Phil Jagielka reckons his Everton side may have found the missing piece in their top four puzzle.
The Blues leapfrogged over Tottenham into fourth place in the Premier League on Sunday, thanks to a dramatic 2-1 triumph which saw them score twice in injury time.
They were inspired by the return of midfielder Darron Gibson, who controlled the game from the heart of the midfield and provided the ammunition for that incredible finale.
According to Everton skipper Jagielka, the presence of the talented midfielder after a long injury absence has brought an extra dimension to the team - one that will be required if they are to win the race for the Prem's final Champions League place.
"That's the way football goes sometimes - you maybe noticed Gibbo more when he wasn't playing," Jagielka explained.
"Perhaps he hasn't scored that many since he has been here, he's not a dribbler and not what you'd see as a Fancy Dan sort of player.
"But if you filmed his role in the team and watched it back there'd be some fantastic passes, great tackles and some clever football, and that's really important to us.
"You can see he came from a great club like Manchester United with the time he finds on the ball and the confidence he has in those long-range passes."
Everton have surprised many with their encouraging start the season, after struggling to get going at the beginning of the previous three campaigns.
In each of those years they have been strong in the second half of the year, and if they can repeat their usual impressive run-in then they will have a real chance of beating neighbours Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal to secure a Champions League berth.
If they do, then Jagielka thinks Everton's midfield engine room will play a crucial role.
"It makes playing against us a lot harder when you have people like Darren in the team alongside Leon Osman," he added.
"They are two different footballers but equally as important. Ossie is good in tight spaces and finding the little passes, while Gibbo is such a good passer and has a great range.
"Gibbo is massively important for us to have someone who can keep the opposing defence on their toes, purely knowing if he does get a bit of time, he can be like our quarterback and start putting in some fantastic passes.
"That will be important, and this could be a crucial win over Tottenham. It could be a game where we started turning draws into wins and gave ourselves a real boost if we want our season to be as successful as we hope."
Everton also had Kevin Mirallas back at the weekend after a month long lay off, but he limped out of the game at the interval, to spark fears of a fresh problem.
Tests on Monday showed the hamstring problem is not serious, and he should be fit to visit West Ham in two weeks.
Phil Jagielka has hailed the growing influence of Darron Gibson and tipped him to emerge as the driving force behind Everton’s assault on the top four.
The Republic of Ireland midfielder was outstanding in Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Tottenham, his range of passing and probing kept Everton on the front foot from the start; it was Gibson late cross that led to Nikica Jelavic pilfering the stoppage time winner.
Gibson has only just returned from three months out with a serious thigh problem but his presence in the team in the last three matches against Tottenham, Manchester City and Arsenal has been noticeable, as his repetoire of passing has given Everton's play a different dimension.
Jelavic and Marouane Fellaini may have received most plaudits during Everton’s encouraging start to the campaign but Jagielka believes Gibson, who was signed from Manchester United last January in a deal that could eventually cost £2million, will prove himself to be just as crucial in the long run.
‘Gibbo is massively important, said Jagielka. ‘For us to have someone who can keep the opposing defence on their toes purely knowing if he does get a bit of time, he can be like our quarterback and start putting in some fantastic passes.
‘It makes playing against us a lot harder when we have people like Darron in the team and Leon Osman by the side of him. They are two different footballers but equally as important. Ossie is good in tight spaces and finding the little passes, while Gibbo is such a good passer and has a great range.’
Gibson has been something of a lucky charm for Everton as in the 21 appearances he has made since leaving Old Trafford he has only featured on a losing side twice – in April’s FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool and at West Brom in September.
‘Maybe Gibbo hasn’t scored that many since he has been here; he’s not a dribbler and not what you’d describe as ‘Fancy Dan’ sort of player,’ said the England international.
‘But if you filmed his role in the team and watched it back there’d be some fantastic passes, great tackles and some clever football. He came from a great club in Manchester United. He proves that way with the time he finds on the ball and the confidence he has to play those long range passes.’
Keeping Gibson fit will be crucial to Everton’s ambitions but there is also a sense they have genuine momentum and, like his manager David Moyes, Jagielka feels the impetus from the late rally against Tottenham could have a huge impact on what they are aiming to achieve.
