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John Heitinga claims he is playing the best football of his career at Everton - and has called on his team-mates to seal a higher Premier League finish than rivals Liverpool.
Heitinga is keeping England defender Phil Jagielka out of the side and has been outstanding for the Blues this season.
The Dutch international centre-back has endured an inconsistent time at Goodison Park since signing from Atletico Madrid in 2009 and is delighted with his current form.
Heitinga, 28, is in the running for the club's player of the year award and said: "I think this is my best season for Everton so far and I hope I can keep this level up.
"It is one of my better seasons – maybe my best as a professional – but I'm only 28 and there are many years to come. I am only looking forward.
"We can’t play football without the fans and I am happy to hear some of them are voting for me as that is a big trophy.
"The players’ vote is coming and I can’t say who I will vote for. That is a secret."
Heitinga was thrilled to be part of Everton's stirring 4-4 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford and has urged his team-mates to finish on a high by beating Liverpool to seventh.
"These games are the reason I came to play here in the best league in the world," he said.
"The season is not over, there are four games to play and we want to surprise some teams and finish high up the league.
"There are 12 points to play for and we want as many as we can get."
LEON OSMAN just keeps getting better for Everton and is more influential for the Blues than ever, says Leighton Baines.
The 30-year-old midfield schemer will achieve the 300-game landmark for the Toffees, if he is selected to appear against Fulham on Saturday.
And Baines believes his team-mate has grown to become one of the key performers at Goodison, because he is capable of changing games with his close control and skill.
He said: “Ossie’s been a terrific player for the club over the years and he’s continued to grow over the years. He’s a massively important player for us now.
“Since I’ve been here, I think he’s got better every year really and become more and more important to us. I thought last season he was great and this year he’s been fantastic again. He’s a vital part of the squad and the team.”
Osman made his Everton debut in a 4-3 defeat at Tottenham in January 2003, after he replaced Li Tie near the end of normal time.
More than a year later he scored his first senior goal for the Blues during an eventual 2-1 loss at Wolves.
Since then he has scored 41 times and is now set to follow fellow academy graduate Tony Hibbert in racking up a triple century of appearances.
“It’s fantastic,” added Baines. “To get to 300 games is a very nice landmark to reach. If you asked him if he’s playing the best football of his career he might agree with you.”
Osman is likely to keep his place in the side against Martin Jol’s in-form team, but another player keen to feature again after a cameo against Manchester United will be James McFadden.
The midfielder, 29, who joined as a free agent in October, has struggled to make many appearances on his return to Goodison, and is aware that time is running out for him to win a new deal beyond this summer.
The same applies to striker Denis Stracqualursi, who is on loan from Argentine side Tigre, in a deal which expires in the summer.
Tigre have indicated that they would want a fee in excess of £5m for a permanent transfer, and it remains to be seen whether the 24-year-old’s three goals in 25 appearances have convinced David Moyes to part with a hefty chunk of his budget.
Stracqualursi was an unused substitute at Old Trafford, where midfielder Marouane Fellaini was again asked to push forward and help Everton in attack.
The Belgian starred in a more advanced role and scored the Blues’ second goal in the 4-4 draw.
“The manager put me behind the striker and I played for the team. The manager decided that and I was happy,” he said. “When I played in Belgium, I didn’t play this position. But when I came to Everton, the manager put me in behind the striker and I played well and scored some goals. It was good for me.
“At the moment the team is scoring lots of goals and we have now four games which we will try to win and the first is against Fulham. I hope and we will try to win every game. The team wants to finish above Liverpool. We will try.”
Everton take on Fulham at Goodison Park on Saturday at 3pm and tickets are still available. Prices start from £30 for adults and £15 for juniors. To buy call 0871 663 1878, visit evertonfc.com/ eticketing or go to the box office.
IT WAS a moment of cold-blooded predatory instinct which seemed to sum up Nikica Jelavic.
With Everton trailing by two goals at Old Trafford, Marouane Fellaini’s unsettling presence caused Rio Ferdinand and Johnny Evans to jump for and miss the same ball, leaving a sudden hole in the hosts’ defence.
Typically, the Ice-man needed no second invitation. With one arrogant swish of his right boot, the 26-year-old had scored his eighth goal for the Toffees since January.
