EVERTON 2 (Pienaar 5, Stracqualursi 71) – CHELSEA 0
WITH the twin peaks of Chelsea and Manchester City conquered 3-0 on aggregate the burning question is; can this form be carried forward into the FA Cup, can Championship Blackpool be similarly swept aside and a quarter-final place secured? If Everton approach that encounter with the same hunger and cold-eyed determination shown in their last two home games there can only be one winner. This new-found confidence and momentum must be sustained and channelled into ensuring that meaningful progress is made in the only competition that remains open to the Toffees this season.
Up until two weeks ago Leighton Baines was playing quite well, at least as well as any other left back in the league. But Baines is better than that. It has taken the return of Steven Pienaar – as we knew it would – to provide the support, perception and awareness to lift the England man back to his best. The pair of them linked and combined beautifully down the left flank and gave Chelsea full back Jose Bosingwa an afternoon that will linger long in his memory. Steven Pienaar fits the ethos of this team and the spirit of this club like a hand in a silk glove. A thin sliver, a cigarette paper, measures the difference between competing teams and individuals at the pinnacle of any sport. Confidence is a valuable and perverse attribute, which all teams treasure because it can make the difference and the return of Pienaar has brought it flooding back, coursing through the players like a shot of adrenaline.
With the impeccable Landon Donovan operating on one flank and the Pienaar–Baines axis on the other Everton finally have the creativity which has been lacking all season; perhaps in this team Louis Saha might have finally found his form, we will never know. Sad to say but with Steven Pienaar cup-tied for next Saturday’s fifth-round encounter with Blackpool and Donovan wearing the blue jersey for the last time in that game before returning to California we will, barring divine intervention, never see these two operating in tandem again. The vacuum on the right could be filled by the return to fitness of Seamus Coleman, side-lined with a thigh injury, however in his continued absence the mercurial skills and wavering work-ethic of Royston Drenthe will probably be the go-to option. Or perhaps, having some months ago withdrawn Ross Barkley from the firing-line, David Moyes will decide that the time has come to reacquaint the youngster with first-team football.
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Howard; Neville©, Heitinga, Distin, Baines; Gibson (89 Hibbert), Fellaini; Donovan, T Cahill, Pienaar (75 Drenthe); Stracqualursi (94 Duffy)
Unused subs: Mucha, Vellios, Gueye, Barkley
CHELSEA (4-3-3): Cech; Bosingwa, Luiz, Ivanovic, Cole (77 Bertrand); Meireles, Lampard©, Essien (69 Malouda); Mata (78 Lukaku), Torres, Sturridge
Unused subs: Turnbull, Ferreira, Mikel, G Cahill
Bookings – Everton: non Chelsea: Meireles, Bosingwa, Torres
Referee: Mike Jones Assistants: G Beswick, G Turner Fourth Official: M Oliver