Club Focus – Everton – Toffees’ FA Cup progress deservedly sealed by vital full-back pair

Everton’s dramatic FA Cup penalty shootout victory over Chelsea on Saturday was made possible by the team’s two very different, but equally important, full-backs – Phil Neville, who netted the winning penalty, and Leighton Baines, who scored the last minute free-kick to take the game to spot kicks.

The two players’ respective playing styles could not be more disparate. Neville is a solid, reliable sort, more useful for his experience and organisation than what he contributes on the field. Baines, however, is a dynamo. Surging up the left flank with pace and power, the left-back is Everton’s most reliable attacking force while never neglecting his defensive duties. But for what each man has given to Everton in their time at Goodison Park they deserve their respective moments of glory, not least because they helped lift the gloom that had surrounded the Toffees since last Sunday’s woeful capitulation against Bolton Wanderers.

It was of course not a two-man show at Stamford Bridge. The other successful penalty takers – Phil Jagielka, Mikel Arteta and John Heitinga – deserve credit for holding their nerve, and they would not have been firing from 12 yards if not for a string of superb saves by Tim Howard. But fittingly, the final, telling moments came first from Baines and then Neville, two of Everton’s best and most consistent performers throughout what has been a tumultuous season. Neville has featured in 24 of Everton’s 31 games, missing a handful of games in the early season with an ankle injury and a few more later in the campaign with a knee complaint. Baines, meanwhile, has started all 31, a rare constant in an Everton side that has struggled to find a settled line-up.

Baines and Neville both also offer important tactical options to David Moyes. Baines, as noted, is often Everton’s greatest attacking outlet – more so when Steven Pienaar was also on the left wing, but the South African’s departure barely seems to have affected the defender. The late runs from deep, darts in behind opposing right-backs and devilish crosses into the box – the sort Tim Cahill thrives on – make Baines a potent weapon, not to mention his dangerous free-kicks. Conversely, Neville allows others to thrive, particularly Seamus Coleman, who can rampage forward safe in the knowledge his captain will hold back to cover. The Neville-Coleman partnership has also neutralised some dangerous attacking players, most impressively Gareth Bale, twice.

If Everton’s progression to the next round of the FA Cup is to be a springboard to a positive end of the season more of the squad’s senior players will have to match the standards of Baines and Neville. Jagielka’s form has been patchy, and Heitinga’s and Arteta’s worse still, but those three important players each dug deep enough to beat Petr Cech from the penalty spot. More of that resolve is needed to avoid a relegation battle, and if inspiration is required, the trio need not look any further than Baines and Neville.

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