A number of Evertonians are still feeling flustered following the toothless performance that saw their team lose 2-0 at Old Trafford to Manchester United and drop to sixth place in the Premier League table.
This week there is no Premier League football for the Toffees as FA Cup play resumes. This could serve as a time for rest and a gradual restoration of confidence after a span of only one victory in Everton’s past five league matches. Or, in the worst-case scenario, a loss to third-tier Oldham Athletic could only pull an exhausted and threadbare side even deeper into the mire.
What will be crucial against the Latics is the performance of Kevin Mirallas.
The Belgian forward has struggled with injury since a clash with Luis Suarez in the Merseyside derby on October 28 and has only sparsely appeared in his debut season in the Premier League.
Mirallas arrived with much fanfare from Greek champions Olympiacos in the summer. For a fee of £6 million—a massive sum for cash-strapped Everton to dish out for the player—the purchase of the Superleague’s leading goalscorer for the 2011-12 season was seen as an effort by David Moyes to inject pace and attacking threat on the right flank for Everton. And that is exactly what he has managed to do in the few matches where he has been fully fit this campaign.
For the first two months of the season, the 25-year-old partnered well with Seamus Coleman. Both players are very forward-minded and seek to establish the kind of partnership that Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines share on the left flank.
Mirallas opened his tally for the club with a brace against Leyton Orient in the League Cup. That was followed by a strike against Swansea City in a 3-0 away victory. Then, after dazzling against Liverpool in the first 45 minutes, he went off injured, only to reappear for another half against Tottenham Hotspur in early December before hitting the sidelines for another month.
The Belgian’s combination of fearlessness, speed, and fancy footwork endeared him quickly to Everton supporters, bringing a style and quality that few others in the team possess. That, coupled with far too many draws in must-win league matches, made the yearning to see Mirallas return that much more intense.
The versatile attacker finally made his way back into the side as a substitute against Southampton, replacing the struggling Nikica Jelavic at striker. It was obvious that he lacked energy. But he was stationed in right-midfield only a few days later for Everton’s 2-1 victory against West Bromwich Albion and has remained there for the recent setbacks against Aston Villa and United.
Compatriot Marouane Fellaini has already stated how important he believes Mirallas will be for Everton from now until the end of the season. And it may be unfair to put such a tremendous burden on a new player’s shoulders. However, with the lack of numbers and truly spectacular players (Moyes has preferred the more reliable sort during his reign as manager), rare gems such as the two Belgians need to be placed at the forefront.
It is very likely that Mirallas will play against Oldham Athletic. The only viable alternative to the Belgian on the right-flank, Steven Naismith, has been out of form, and the former will need to boost his match fitness if Everton are to have a chance of remaining among the European places. The hosts on Saturday have not won in the league for two months and are flirting with relegation, so even progress in the FA Cup may not be a priority for interim coach Tony Philliskirk.
Former Everton player, Jose Baxter, leads the Latics with 11 goals in all competitions, including a strike in last month’s 3-2 upset of Liverpool. However, Everton should have enough to progress into the quarterfinals.
So, last weekend’s disappointed Evertonians will be crossing their fingers that his hamstrings stay loose and his trickery as sharp as it was before the Liverpool derby.