‘It was desperately important for us to pick up three points if we want to have as successful season as we are hoping for,’ said Jagielka, who has been captaining Everton in the absence of the injured Phil Neville.
‘It keeps us up there and maintains this decent start that everyone is talking about.
‘It wasn’t make or break but when we come back to looking at the points tally and the way the season has gone, this could be a game where we started turning draws into wins and gave ourselves a real boost.
‘We have a really tough game coming up against Stoke and to have lost against Spurs would have put a hell of a lot of pressure on that game to come out with three points. But now we can go there and anything positive will be a good result.’
GOALS by George Waring and Conor Grant fired Kevin Sheedy’s Everton youth team into the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup.
The young Blues struck either side of half-time to secure a deserved and impressive win at Southampton.
But goalkeeper Mateusz Taudul had to make two important stops before limping off with an ankle injury 13 minutes from time.
Waring struck confidently for the Blues after 11 minutes at St Mary’s, firing home after being played in.
But then Taudul saved brilliantly from Chambers before beating away Seagers’ effort minutes later.
An excellent night for the stopper was spoiled only when he landed awkwardly after 77 minutes and had to limp off.
But by then Conor Grant had struck with a real poacher’s finish from three yards on the hour, to give the Blues the comfort of a two-goal lead – and despite late Saints pressure it was a lead they never looked like giving up.
BLUE Square Bet Premier side Hereford United will book themselves a tie against Everton in the FA Cup third round if they can beat Cheltenham in their replay at Edgar Road tonight.
Npower League Two side Cheltenham were held to a 1-1 draw by the Bulls last Monday, with the prize of a lucrative home tie against David Moyes’ side waiting for the eventual victor.
Hereford manager Martin Foyle will no doubt be boosted by his side’s latest triumph, a 2-0 win over Barrow, which means the Bulls have only lost once in their last 11 games.
However, despite the run of good form, Foyle is refusing to put too much pressure on his side even though a win would create a huge cash windfall for the club.
“We know the tickets have gone very well and we’re looking forward to a good crowd,” Foyle said. “It’s not the end of the world if we get knocked out but, financially, we know it’s sat there for us and it’s the future of the club.”
Cheltenham manager Mark Yates is taking Hereford’s threat seriously after they denied the Robins a passage to the third round last week.
“I think we approach it in pretty much the same way,” Yates said.
“There’s no way we’re going to take them anything other than majorly seriously. They’re a good side with good players and we have to be on top of our game.
“We have to make sure we’re solid, we have to make sure we try and play the way we want to play with a bit of tempo, but sides don’t always let you.
“I listened to the commentary from their game against Barrow. They’re a good side and they’ve got some powerful players.
“They gave one or two of them a breather on Friday by the looks of it.
“I expect to be confronted by pretty much the same team that started against us.”
EVERTON defender Sylvain Distin believes the club has an inherent winning mentality which is impossible to ignore.
And the Frenchman admits if, as a player, you do not grasp it within a couple of weeks of arriving manager David Moyes is quick to point it out to you.
The players’ never-day-die attitude was exemplified in their last-gasp 2-1 win over Tottenham on Sunday when Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic scored within 88 seconds of each other to secure a deserved three points after Clint Dempsey’s deflected opener against the run of play.
“We always believe we can win and we proved it again,” said the centre-back, who stressed they were not happy to settle for a draw after Pienaar’s 90th-minute equaliser.
“We were unfortunate with the goal we conceded but we never stopped believing and we always kept fighting.
“We don’t have to think about it, that is the mentality at Everton and after two weeks at the club that is how you behave because you follow the rest of the squad.
“Whether we are 1-0 down or 2-0 up, we play from the first second to the last second.
“Personally I’ve always been like that but if you are a player who is not too much like that you change your attitude pretty quickly and you follow everyone going in the same direction.
“When you join a club like Everton it feels like home after two weeks and it comes naturally – if not you have the gaffer on your back at the end of the game and you don’t want that.”
The win was only the second in 10 matches but it restored Everton’s place in the top four.
Distin insists their current position is not something the squad currently think about but their Champions League dreams may start to materialise if they still occupy a top-four slot in a month’s time.