When David Moyes once compared facing Manchester City’s formidable attack to taking a knife to a gun fight, these days he can return fire with both barrels thanks to the opportune deal with Glasgow Rangers four months ago that brought Jelavic to Merseyside.
For too long, a blunt edge in attack had been costing the Toffees points and progress in the Premier League, but suddenly they have a man with a priceless goalscoring gift.
It is a decisive talent. Remarkably, Jelavic plunders almost all his goals with first-time strikes. He has taken just 47 touches to net 44 goals for Rangers and Everton since May 2011 – and his last 27 have all been one-touch finishes.
Since his first Premier League goal for the Blues, on March 10, only Wayne Rooney (eight) and Papiss Cisse (nine) have found the net more.
Using Opta Stats from the English Premier League Index blog, it’s easy to highlight the glaring difference Jelavic has already made to his new club.
Moyes’ men created 17 chances against Aston Villa in September, and crafted 22 against Norwich in December, yet were unable to take three points from either game.
Just three of those 39 chances made in those two games were goals – one of which was a penalty – which illustrates one of the reasons why this current season had failed to ignite.
By contrast, the men Moyes previously relied on to provide him with goals pale in comparison.
They were different types of strikers, but the scoring returns of Yakubu, Jermaine Beckford and Louis Saha seem flimsy in the context of what the Croatian has achieved so far.
Despite playing over double the amount of game time, Beckford and Saha only narrowly eclipse the Croatians’s goal tally. Both are far less accurate and clinical, while Yakubu barely contributed at all until being sold in January
Jelavic is already the Blues’ top goalscorer – silencing anyone who doubted his ability to adapt to the pace of the Premier League – but equally underlining how poor Everton’s goal return has been this term.
Before January the club were struggling to even maintain a one goal-per-game ratio. By the start of February, as Jelavic was sidelined with a groin problem, only Stoke and Wigan had scored less. Yet since the ‘Flying Fortress’ lifted off, in terms of goals scored in the league, Everton have risen to a less embarrassing 10th in the chart.
His impulsive finishing style is a welcome change at Goodison. As incredibly gifted as Louis Saha was, towards the end of his tenure with the Blues, he spent more time setting himself before unleashing his considerable shot.
It remains to be seen if Jelavic has the staying power to be compared to any of Everton’s legendary centre-forwards, but the signs are promising.
Who would bet against him netting a record Premier League haul for a Goodison striker next season?
NIKICA Jelavic can become a Premier League legend for Everton, according to Croatian goal scoring hero Davor Suker.
Suker is his country’s all-time leading marksman, but he believes Jelavic, 26, can score more than 20 goals in the English top flight next season.
“I have seen the goals,” said Suker (left) after studying his compatriot’s brace against Manchester United at the weekend.
“I didn’t see the whole game but it was excellent for Everton and Nikica. He is really enjoying the Premier League and I am sure he will do a great job for Everton.
“It is not a surprise that he is doing so well. I know him from Croatia, I know him from Rapid Vienna. I know he works very hard and is a player with a great future.”
It was during his fruitful spell in Austria that ex-Arsenal hit-man Suker believes Jelavic’s development was boosted.
“I remember when I spoke with him when he was at Rapid Vienna,” recalled Suker, 44. “He had an excellent coach in Peter Pacult and I told him he is better for staying a couple of years with Peter.
“He is a guy who works very hard on the preparation of the team and I am sure Nikica will remember this. Sometimes you need to not rush your career; you need to lay good preparations and now he can move on to the main goal of his career.
“He is a goalscorer and he is a good person. He can do a great job for Everton. The confidence of the team improves when you know you have a striker who can score goals. When people realise he can score in the first or the 90th minute, it is a good thing.
“Goals today are the difference. Everyone can play football but less people can score goals. It is not basketball where anyone can score. That is the big difference between the best players.”
JAMES McFADDEN and Denis Stracqualursi are both playing for their Everton FC futures over the next three weeks.
McFadden was signed on a short-term deal in October until the end of the campaign, while Stracqualursi is approaching the conclusion of his season-long loan from Argentine side Tigre.
Moyes has yet to make a definitive decision on whether to retain the pair, leaving them the final four Premier League games to stake their claims.
