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MANCHESTER UNITED believe they can land Everton defender Leighton Baines in January.
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson reckons Baines will head to Old Trafford for as little as £8m plus a player thrown in.
Everton manager David Moyes would ideally like to take Patrice Evra to Goodison as part of the deal. Without Evra, the fee would rise to £11m.
Baines, who would earn around £60,000 a week, is desperate for Champions League football. And as Everton weren’t in Europe this season, he could slot straight into the side in February for the knock-out stages.
Fergie knows that time is running out for 31-year-old Evra, who has played nearly 50 games a season over the past five years.
Everton will step up their search for a new goalkeeper with David Moyes concerned that a lack of competition is harming Tim Howard’s form.
Howard’s 196 consecutive Premier League starts is the longest run of any player in the top-flight, but Moyes admitted he should have come out to claim the freekick that led to Sebastien Bassong’s last-minute equaliser for Norwich in a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park.
With Howard’s deputy Jan Mucha out of contract at the end of the season, former Arsenal keeper Alex Manninger, ex-Celtic No.1 Artur Boruc, the Philadelphia Union’s Zac MacMath and Egyptian Adam Mansour are among those to be given a trial in recent weeks as Everton look to bring in someone who will push the 33-year-old American harder.
Asked if that would benefit Howard, Moyes said: ‘Yes, you need competition for every position and everybody has got to make sure they’re at the top of their game. We have to make sure we’re not continually making mistakes that lead to goals.’
Howard’s ever-present status was the main reason John Ruddy played just 81 minutes of first-team football in five years at Everton before relaunching his career at Norwich.
Steven Naismith’s early goal was the first Ruddy had conceded in five hours and 45 minutes, but he made two fine saves from Leighton Baines before limping off with a thigh injury late on.
Norwich boss Chris Hughton said: ‘Possibly if John was here at Everton he would be sitting on the bench week in week out not getting an opportunity. Sometimes you need to get away and see if you can develop. Fortunately for us, John developed into an excellent goalkeeper.’
Hughton’s side are now unbeaten in seven games in all competitions – a run that includes Premier League wins over Manchester United and Arsenal – and lie one place above Newcastle in the table.
However, as he approaches the second anniversary of his sacking at St James’s Park, the 53-year-old is reluctant to accept that he is proving a point to his old employers after taking over at Carrow Road in the summer.
‘As a manager it’s such a pressurised and stressful job that it’s a great relief to win games and get points,’ said Hughton.
‘But anything that’s in the past is very much in the past.
‘I was delighted to get the opportunity to manage at Norwich. It’s a wonderful club that we hope we can keep going in the right direction. For any plusses, it’ s plusses for all.’
It was former Newcastle defender Bassong who headed in Javier Garrido’s freekick, and the Cameroon international warned that Norwich cannot afford to get carried away with their recent success.
‘It’s important to keep our heads right and not to think like we are big players or a big team,’ said Bassong.
‘We’ve got to stay humble and keep working because that’s the only way we can get a result. If we start thinking we’re someone else, it’s not going to work.
‘It’s true we have just beaten some top-four teams but there’s no bad team in this league. I hope they underestimate us because that’s a good position for us.’
It was the third time Everton have conceded a last-minute equaliser this season following similar slips against Newcastle and Fulham.
Having taken just one point from two games against Reading and Norwich, Moyes’s side now face Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham in the next three fixtures.
‘It worries me a bit that we didn’t take enough from these two games,’ admitted the Everton boss.
‘They’re the sort of games that realistically if you want to be in amongst it you’d be looking to take some points.’
Everton manager David Moyes says he needs new players to maintain his side's challenge for a top-four spot
There was a moment in this match that illustrated Everton’s predicament. Leighton Baines slalomed towards goal as he often does, leading the fight from left back.
He reached the edge of the Norwich 18-yard area, a position where he would usually find either Steven Pienaar or Nikica Jelavic in enough space to carry on the move.
Instead, Pienaar was moved infield from his position on the touchline where he is so influential and was marked out of the game. Striker Jelavic, meanwhile, backed away from play, seemingly frustrated with being so redundant throughout the match because of a lack of supply.
Everton eventually won a free kick but it made no impact. Baines, whose demeanour is usually as composed as his performances, went ballistic at the lack of options and Jelavic felt his ire. An argument ensued for 10 seconds in front of the Gwladys Street end, fingers pointing in every direction.
In a fully-fit first team, Pienaar would combine with Baines as the most fluid left-sided partnership in the league and Jelavic would receive enough support from those behind, possibly enabling him to rediscover the form that was so devastating on his arrival at Goodison Park.
Yet, because of injury and suspension and without the depth of squad, Everton manager David Moyes was forced to make tactical changes.
Here, three crucial protagonists were absent: Phil Neville, Marouane Fellaini and Kevin Mirallas. Their absence showed, and Moyes knows it. Even though Norwich’s equaliser from Sebastian Bassong came in injury time, it was deserved. Chris Hughton’s side are now unbeaten in seven.
“I think realistically we’ve got a team who can possibly challenge for the top four still, but we would need most of our players to be fit to be able to do that,” Moyes said.
“Baines did go over to speak to Jelavic, and yeah, I think we are looking for a bit more from him at the moment, because we are a bit short. He’s looking to try to find a bit of form and we could look to get him a bit better service. Sometimes it’s a case of earning you opportunities – or your luck – by the way you go about it.”
Ideally, Moyes would be able to sign more players in January as he has in recent seasons. But it depends on funds being available.
After Steven Naismith’s early opener, Everton had enough chances to secure the result. But with each miss, Norwich gained belief and with Grant Holt at his most menacing, an equaliser, no matter how late, felt inevitable.
It came via a free kick from Javier Garrido that Moyes believed should not have been awarded in the first place. Tim Howard, though, decided not to come for it, John Heitinga hesitated and Bassong headed in.