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SYLVAIN DISTIN admits he has been surprised at how quickly he has adapted to his new role as Everton FC’s left back – and revealed he has been asking regular incumbent Leighton Baines for tips.
The Frenchman has been shuffled across from his usual central defensive station in recent weeks, with Baines’ hamstring having ruled him out of the Blues’ previous three games.
And the 34-year-old has responded positively, bouncing back in style from the mistake which cost his side dearly in their FA Cup semi-final defeat to Liverpool at Wembley.
“It’s a new job for me,” said Distin. “The last time I played at left back was about six or eight years ago. I was a lot skinnier back then too, so it was easier! I’m getting used to it. The lads make it easy for me as well.
“I speak with Bainesy a bit and get some tips from him, but I don’t expect to be as good as him, he’s an amazing player. I just give my best, and that’s it.”
He added: When you play left back you have to try and link up play a bit more. Obviously I know I’m not going to get forward as much as Bainesy. But I’ll be honest I’m enjoying it more than I thought.
“I thought it would be really difficult, but I feel like I’ve adapted quite well. I feel comfortable.
Distin impressed as Everton FC were held 1-1 by Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Tuesday. The result extends the Blues’ unbeaten Premier League run to seven games, and means they can virtually ensure they finish above Liverpool this season if they can beat already-relegated Wolves at Molineux on Sunday.
“Our target is to remain seventh in the league, and we are doing well in that,” said Distin. “It’s a good run, and that’s the most important thing.
“Wolves are not going to give up. No team in England gives up, no matter what the score, what the game or where they are in the league.
“They will fight, there is a lot of pride in English football. It will be difficult for them because they have gone down, but they will fight I’m sure.
Of the Stoke draw, Distin added: “There is a bit of disappointment. We knew what would happen against Stoke, with the gameplan they have, and I think we did quite well.
“We conceded a goal, the kind we didn’t expect to concede to be honest. But at the end of the day a point was a good result. We were away from home, and we are still on a good run. But we are still a bit disappointed because that is the kind of game we expected to win.”
Everton are unlikely to have striker Victor Anichebe available for selection for the trip to Wolves. The Nigerian international hobbled out of action after just 21 minutes at Stoke with a groin problem, and could miss the rest of the season as a result.
Against all the odds, Howard Kendall’s injury-ravaged Everton squad delivered the Blues their ninth League Championship 25 years ago. Now, a quarter of a century on, the ECHO commemorates their achievements with a special three-part series highlighting Goodison’s Boys of 1986/87.
WAYNE CLARKE scored the spectacular goal that swung the title pendulum back in 1987 but claims to have never have watched it back since – because he doesn’t need to.
Blighted by injuries throughout the season, Everton went into March three points adrift of leaders Liverpool but a sequence of seven consecutive victories saw them charge to the summit after the Wolverhampton-born striker’s arrival.
Arguably their most impressive result during this spell was a 1-0 win over Arsenal at Highbury on March 28 which gave Howard Kendall’s side the belief they could retain the title they’d won two years earlier – especially given that the Reds crashed to a 2-1 home defeat to Wimbledon on the same day.
The Blues secured the three points thanks to a pinpoint long range effort from Clarke who calmy placed the ball into Arsenal’s net from over 35 yards out after keeper John Lukic had scuffed a clearance under pressure from Adrian Heath.
Clarke said: “I knew he (John Lukic) was out of his area. My first thought was to have a good first touch and I knew exactly what I was going to do and put it in there. When it went in, I suppose a little bit of it was down to good fortune but if I’m honest it just seemed to take an eternity to drop in.
“Believe it or not, that’s the only time I’ve seen the goal. I don’t know why I’ve not watched it, I’ve just not had access to it. I can relive it now in my mind though so nothing can take that away.”
Clarke netted five goals in 10 games for Everton that season having joined from Second Division strugglers Birmingham City and puts a big part of his success down to the warm welcome he received at Goodison Park.
