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DARRON GIBSON has some cherished memories of playing in the Champions League – but the midfielder admits to a specific vision which could top them all.
The Republic of Ireland international may have experienced the grand emotions of scoring for Manchester United in a quarter and semi-final of the competition, but admits he would love nothing more than simply running out in a group stage match at Goodison Park.
For Gibson – whose love affair with games under the Goodison floodlights started almost a year ago when he scored the winner in a 1-0 victory over Manchester City – the Old Lady would be an extra special stage to host some of Europe’s top clubs.
And although he is trying to keep his dreams in check, Everton’s impressive start to the season has made the Derry-born player believe it might just be possible.
“Could you imagine Real Madrid or Barcelona coming for a Champions League game?,” says the 25-year-old. “The atmosphere at Goodison would be frightening.
“It’s unbelievable for just a Premier League game so imagine what the atmosphere would be like if we made it into the Champions League.
“It would be massive for the club. We’re genuinely just taking it on a game by game basis at the moment and not over thinking it, but if we keep playing well I think we’ll be up there at the end of the season.”
The genuine excitement in his voice belies a young man who has already played in some huge games during his career, but there has been a sense of starting over for Gibson since his £250,000 switch from Manchester United last January.
Memories of that 2010 long-range goal in the quarter-finals against Bayern Munich and a strike in the 2011 semi against Schalke will always be with him, but he would dearly love to begin a fresh chapter in the competition wearing royal blue.
“(The Bayern goal) was a highlight of my career but it probably would have been a bit sweeter if we’d gone through,” said Gibson.
“To play in it again next season is a massive ask but it’s important for everyone at the club because we all want to take Everton forward and improve. Europa League would be a big step.
“If we could get that fourth place I’d savour it, we all would, but I don’t think we’re setting it in stone as a target. We just need to keep putting points on the board. Fingers crossed at the end of the season we can be in there.”
Gibson’s arrival a year ago helped kick-start a positive and potentially definitive year in David Moyes’ Goodison reign, and the midfielder says he has thoroughly enjoyed it so far.
“I’ve loved it – the lads, staff at the club and manager have made it very easy for me to settle in and the good run of form we’ve been on has helped,” he says. “We’ve been playing well and on a good run of form so that always makes things easier.”
Evertonians still insist the man their club effectively pinched from the Red Devils is a lucky mascot, and Gibson is yet to play a full league game in which Everton have been defeated.
“We’ve got a great squad with some talented players,” he says. “It was probably the best time for me to come in.”
NIKICA JELAVIC can become a Premier League goalscoring sensation on par with Michael Owen or Ruud Van Nistelrooy, insists Darron Gibson.
The Everton midfielder believes his Croatian team-mate is among the best strikers currently in the top flight, and will soon embark on a prolific spree like the goal-glut he delivered after they both joined the club last January.
Gibson, 25, admits Jelavic set himself standards which were always going to be hard to maintain by netting 11 times in 16 games over five months last term, but after training with some of the best centre-forwards during his time at Old Trafford he insists the former Rangers man can become equally renowned.
Everton will need Jelavic at his best over their busy festive schedule – particularly with top scorer Marouane Fellaini suspended for three games – and Gibson is confident he can recapture top form and deliver the goals to keep them in the mix for a top four finish.
He said: “He’s a bit like Michael Owen or Van Nistelrooy in the box. He’s first class and I don’t think there’s many better than him in the Premier League at the moment.
“The vein of form he had when he first came was special, and from a football point of view I think we knew he couldn’t keep it up constantly.
“Every striker goes through a lean spell but it hasn’t taken him too long to score again. He’s definitely up there with the best goal scorers I’ve played with to be honest. His finishing is unbelievable.”
Gibson said he is constantly looking to make the most of Jelavic’s canny movement by delivering him the ammunition from midfield.
“Because we signed at the same time we clicked a bit and became quite close,” he said. “He makes some great runs and he makes the passes easier for me.
“He makes my decision for me by his movement. He’s a great player and luckily he’s scoring again which is important for us.”
Jelavic’s dramatic late winner against Tottenham on December 9 was his sixth goal of the campaign, and his fulsome celebrations proved a hit with fans as he high-fived every member of the Blues bench after being replaced near the end.
“It just sums up how we are as a squad,” added Gibson. “We’re really close and everyone likes each other so it’s good for the fans to see that. Every team will say they’re tight knit but that clip of Niki coming off and high-fiving everyone really shows something genuine. We’re actually close like a family and it shows on the pitch.”
