The goals begin to flow for Nikica Jelavic, Everton’s silent assassin
Money’s too tight to mention at Everton, but fortunately David Moyes is not one to shirk a challenge. Tasked with offloading an expensive flop in the disgruntled and unsettled Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Moyes turned a negative in to a positive by returning the £9m winger to his native Russia and hitting the sales. With the proceeds, Moyes acquired former favourites Landon Donovan and Steven Pienaar on loan, as well as some new faces in Darron Gibson and Nikica Jelavic.
With a seasoned squad in need of attacking impetus, Moyes’ inspired dealings have invigorated a team that managed a mere 23 goals in as many games in the first half of the season. With a raw pool of strikers that includes the likes of Premier League debutants Joao Silva, Apostolos Vellios, Magaye Gueye and Denis Stracqualursi, plus relative veterans James McFadden and Victor Anichebe (who tend to spend more time on the treatment table than the pitch), the need for a line-leader up front was plain to see.
Jelavic bagged 40 goals in 93 games for Rapid Vienna and 36 in 55 at Rangers before arriving at Goodison Park two-and-a-half hours before the end of the January transfer window, amidst interest from Liverpool, West Brom, Sunderland and Leicester. “Goals, goals and more goals,” the Croatian international boldly promised at his unveiling . “I know Everton have not scored much this season but I don’t feel pressure, I like a challenge.”
His introduction may have been delayed by an international break and athletic pubalgia, an inflammation of the pubic bone, but Jelavic has since hit the ground running with six goals in his first 11 games, including five in his last six outings. Goals against Spurs, Swansea, Sunderland and a brace against Norwich preceded his opener in the FA Cup semi-final at the weekend, where he provided his best performance in an Everton shirt thus far.
Seemingly built for the rigours of English football, Jelavic provides a physical presence and appears adept at scoring even when playing relatively poorly. He has also exhibited a steely determination and innate confidence – missing chances does not faze him. Croatian coach Slaven Bilic, a former Everton favourite, has high hopes for Jelavic, revealing: “Nikica is at a great age, but his best years are still to come. I’m expecting him to improve even more next season. He can become one of the most important strikers in the league.”
Moyes has also likened Jelavic to Davor Suker and told Sky Sports: "Nikica has given all the players a lift because we have badly needed a different kind of forward here for a couple of seasons. He's a bit of a silent assassin. He's pretty quiet, walks round with a smile on his face, and it's surprised me how quickly he has taken to it.”
With five games remaining, Everton lie seventh with little chance of catching sixth-placed Chelsea but local bragging rights remain very much up for grabs, with Liverpool only a single point behind them. Everton make the trip to Old Trafford on Sunday – a ground where they have failed to win in 20 years. It is the ideal destination for Nikica Jelavic to continue his ascent towards cult status on the blue half of Merseyside.
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