Everton’s position remains precarious. The Toffees are only six points clear of the Hammers, four clear of 18th-placed Wigan Athletic, and just two bad results from being dragged firmly back into the mire. It speaks to the disappointing nature of Everton’s season that they find themselves so close to West Ham, for whom the campaign has been little short of disastrous. The six point gap does provide some breathing space for Moyes, and if the gap is nine points by Saturday evening the Scot and everyone at Goodison will breathe a little easier, easier still if the three points arrives in comfortable fashion, but there has been precious little comfort to be found in most of Everton’s home games so far.
And for their first appearance at Goodison without Pienaar a good start is vital. Toiling away against the shambolic West Ham will not be conducive to a positive atmosphere on Saturday afternoon. Indeed, a struggle to break down Avram Grant’s side will inevitably lead to catcalls from the crowd, disgruntled murmurs spreading and scattered booing at half time. But if Everton start the game on the offensive, with an attacking line-up and aggressive and fast-paced passing football, which they have done a number of times this season, only to quickly lose the momentum, the potential boo-boys will be quietened early. Of course, Everton were not a one-man team dependant on Pienaar but so often it was his partnership with Leighton Baines that gave Everton all their attacking impetus. Without that duo devilling opposing right-backs, Everton will have to adapt and it may take time.
Baines’ infrequent pairing with Pienaar’s most likely in-squad replacements, Leon Osman and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, do not yet hint at matching the level of the Baines-Pienaar axis. When the full-back has been joined by either Osman or Bilyaletdinov the gap in understanding has been plain to see, as when Pienaar was first stationed on the left, but such was the excellence of the Baines-Pienaar duo it is easy to forget. Osman, however, is not suited for a wide berth, a lack of pace and desire to play infield giving right-backs an easy ride. With possibly the quickest feet at Everton and a remarkable ability to keep the ball under pressure Osman is an effective central midfielder, but has to battle Mikel Arteta and Marouane Fellaini for that honour. Bilyaletdinov is more suited than Osman but often still appears dazed by the maelstrom going on around him, failing to take hold of the game in the way a £9m midfielder should. But Pienaar must be replaced, and sooner rather than later.