Much of the discussion since Monday’s draw with Sunderland has centred over Everton’s non-scoring strikers but the Blues’ last eight games have each featured at least one Everton goal, and on four occasions, two – not since the final game of September have Everton failed to find the net, a hard-earned point away at Fulham. The form of Tim Cahill has also been a positive, particularly in the draw with Sunderland on Monday when the Australian entered a performance to rank amongst his best in a blue shirt.
The back four of Phil Neville, Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin and Leighton Baines have excelled – Baines and Distin especially, with the Frenchman dominating opposition centre-forwards and his full-back colleague providing the perfect blend of defensive strength and attacking threat. Further encouragement has come from the return to fitness of Jack Rodwell and Marouane Fellaini – although the Belgian misses the weekend’s game through suspension – while Steven Pienaar has continued to impress with a creative vision currently unsurpassed by his teammates.
The South African does represent something of a cloud, however, as the months remaining on his contract tick away. By January, Pienaar will be free to negotiate with clubs outside England and as the transfer window creaks open the gossip linking him with pastures new is bound to resurface, if it ever went away. But for the time being Pienaar remains a Blue and his current showings give no hint of any unrest – indeed, Pienaar deserves credit for his attitude at this time of contractual uncertainty. Not once has he shirked responsibility on the field or spoken out of turn to the Press, instead continuing to link on Everton’s left with Baines in one of the most exciting partnerships has seen in at Everton decades. Should Pienaar move on he would of course be a loss, but while he carries himself in the correct manner it would be churlish to criticise the midfielder for exploring other options.
But Everton’s misfiring forwards cannot be ignored. Louis Saha, Jermaine Beckford and Yakubu are the main grey cloud over Goodison skies, brightened only by heartening moments such as the chance Beckford’s movement created late on against Sunderland or Yakubu’s decent form earlier in the month, until he was curiously dropped by David Moyes. Saha remains the only senior striker not to offer any real encouragement but it should be noted the No 8 has only recently returned from injury. Saha has shown enough quality in his Everton career to deserve some patience, much like Everton themselves as they attempt to get back to winning ways against the Baggies.