“All goals for me are important but it was good that the lads took me on board and really welcomed me.
“Obviously there was the goal at Highbury. I think everyone knows the course of that season changed on that day because Wimbledon went to Liverpool and beat them 2-1 and it gave us a bit of a gap.
“The hat-trick against Newcastle was pleasing being a new lad coming into the club and showing the home fans what I could do.”
Clarke added: “It was a great period in the club’s history and I just happened to play a little part in it.
“I played with some great players. When I first came to the club and looked around the dressing room there were some big names in there. There was Reidy (Peter Reid), Neville (Southall), Raters (Kevin Ratcliffe), Trevor (Steven) and Gary (Stevens) – all international players. A lot of people could have forgiven me for thinking ‘what am I doing here?’ I was looking forward to being part of it.
“I was having a great season at Birmingham City before that – I was on 19 goals and ready to break Trevor Francis’ record as the last player to hit the 20-goal barrier, I was going to smash that.
“So I was coming in full of confidence and I carried that on when I came to Everton.”
While Clarke has happy memories of playing against Liverpool during his time at Everton – he scored the winning goal in the 1-0 success at Goodison Park on March 20 1988 that prevented the Reds from becoming the first side to go 30 games unbeaten from the start of a top flight season – he is bemused by the current team’s apparent issues when tackling their neighbours.
He said: “I thought there was a mental barrier against Liverpool, it’s quite strange. I went down to Wembley with the Former Players’ Foundation and I was amongst the supporters.
“I really did feel sorry for them. Taking a step back from the playing side and going as a supporter I know how passionate they are – they’re second to none in the country and are crying out for success, especially against them (Liverpool).
“It’s a psychological barrier. For me, they’re not a good team, Liverpool, and they were there for the taking.
“Everton just didn’t come out in the second half unfortunately – it does happen. But there’s no reason why we should have any kind of inferiority complex against them we’ve got some good players at the club now.
“There’s definitely some kind of inferiority complex there now and I don’t know why.
“I don’t whether it’s coming from the club itself, the supporters, the amount of money that Liverpool have been spending in comparison to Everton but Evertonians certainly shouldn’t think that way.”
Like Clarke, another striker who has become an instant hit at Goodison after arriving midway through a season from another league is new Blues idol Nikica Jelavic.
The £5.5million fee Moyes paid Rangers for the Croatian international is looking like a bargain with his 10 goals to date already making him the club’s top scorer this season.
Clarke said: “Jelavic is a quality striker, you can see he’s a goalscorer. He can get you tap-ins and that’s the art of a natural goalscorer.
“As a striker you want to hit the ground running, fortunately I was able to do that because I needed to at that time. He’s what Everton have needed for many years now.
“Hopefully we can gel more players in if David (Moyes) gets the funds to complement him further.”
PHIL NEVILLE and Victor Anichebe are both poised to miss Everton FC’s sprint to the finish line of the Premier League season.
Anichebe hobbled off midway through the first half of Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at Stoke City after suffering a groin problem.
The 23-year-old was making only his sixth start of a campaign that saw him sidelined for much of the autumn after sustaining a serious groin injury while on international duty with Nigeria.
While Anichebe then sat out a further five weeks in February and March, the striker has still managed to net six times making this the most profitable season of his career.
But now he is set to miss Everton’s final two games at relegated Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday and at home to Champions League-chasing Newcastle United a week later.
Goodison skipper Neville is also expected to have kicked his last ball of the campaign after injuring his hamstring during training earlier this week.
The problem was enough for the 35-year-old to be absent from the Britannia Stadium, only the fourth time this season Neville has been missing from a matchday squad for David Moyes’s side.
Everton FC head to Molineux on Sunday aiming to register their 100th away win during the Premier League era.
Moyes said: “Finishing above Liverpool is not desperately important, the important thing is to finish in the top 10 and the point might just about secure that.
“If we can win the last two games and finish up there it will be a good season for us.”