“It doesn’t mean a lot to us now,” he added.
“It is obviously better to be there than in the bottom four but it is too early.
“The more time goes and the more you stay in this position then the more you start to believe. But we have to get through the Christmas period and see where we are and then we can start dreaming.
“But I can’t see any easy games.
“Every game is important and we are really focused on what we want to do.”
Nevertheless, Everton are better equipped than they have been for a long time to challenge for a top-four place.
The last – and only – time they qualified for the Champions League was in 2005.
That was four years before Distin arrived at Goodison Park but the defender believes Everton’s football is the best he has seen since he joined from Portsmouth.
“We’ve played some really nice football, we are a lot more offensive than we used to be,” he said.
“We can play the long ball to Felli (Marouane Fellaini) or short down the sides with Leighton Baines or Kevin Mirallas.
“Even sometimes the physios come to watch training and after when we’re having a massage they will say ‘training was great today’.
“There is really great quality, a good atmosphere and great determination.
“I’ve been here four years and I think it is the best football squad we have and it is very attractive for the fans and they enjoy it. It has been frustrating for them with the draws we’ve had but they have to remember those were the kind of games we would have lost last season.
“They have to keep believing because we believe.”
STEVEN PIENAAR turned back the clock at Goodison Park on Sunday with his first headed goal for more than a decade and the Everton FC schemer hopes that his landmark strike can be a springboard for a season of celebration at Goodison.
Pienaar's timely equaliser - Everton's 1,000th Premier League goal - was a well directed header from 14 yards and he explained: "The last time I scored a header was in 2001 with my first goal in Europe for Ajax, so today was my second and I'm quite pleased with it.
"The timing was perfect and it was a special goal."
Pienaar also believes that the equaliser, and Nikica Jelavic's unlikely matchwinner 88 seconds later, was testament to the belief manager David Moyes has instilled in the Blues squad.
"We had control of the game just before they scored, but having conceded the guys kept going," added Pienaar. "The determination is there, the belief the gaffer has installed in the team is immense, so is the character of the players and we can keep going until the last minute.
"We got all three points and I thought it was well deserved.
"We just have to keep going until the end of the season and hopefully at the end of the season we will all be celebrating.
"We started the first five or six games really well, then maybe had a bit of over confidence, started giving points away and we just needed these three points to push us up again."
The victory elevated Everton back up to fourth place in the table and team-mate Phil Jagielka was another to hope that the Blues often sparkling form in the first 16 games of the season can be a platform.
"We've drawn too many games this season," he added. "It's nice not to have lost too many but we've turned winning positions into draws so its nice to turn a losing position into a win.
"It's nice that come Christmas were not looking up 15 or 16 places to the top of the league, with a bit of luck it should be four or five at the most.
"We've given ourselves a great platform, but as we know there are teams who have made a great first half of the season but not performed well in the second half so its up to the manager now to keep all the players focused and hopefully maintain our great form and stay there."
Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas is convinced that the Blues have what it takes to mount a serious push for Champions League qualification this season.
Asked if Everton could finish in the top four, he said: "I think so. I don't like to talk about other teams and I'm not sure that is their main objective, but they are good enough.
"David Moyes has done tremendously well. He has changed the mentality of the club. They went through incredibly difficult situations financially and has always built strong teams."
A number of Premier League clubs, meanwhile, are reported to be in the hunt to sign former Everton midfielder Tim Cahill on loan from New York Red Bulls in January.
Last month the 33-year-old said he was keen to come back to England on a short-term deal when the Major League Soccer season had ended.
Sunderland, Newcastle, Tottenham and QPR have all been linked in a move for the Australia international.
Cahill had huge success at Everton after signing from Millwall in 2004, scoring 56 goals in 226 games, before leaving this summer to join the Red Bulls.
He played 14 matches, scoring once, as the MLS club finished third in the Eastern Conference to reach the play-offs, where they were knocked out by DC United.
If he returns to the Premier League, Cahill will be following the likes of Los Angeles Galaxy stars Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, who have spent time on loan at Everton (twice) and Aston Villa respectively, and Thierry Henry who went back to Arsenal last year.