Everton have been rocked by an immediate 10-point deduction that has seen them plummet to joint bottom of the Premier League table.
But after their relegation near-misses of the two previous seasons, can they still avoid the drop?
Members of the ECHO sportsdesk have had their say and present their verdicts here…
Chris Beesley: An improving team fuelled by a burning sense of injustice
Everton will still stay up in the Premier League this season, I remain convinced of that.
The decision to hit them with an immediate 10-point deduction – a point more than what Portsmouth got for entering administration in 2010 and indeed the heaviest such punishment in the 135-year history of English top flight football – has been described by Everton as “disproportionate and wholly unjust” and the club are set to formally lodge their appeal by the end of this week.
Personally I’d agree and add that such a severe sporting sanction for an accountancy matter at a time when the Blues were actually drawing in their horns in terms of transfer business represents an arbitrary and draconian ruling and, while you’re inevitably always going to get a minority of people who will put partisanship above reason, most right-minded people, including plenty of high-profile Liverpool fans, have called it out for what it is. There is an avalanche of pressure now building to quash the penalty but I’m not sure whether it will ultimately be enough for Everton to get back those points that they’ve earned this term.
What I am more confident about is the ability of Sean Dyche’s side to get the job done themselves, regardless of what has happened. While on the one hand, being chopped down to just four points after a dozen games looks like a pretty desperate situation at first glance, let’s flip the scenario around.
Even with this dramatic fall from grace, the Blues – who had been a couple of points off Chelsea and a place in the top half of the table – are just a couple of points adrift of Luton Town and safety. Surely, with 26 matches left to play, this improving Everton side – who recorded a third straight win in London in front of fans for just the second time in the club’s history last time out – have enough in their locker to overcome such a handicap?
Make no bones about it, this would have been a death sentence for the club in terms of avoiding a first relegation since 1951 had such a deduction come in either of the previous two campaigns but this season they are stronger and those around them are weaker. Plus you’re now going to have a supremely motivated and galvanised squad of players, staff and supporters who are fuelled by a burning sense of injustice.
Paul Wheelock: Keep the siege mentality going
Yes, Everton can stay up. But I'm not sure it's going to be as straightforward as pundits think.
The verdict on the Blues' points deduction has been unanimous - across football it is felt the unprecedented penalty is excessive. But those viewpoints have often been caveated by the fact that, with the Blues just two points away from safety, they still have more than enough to beat the drop.
On the evidence of what we've seen so far from Sean Dyche's side this season - and from Bournemouth, Luton Town, Sheffield United and Burnley - then that is a fair assertion. But my big concern is what impact the points deduction could have on the squad.
It has been heartening to see the defiance stance taken by supporters. And it was heartening to read the words of director of football Kevin Thelwell, who gave us the first insight into the mood inside Finch Farm after last Friday's bombshell announcement. It feels as if fans, players, management team and club are on the same page.
But Everton are in a fight for their lives now when, really, they should be looking ahead to a season of mid-table comfort. That thought will surely drift back into the building at Finch Farm from time to time, particularly after defeats or dropped points, so Dyche is going to have to use his all man-management powers to keep morale high and keep the 'siege mentality' that will now surely be adopted going.
I think Sunday is massive. Beat Manchester United at what will be a raucous and emotional Goodison Park and the momentum derailed by the independent commission will return. Lose and I think reality will truly set in at the task confronting Everton, whose biggest battle to stay up could still be off the pitch - and the all-important appeal.
Joe Thomas - Everton may now need to wait longer to confirm survival and that is another punishment
I make Everton strong favourites to remain in the Premier League. The new position is a shame, and it undermines the results of recent weeks - ones that enabled Everton to catch up on the points dropped at the beginning of the campaign. But while those hard-earned points have been slashed from the tally, the performances that achieved those outcomes remain relavent. This is still a team that was playing effective football against good sides over a consistent period. On the football side of the operation the trend is positive and that should not stop through this. If anything, the deduction should forge a siege mentality that Sean Dyche can harness into a new driving force behind this team.
This is still a small squad that is over-reliant on a handful of key players and life becomes harder if Everton do not start this run of fixtures heading into the new year well. A handful of injuries and suspensions coinciding with a congested fixture list that features some very good teams could cause issues - especially now the cushion to the bottom three has been wiped out. But this Everton side is better than at least three teams in this league and I expect them to prove it.
One of my many frustrations with the deduction is not that I think it will necessarily send Everton down, but that I think it will delay the confirmation of survival by weeks, possibly even longer. That would be a cruel blow because next summer represents a big opportunity for Kevin Thelwell to overhaul this squad so that it can be better and more sustainable going forwards. There is an irony in the sanction undermining Everton's attempts to become more financially stable that I am sure is not being lost at the club.