware a Palace side that has “turned a corner” when the teams cross swords on Saturday.
Goalkeeper Martyn joined Everton from Leeds United 14 years ago, but spent seven terrific seasons at Selhurst Park before switching to Yorkshire in 1996.
The Blues finished 17th in Martyn’s first campaign with the club in 2003/04 – and after a summer that saw the exit of attacking duo Wayne Rooney and Tomasz Radzinski were widely tipped to be embroiled in a battle at the wrong end of the table the following season.
Indeed, Everton suffered a 4-1 Goodison Park defeat by Arsenal on the opening day of 2004/05, and were not expected to find much success on their trip to newly-promoted Palace six days later.
As it turned out, David Moyes’ team overcame an early deficit – and the second-half dismissal of left-back Gary Naysmith – to secure a 3-1 triumph on a broiling day in south London.
The victory over Iain Dowie's Eagles sparked a wonderful run of form, with Everton winning seven and drawing two of their subsequent 10 Premier League matches, to lay the foundations for a season that ended with the Toffees in fourth place.
“It was a really good away performance and just what we needed,” Martyn told evertonfc.com.
“It kick-started the great run we had at the beginning of that season. If you can get yourself in that top-six after the opening dozen games, it sets up your entire season – and that is how we felt.
“It was always a big deal for me going back to Palace. I have a soft spot for all the clubs I’ve played for – unlike many ex-pros I could name!
“I have always left on good terms with everybody, especially the supporters. It was lovely to go back and see some familiar faces – supporters and staff.
“But once you get on the pitch, you are totally focused on trying to win the game.”
Everton fell behind to Palace defender Mark Hudson's ninth-minute header, but shortly after profited from Julian Speroni’s rash charge from goal and ensuing foul on Kevin Campbell.
Thomas Gravesen facilely stroked home the resultant penalty, and the Danish midfielder turned the score on its head 17 minutes after half-time, when he bent a delicious strike from distance beyond Palace goalkeeper Speroni.
Naysmith received his second caution on 71 minutes, but Gravesen released Marcus Bent to complete the scoring with eight minutes to play.
“Their 'keeper gave us a real hand with the first goal – and Thomas Gravesen had an exceptionally good game,” said Martyn.
“I saw a lot of people I had not seen for a long time that day – the old guys who looked after the changing rooms were the same as when I played there, for instance.
“It was lovely to see them and have a laugh and joke.
“Then, from our point of view, it was nice to go out and win the game… and see them all again afterwards!
“We had a particularly good start to the season and managed to hang on in there through to the end.”
Everton have not been able to match that 2004 burst from the blocks this term – but, following a disappointing start, the Toffees breathed life into their campaign with a 3-2 victory over Watford last time out.
While the three points earned from that dramatic Goodison success eased the Blues up to 15th in the table, Palace sit rock bottom – with one win from their opening 11 matches.
Martyn has nevertheless detected discernible signs of improvement in this weekend's hosts since ex-England manager Roy Hodgson took the Selhurst reins in September.
Wilfried Zaha struck a sumptuous winner as Palace conquered Premier League champions Chelsea at a throbbing Selhurst Park last month and, after recovering from two goals down to draw with West Ham United, the Londoners were extremely unfortunate to leave Wembley empty-handed following a hard-fought battle with Tottenham Hotspur a fortnight ago.
“It will be a very hard game for Everton,” said Martyn, who recorded 32 clean sheets in 86 Premier League matches for the Club, before a persistent ankle problem forced his retirement aged 39 in 2006.
“I think Palace have just turned a corner. They played really well at Tottenham and were unlucky to lose by the odd goal.
“If they had taken their chances early in the game, they would have come away with at least a point.
“And to beat the current champions at home is no mean feat. They will be champing at the bit to get started against Everton.
“Zaha is the spark for them. As the away team, you have to keep those star players quiet for the first 20-30 minutes of the game, try to get the crowd on their backs a little bit – then you can start to play a bit more expansively yourself.
“I don’t see it being an easy game for Everton by any stretch of the imagination.”
David Unsworth appears set to lead the Toffees in the capital this weekend, with the former Blues defender having taken charge of the Club’s previous four matches.
Martyn shared a dressing room with Unsworth during his first season at Goodison and insists his former team-mate possesses the credentials necessary to inspire a vibrant and forceful Blues performance this weekend.
“David was extremely vocal,” said Martyn. “When I joined, he had been at the club donkey’s years, so knew it inside out
“You often look to people like that for guidance, especially when you first come to a club, just to find out the dos and don’ts, and what is expected of you. He was quick to help in that department.
“He is funny and one of the lads – but he can also be serious. I can remember him shouting a few times in the changing rooms when things weren’t good enough.
“I think he has everything you need, leadership wise.
“Everton have the players to win the game, absolutely. There are some quality players there. They made some good signings in the summer, albeit they have lost some goals from the team.
“I think the game will be tight and I expect it to end in a draw. I can see some goals being scored, though. The way Palace play at home, they will be throwing everything forward.
“They are capable of scoring, but if you are clever you can score against them as well. If I was going to predict a result, I would go for a 2-2 draw. But don’t put any money on that!”