One of the effects of Everton’s hectic Tuesday – where the Toffees first beat Premier League leaders Manchester City and then beat the transfer deadline to bring Steven Pienaar back to Goodison Park on a six-month loan deal, joining fellow deadline-day signing Nikica Jelavic – has been that neither feat has received the coverage it truly deserves.
Despite leaving for Tottenham Hotspur a year ago, Pienaar’s popularity has not diminished on Merseyside. This is a testament to the fine way in which he comported himself through the first half of last season as it became increasingly obvious his days in the blue shirt were numbered. Not once did Pienaar’s head drop and never was he accused of having his mind elsewhere – Pienaar was professional to the last. Combined with his sumptuous displays in his first stint at Everton – and the prospect of his partnership with Leighton Baines on Everton’s left flank resuming is mouth-watering – it is easy to see why so many were eager for Pienaar’s return. The second coming of the winger has been enough to boost the spirit around the club before a ball is even kicked.
On the pitch Pienaar will provide Everton with a burst of speed in midfield, particularly once Landon Donovan returns to the LA Galaxy – Everton’s only other midfielder capable of stepping up a gear is the mind-bogglingly inconsistent Royston Drenthe – as well as close control and dribbling ability possessed by no other Everton player. Much will depend on just how altered Pienaar has been by a year of mostly inaction at White Hart Lane, and his first spell at Everton took a little while to get going, but above all else Pienaar’s presence provides Moyes with attacking options in midfield that simply were not there before Christmas. The signing of Jelavic – and the continued emergence of Denis Stracqualursi as a Premier League-calibre player – does likewise further forward.
The madness of the last day of the transfer window obscured an Everton victory over City that would ordinarily have more widely been hailed as a performance for the ages. There was not time to reflect on the triumph once news of Pienaar’s signing had broken, and the next day supporters and media commentators were split over which to discuss, meaning neither point garnered the play it warranted. Make no mistake however that Everton’s third-consecutive home victory over Manchester City was spectacular stuff, to rank up there with the win over Manchester United in 2005 that practically guaranteed qualification for the Champions League.
At the heart of it were a few commanding performances. First, Tony Hibbert, the full-back playing as a makeshift centre-back and doing so with such ease it looked his natural position. Second, Marouane Fellaini, who dominated the midfield as he so often does against Mancini’s side. Finally, Stracqualursi, the battering ram centre-forward who ran himself into the ground for the Everton cause. It was an evening to live long in the memory, and that was before Pienaar returned home.
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