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STEVEN PIENAAR has urged his Everton FC team-mates not to lose focus during the extra wait before their quest for a top four place resumes.
The Blues will have gone nine days without a game by the time they face Southampton in the Premier League at St Mary’s next Monday, in a televised clash against Nigel Adkin’s upwardly-mobile side.
And while the midfielder is grateful for the extra rest afforded to Everton’s small squad, he insists the prolonged period without match action cannot be allowed to harm their momentum.
He said: “Sometimes you need to refuel and hopefully we can do that now.
“But I hope it works in a positive way because sometimes when the game is so far away the guys can relax and forget about it and that could work against us. The break will be important but equally it’s important that doesn’t happen.”
Playmaker Pienaar was paid extra attention by Swansea’s defence-minded team during the 0-0 draw at Goodison on Saturday, as Michael Laudrup deployed two defenders on his right flank to try and neutralise the threat of Pienaar and Leighton Baines.
And the South African believes that tactic is an inevitable result of the attacking threat he and Baines provide for the Toffees, and something they must now overcome.
“It just shows that we get respect from the opposition,” said the 30-year-old.
“Coming to Goodison they know they’re not going to get easy games. I must say they stuck to their task and it worked for them.
“It was difficult (against Swansea).
“They played well at the back but with the half chances we created we could have won the game.
“If we’d have scored one of those chances it could have been different.”
EVERTON Under-21s began the second half of their season with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers.
Conor McAleny’s first half goal was added to after the break by Francisco Junior and John Lundstram before Jan Mucha saved a late penalty from Edinho Junior to preserve a clean sheet.
A fourth-place finish during the first half of the season meant that the development squad will compete in qualification Group One in the second stage of the campaign, and they were on top form against Rovers at Leigh Sports Village.
After a five-week break from competitive match action Stubbs was eagerly anticipating yesterday’s meeting, and his side did not disappoint.
The Blues led 1-0 at the break following McAleny’s 26th minute strike, with Costa Rican international Bryan Oviedo impressing at left-back, supplying several crosses which led to decent openings for his team-mates. Magaye Gueye also shone in central midfield, and Portu-guese midfiel-der Junior and John Lundstram made sure of the points during a mainly one-sided second half, the only scare when Mucha was called into action, diving at full stretch to save Edinho Junior’s spot kick.
KEVIN Sheedy has warned his Everton Under-18 players they must be at their best to progress in the FA Youth Cup tonight.
The Blues have to beat Port Vale in their fourth round clash at Vale Park this evening in order to clinch a showdown with either Arsenal or Fulham in the capital in the next stage of the competition.
Sheedy’s youngsters produced an impressive performance to beat Southampton 2-0 in the third round in another away match, and he will tell them more of the same is the only way to stay in the cup.
“It's going to be a difficult test for us,” said the academy coach.
“We will have them watched and learn their strengths and weaknesses.
“At Southampton we saw confidence and belief and it was a stiff test which our lads overcame with flying colours.
“We will need the same effort and commitment for this game.
“We’ve watched them and they beat a very good Crystal Palace side away in the last round. We certainly won’t be underestimating them – it will be a really difficult test.”
Port Vale play their league football in the Youth Alliance North West group, which consists of 16 teams. After 13 matches they are placed 10th in the table, 15 points behind leaders Preston North End.
Everton last won the competition in 1997/98. Members of that successful squad included Richard Dunne, Michael Ball, Phil Jevons and Danny Cadamarteri. The game kicks off at 7.30pm.
Meanwhile, academy midfielder George Green, who signed his first professional deal with the Blues earlier this month, has been named in the England Under-17 squad for next month's Algarve Tournament in Portugal.
The tournament takes place between Friday 8 and Tuesday 12 February, with the Young Lions set to face the Netherlands, Germany and hosts Portugal.
The games will serve as ideal preparation for the Elite Round qualifiers in March, with England aiming to book their place at this summer’s European Championship finals.
Jack Butland will be left out of Birmingham City’s squad for Tuesday night's FA Cup third-round replay against Leeds to avoid the goalkeeper being Cup-tied and damaging his chances of a £6 million move this month.
Birmingham need to raise significant funds to avoid going into administration and Lee Clark, the manager, has dropped Butland to increase the chances of a sale. Reserve goalkeeper Colin Doyle will play in his place.
Fulham have emerged as the Premier League club most likely to bid for the England international but are understood to have reservations about the asking price. Birmingham rejected £6 million from Southampton in the summer but would now be prepared to accept a similar offer, with the promise of further instalments taking the deal to around £8 million.
Butland, who made his debut for England in last year’s friendly against Italy, has also been regularly scouted by Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Everton but has made it clear he will only leave St Andrew’s to play first-team football.
BIRMINGHAM boss Lee Clark admits not even a money-spinning tie with big-boys Tottenham would ease the pressure to sell players.
Clark is set to leave out keeper Jack Butland again tonight as the cash-strapped Blues face Leeds in their FA Cup third-round replay.
Butland is wanted by Fulham, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester City.
A lucrative home date with Spurs awaits the winner and ESPN have already decided to screen the game, meaning a £200,000 TV windfall.
Clark said: “Could it help in terms of who might stay?
“No. I would have thought if it was a possibility it might have been put to me but it certainly hasn’t been.”
Liverpool are giving a trial to Norway defender Vegard Forren with a view to a possible move.
There had been suggestions Forren was booked in for a medical at Melwood on Tuesday ahead of a £4.2million move from Molde but that is not the case.
He will train with Brendan Rodgers’ squad from tomorrow for a short period. Should he impress, the 24-year-old could yet be signed during the transfer window.
Forren has been on the radar of a number of English clubs in recent months, most notably Liverpool's local rivals Everton.
Manager David Moyes watched him twice in the space of two weeks in November, once when Norway played Hungary in Budapest, the other when Molde played FC Copenhagen in the Europa League. Moyes took three of his coaching staff on the latter trip.
Rodgers, though, has been looking to strengthen Liverpool’s defence in January, particularly as he will allow Sebastian Coates to move on loan if a suitable opportunity arises.