McFadden, who had not made a senior appearance in more than 12 months before arriving as a free agent, has started only two games during his second stint at Goodison.
However, the 29-year-old has figured in three of Everton’s last four league matches and came off the bench during last weekend’s sensational 4-4 at Manchester United.
Stracqualursi, having struggled to make an impact after initially arriving in the summer, assumed a more prominent first-team role in the New Year with goals against Fulham, Chelsea and Blackpool.
But the striker has seen his opportunities limited by the success of January signing Nikica Jelavic and started only two of the last 11 games.
Both McFadden and Stracqualursi will be hopeful of a run-out in Everton’s final four games, with Saturday’s visit of Fulham followed by trips to Stoke City and relegated Wolverhampton Wanderers and a final-day Goodison showdown
And Stracqualursi has revealed his determination to earn a permanent deal.
“There were tough times at the beginning of the season, it was difficult,” said the 24-year-old. “First and foremost, the language made things a bit harder. I wasn’t understanding things and I wasn’t able to express myself.
“But all that served to do was to give me more desire and make me more determined to achieve my objective, which was to play and score goals.
“Whether things turn out well or badly, I’ve always had the idea of giving everything.”
Moyes, though, will pursue a permanent deal for Steven Pienaar given the South African’s influence since arriving on loan from Tottenham Hotspur in January.
Meanwhile, Jelavic has been backed to become Everton’s first regular 20 goals a season striker in a generation.
The 26-year-old has netted eight goals in 12 games since arriving from Glasgow Rangers, already making him the club’s top scorer for the campaign.
And Davor Suker, the former Real Madrid and Arsenal striker and a Croatia great, is convinced compatriot Jelavic has the attributes to be a huge success at Goodison.
“He can do a great job for Everton,” said Suker. “He is a goalscorer and a good person.
“The confidence of the team improves when you know you have a striker who can score goals.
“To score 20 goals minimum, that is the point of the main striker. For every chairman, every gaffer, when signing a striker, that is the point.
“He works well on the training ground and he thinks only about football.
“I think he can score more than 20 goals next season.”
WELL, what a difference a week makes in football! I have to be honest, sat at Old Trafford just before kick off I was still feeling the effects of Everton's FA Cup derby defeat.
The hurt of losing to Liverpool eight days earlier still sat in the pit of my stomach, as I wanted the season to end as quickly as possible.
But this is Everton and when you least expect it they drag you out of the mire of depression and serve you up a treat at the unlikeliest of places.
Our record over the past twenty years at the Theatre of Dreams can be best described as nondescript.
In fact over the past three seasons we have not even been able to score, never mind think about taking points off Sir Alex.
The United supremo always has nice words to say about Moyes and Everton, but that’s because usually we turn up, sit back and wait for them to score.
Sunday was different though, you got the feeling we had nothing to lose; the players would have a go with the shackles off - and that’s exactly what we did.
Moyes sprung a surprise, moving Sylvain Distin to left back when we all thought Neville would play there and the Frenchman did well.
It would have been easy for Distin to hide after his mistake against Liverpool but he has shown on numerous occasions he has tremendous character and will surely become player of the year.
Going forward though, was where Everton surprised most as we seemed to be able to create chances at will. During the first half we were the better side, neat in possession and always a threat with Fellaini supporting Jelavic up top.
The Croat certainly has an eye for the back of the net – one interesting tweet read that 41 of his past 44 goals have come with his first touch. He proved a constant menace on Sunday with Evans and Ferdinand unable to cope with his movement.
At last goals seem easy to come by, with four being scored in consecutive league games and against decent opposition too.
When you think back to earlier in the season , we went nearly two months without scoring more than once in a game.
Jelavic alone has lifted the spirits of the club, you can see that from the other players and he could well be the one man that makes Moyes think about staying when he and Bill Kenwright have their end of season debate on what if any money he will be handed during the summer.
The headline maker Steven Pienaar has to be a priority signing and hopefully Bill can strike a deal with Spurs, who are notoriously hard to deal with.
All that debate can now be left until the end of the season and at last we can just revel in the moment. It’s nice to see Everton make the headlines for once on Sky Sports and after twenty years of coverage, also nice to see us involved in a game which will be remembered – and I didn’t think I would be saying that a week ago!