FORMER Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall believes defender Leighton Baines could be the player to be sacrificed in order to fund the club’s bid for Champions League football.
Southall thinks the Toffees need three players in January if they are to sustain a top-four challenge.
Midfielder Marouane Fellaini is the player who appears to be attracting most interest from other clubs but Baines has also been linked with a move over the last 12 months.
Southall feels it would be easier – and cheaper – to find a solution at left-back but ideally he would not want Baines, one of Everton’s most consistent performers over the last few years, to leave.
“I’d like to see them buy three players, at least, or get three players on loan,” said the former Wales international, speaking at the launch of The Football Pools 90 Day Community Challenge at St Helens Junior Football Club, who received funding of £50,000 to makeover their club.
“They need a striker for definite, a midfield player who can pass – a more expansive midfield player – and a defender. We’ve got to this position now where, if they get two or three players, they can push on, finish fourth and get the Champions League.
“I don’t mind him (Moyes) selling one if he brings two in because that makes sense.
“If you are going to sacrifice anyone, Leighton Baines may be the one to go.
“You’ve got Phil Neville to fill in (at left-back) and you’ve got Bryan Oviedo you could get away with there. I would hate it but you can’t do Fellaini at the moment because it would cost twice as much to replace him.
“But I’d rather they add than take away, because if you’re taking away you’re saying to the fans ‘We don’t care, we’re just going to sell’ and I don’t think that is right at all.”
Southall has been impressed by his former club’s performances this season, which has kept them within two points of third place.
But he believes they cannot afford to stand still and for all their attacking invention he thinks they require more guile to make them genuine top-four contenders.
“They have upped their performances and the reason for that is they have got goalscorers,” he added.
“They’ve kept it tight before because they didn’t have that cutting edge but now they have goals all over the pitch.
“I don’t think we have anyone with that vision. (Darron) Gibson is not bad to be fair but he’s not there every week.
“Maybe by next season he would be ideal but he’s picked up a few injuries here or there.
“Jelavic can change a game on his own but I’d like to see someone with a bit of drive and personality. I’d like to see them have someone who can take the game by the scruff of the neck and make an impact. Someone like the character of Andrei Kanchelskis but a midfielder who can drive the team forward, maybe make a few tackles – someone like a Steven Gerrard for Everton. They don’t seem to have someone who has that drive.”
For more information or if you would like to get involved with the 90 Day Challenge through donating time, funds or materials please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Play The Football Pools at www.footballpools.com.
Phil Neville is set to return from a knee injury for Everton three weeks ahead of schedule.
DANIEL STURRIDGE will complete his £12m move to Liverpool next month to spark a spectacular Chelsea spending spree.
Owner Roman Abramovich is ready to sanction another assault on the transfer market, with the big-spending Blues eyeing up at least £100m worth of talent ahead of the January transfer window.
Boss Rafa Benitez will hold talks over transfer targets with the Chelsea hierarchy later this week.
Porto star Joao Moutinho, who has a £28.5m buyout clause, is high on Chelsea’s wish-list, while Everton’s £20m-rated Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini is another under consideration.
David Moyes has challenged Phil Jagielka to help fill the goalscoring hole left by Marouane Fellaini’s ban.
Everton’s eight-goal top scorer will miss the Blues’ next three games because of his headbutt on Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross.
Moyes wants Jagielka to score more often and has told the England international how he weighed in with
goals during his career as a centre-half.
The 30-year-old has only scored six times in 190 appearances for the Toffees and has not netted for them since November 2011.
But Moyes scored 49 times in his career and is frustrated that Jagielka’s only goal this season came for England.
“Obviously the gaffer was a centre-half himself, who always tried to score goals, so he’s always giving us plenty of stick about not getting more,” said Jagielka.
“I don’t know how many he scored, but sometimes it’s ‘do as I say not do as I do’!
“But we’re a team and it’s not just down to the forward players.
“If I can chip in with a couple of goals as well, that hopefully might help us.”
Phil Neville is set to be available for Saturday's trip to West Ham three weeks ahead of schedule. The Everton captain underwent knee surgery last month and had been expected to be sidelined for eight weeks.
What shape are they in for Christmas?
Spirits are high. They have given themselves an excellent foundation to build on and they keep churning out results. Marouane Fellaini's moment of madness at Stoke, however, is something they could have done without.
Will they spend in January?
Unlikely. David Moyes is looking at loans rather than doing any permanent business. The main area he wants to strengthen is defence and has scouted Molde's Vegard Forren.