The slight turn past his marker and rocket shot beyond the goalkeeper, almost in one movement, are Yakubu trademarks but they have been seen too rarely at Goodison Park since the front man was struck down by a serious knee injury in November 2008. At times it looked as if Yakubu was doomed to be a shell of his former self upon recovery, such was the sluggishness with which the former Portsmouth forward played. But that has all changed now with Yakubu looking more and more like his old self, and while the goal against Stoke is the most tangible result of the improvement shown, the watershed performance may have been in the Merseyside derby against Liverpool.
Directly opposing Martin Skrtel and Sotirios Kyriagkos, two brawny, uncompromising, take-no-prisoners centre-backs, Yakubu stood tall, holding the ball up with skill and determination and, in one memorable moment, barging Raul Meireles off the ball in a move that would be a clear foul in any other game but the hubbub of a Merseyside derby. Yakubu’s impressive performance was universally acknowledged by Everton fans after that game and, despite a quieter showing a week later against Tottenham Hotspur, the 27-year-old proved it was not a one-off against the Potters. The goal was the crowning glory on a performance where Yakubu always looked lively and, when given the proper service – that is, into feet, not pitched up for an aerial battle – he led Everton’s line expertly.
His last few performances have underscored exactly why there was such frustration from both the Everton fans and the Everton staff during the striker’s period of under-achievement. Everyone at Goodison knew what Yakubu was capable of thanks to his 21 goals in 41 games after his transfer from Middlesbrough but watching the imposter in the No 22 shirt was a harrowing experience. Gone was the speed of thought that left defenders grasping a Yakubu-shaped space in front of them, replaced by an altogether more ponderous figure. He was accused of being overweight but appears no less hefty now his form has returned than six months ago, and he was equally as barrel-chested as one of the Premier League’s most dangerous strikers between 2003, his first year in the top flight with Portsmouth, and 2008, the year of his Achilles tendon injury.
Everton’s success this season will depend on goals and with Jermaine Beckford struggling to adapt to the top division and Louis Saha just returned from injury, the onus will be on Yakubu to fire the Toffees up the table. More steps like the deft turn that drew the free-kick Leighton Baines scored from against Spurs and thrashing goals such as the explosive effort past Asmir Begovic on Saturday will be enough to solidify Everton in the top half and, perhaps, onto Europe.