Leighton Baines' Defensive Blunder Hands Everton's European Hopes Massive Blow

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistApril 20, 2013

The Everton defense has seen its fair share of defensive blunders by way of John Heitinga this season, but the Dutchman was not at the center of the Toffees' defensive demise at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, it was the ever-reliable Leighton Baines.

Baines has been a model of consistency this season for Everton, and in one of the most crucial matches of the season, he kick-started the counterattack by Sunderland that gave the Black Cats their 1-0 lead. 

Just seconds after Tim Howard made a spectacular save on Sebastian Larsson's free kick, Baines gifted a pass to the feet of Larsson, who then passed the ball forward to Stephane Sessegnon to finish off the only goal of the match. 

The loss to Sunderland marks the end of a brutal week for all Evertonians, and a spot in the top four is all but gone now for David Moyes' club. 

Everton's massive trip to the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday resulted in a disappointing 0-0 draw in a match that the Toffees had a chance to boost their UEFA Champions League hopes for next season.

Saturday's loss on Wearside closed the door on any outstanding hope that the Toffees had of finishing in the top four.

Now, a spot in the top six is on the line as Everton look to beat out their Merseyside rival Liverpool for the final UEFA Europa League spot.

By taking a quick glance at the table, you would think Everton are in the clear by being six points ahead of Liverpool for sixth place. But, if you look at the fixture list leading into the end of the season, you would say the Toffees are in trouble.

Liverpool play Sunday against Chelsea, and with a win at Anfield they could move within three points of Everton. 

In two weeks, the two Merseyside rivals will face each other at Anfield in what could turn out to be one of the most important Merseyside derbies in recent memory. 

Liverpool have all the momentum in the race for sixth place, and Everton are in search of something positive after their week-long suffering. 

Something could change or things could stay the same in the final four weeks of the season, but one thing is for sure, the race for sixth-place has heated up after the Toffees' failure to win at Sunderland. 

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