Fellaini, who in all likelihood will be sidelined until the end of the season following ankle surgery, has two years remaining on his contract. His declaration of intent will go a long way towards assuaging fears he is Chelsea-bound – a constant rumour in the press – or heading the way of Steven Pienaar, who was sold in January to Tottenham for a cut price with six months remaining on his contract.
Of course Fellaini’s words are no guarantee he will actually sign a new deal. The Belgian midfielder would not be the first Everton player of recent years to announce his love for the club only to move on soon after. However his comments do tilt the balance towards staying rather than going. Much may still depend on the contract itself, and specifically the financial rewards contained therein. But with both sides willing the path should be much smoother than it was in the case of Pienaar, whose silence spoke volumes about his intentions. It is easy to forget the hulking Fellaini is only 23 and has his best years are yet to come; a new contract could ensure he spends them in Everton colours.
Saturday may come too soon for most – if not all – of the players coming back from injury but their imminent return does lighten the mood at Everton. A string of fine results without Arteta et al has breathed life into the Toffees’ campaign just when it would ordinarily be fizzling out, while a return for one or two of the injury-hit players against Blackburn would increase the feel good factor that has somewhat snuck up on the Goodison faithful.
After what felt like a season spent lurching from one calamity to another – injury crises, confusion over Pienaar, defeats at home to newly-promoted sides and the ever present and growing disgruntlement over the club’s finances – a slow march into the top seven and the fringes of European qualification threatened to escape attention until last weekend’s televised thrashing of Wolverhampton Wanderers. When Diniyar Bilyaletdinov’s thumping left footed shot flew past the Wolves goalkeeper to put Everton three goals in front it could no longer be ignored – Everton are well and truly in the battle for Europa League qualification.
Three points from Rovers would increase Everton’s pressure on Liverpool but a Manchester City FA Cup win and a fourth-placed finish for Tottenham Hotspur are what is required for sixth place in the league to qualify for Europe. While that confluence of events is unlikely it is not unimaginable, and dropping points at home while ever that hope remains would be a cardinal sin.