Everton Club Focus – Distin and Heitinga rewarded for solid defensive effort

Everton held their seventh annual awards dinner on Thursday night, where Goal of the Season, Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year prizes were dished out to some deserving people. Phil Neville was perhaps an unlikely winner of Goal of the Season, while Player of the Year went to John Heitinga and Sylvain Distin was crowned by his teammates as Players’ Player of the Year.

Neville took the Goal of the Season gong for his only goal of the season, a quite staggering extra-time curler against West Bromwich Albion in the Carling Cup in September. Neville has only scored five goals in his Everton career, dating back to 2005, but the last couple, the award-winner against West Brom and an arguably even more spectacular strike against Wolverhampton Wanderers, have been of a quality to win any competition. The goal against Wolves, a scorching drive scored late last season, was arguably not even the best goal of that particular game – the now departed Diniyar Bilyaletdinov gets the nod in that mini-contest for a shot so powerfully struck it would still be rising somewhere over continental Europe if the goal net had not intervened.

Distin’s Players’ Player of the Year award is well-earned recognition from his teammates, and confirmation that the centre-back is one of David Moyes’ most reliable performers. Now 34, the Frenchman was bought from Portsmouth in 2009 and has made more than 100 appearances in Everton blue, and the number of errors contained in those appearances would struggle to break the number of fingers on one hand. Distin was however unfortunate to commit a costly error at the worst possible moment, the FA Cup semi-final in Liverpool, when his under-hit backpass played in Luis Suarez. Yet Distin’s colleagues recognised that was one slip in a season of understated excellence, and the prize also highlights just what a predicament Moyes will face when it inevitably comes time to replace the No 15.

The final award of the big three handed out went to Distin’s fellow central defender John Heitinga. The Netherlands international spent last season mostly in midfield and looked out of place, despite impressing in that same position in the latter half of his first season at Goodison Park. Returned to the centre of defence in this campaign, however, Heitinga has been commanding. A mark of just how impressive his form is that at various points Heitinga has been partnered by both Distin and Phil Jagielka but the pair have rarely teamed with each other – Heitinga has been the mainstay, the constant of Everton’s strong defensive record.

Everton have conceded only 39 goals in their 37 league games, fewer than Chelsea (45), who boast a former England captain in the heart of their back four, Tottenham Hotspur (47), who are competing for a place in the Champions League and only two more than Arsenal, who may well finish third in the Premier League this season. That the three main award winners were defenders – even if one won for a rare goal – speaks volumes about just how sound Everton’s rear guard has been throughout this campaign.

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