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DAVID MOYES has urged Everton supporters to pack Goodison and roar their side back to Wembley this weekend.
Moyes’s men aim to secure their fourth appearance at the national stadium in four years when they entertain Wigan Athletic in their FA Cup quarter-final.
The Everton manager was hugely impressed by the turnout by the Goodison faithful for the recent midweek fifth-round replay win over Oldham.
And he believes a full house for Saturday’s early kick-off can help seal a second successive semi-final appearance.
“It was a terrific crowd for the Oldham game. It was a midweek match that was live on terrestrial television, which most people have in their homes, and for us to have nearly 33,000 at the game shows the level of support we have here at Everton.
“Filling the stadium and getting behind the players in the run-in could make the difference to a strong finish to the season.
“For me, it has always been more important to be a good league side than a good cup side. But the FA Cup has got an excitement about it and everyone wants to get to the final, and we are no different.”
Jan Mucha is on standby to once again deputise for Tim Howard in goal with the United States goalkeeper still struggling with the back injury suffered in the replay win over Oldham.
Howard’s absence from last Saturday’s 3-1 home win over Reading meant he ended just two games short of equalling Neville Southall’s club record of 210 consecutive Premier League appearances.
Everton’s triumph was only their second in seven league games and moved them just two points behind fifth-placed Arsenal in the one guaranteed Europa League qualification berth.
And Leon Osman believes the Goodison outfit are rediscovering their verve following a difficult few months since the turn of the year.
“We have had a bit of a sticky patch for the last month. You find it hard to go through a whole season without having one of those. Hopefully now we have got a few players back, Kevin Mirallas is in form, so hopefully we can get back up and running.
“It wasn’t doom and gloom, though. We are still sixth in the league and in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, so it shows the high standards that a defeat or two – one of which was to Manchester United – is counted as a sticky patch.”
Everton were held to a 2-2 draw at Wigan in October before narrowly winning the Boxing Day return 2-1.
And Osman added: “The two games we have had against Wigan have been right up there with the toughest we have had this season.
“We have taken four points from the games but they haven’t come easily and we know what to expect come Saturday.”
Meanwhile, Everton youngster Jake Bidwell has had his loan spell at Brentford extended by a further month having already spent much of the past 18 months at the npower League One promotion hopefuls.
HE WAS the star performer the last time Everton FC won a major trophy, and the man who converted the most valuable penalty in Wigan Athletic’s recent history.
So when his two former clubs go head to head this weekend, with a place in the FA Cup semi-finals at stake for the winner, is it fair to suggest that David Unsworth can’t really lose?
The answer, it seems, is a resounding ‘no’. He may retain an affection for Wigan, but his five-month spell in Lancashire pales when compared to the dozen years, and the two stints, spent in the Royal Blue of Everton. Unsworth knows exactly where his heart will lie come Saturday afternoon.
“It will always be Everton for me,” he says. “It’s where I spent the majority of my career, it’s where I had my best days, and it’s the club I will always follow.
“I had a good time at Wigan towards the back end of my career, and I’ve got a lot of time for the club. It’s a great club, and it is wonderful to see them continuing to punch above their weight in the Premier League.
“But come Saturday, the only result I will be hoping for is an Everton win. I would love nothing more than to see them go all the way – and I wouldn’t mind a nice trip to Wembley with my pals to watch them either!”
Unsworth was a fresh-faced 21-year-old the last time Everton lifted the FA Cup. His performance against Manchester United in the final at Wembley, in which he stifled the threat of Mark Hughes, marked him out as one of English football’s brightest prospects. Three weeks later, he made his England debut in a friendly against Japan.
And though he would go on to make more than 500 career appearances, the bulk of them for Everton, that summer of 1995 remains a high point.
The 39-year-old, though, says he is desperate to see that class of 95 emulated by the current Everton side. And he believes that this season presents as good a chance as any.
“I’ve just got this feeling for Everton this season,” he admits. “Which is strange really, because I’m not usually like that!
“I just think that with the way the cup has gone this season, and with the team Everton have and the way they have been playing, they have a great chance.
“They had a little bit of a wobble at the turn of the year, and they have dropped a few points of late, but at this stage of the competition a home draw is all any side could ask for. Wigan are a decent side on their day with some very good players, but Everton have got to fancy their chances. I certainly do.
“Then once Wigan are out the way, the hope is that they can avoid the big boys in the semi-finals and draw the winner of the Millwall versus Blackburn Rovers tie. Of course they will have to beat one of the big sides if they are to win the cup, but you’d rather face them in the final then the semis, that’s for sure.”
Unsworth is currently head of coaching at League One side Sheffield United, overseeing the development of an Academy that has produced a raft of talent in recent seasons. Matthew Lowton and Kyle Walker came through the ranks at Bramall Lane and are now Premier League regulars.
So too, of course, is another former Blade, Phil Jagielka. The centre-back will be missing for Everton this weekend, following the ankle injury sustained against Reading on Saturday. Unsworth sees the England man’s absence as a big blow, but has backed Johnny Heitinga to step in as cover, despite the Dutchman’s recent woes.
“Being without Jagielka is a big loss,” he says. “He has been consistently excellent for them this season, so he will be missed on Saturday.
“But Heitinga is an international centre-half. People forget that. I know he’s had a few problems, but on his day he is a class defender, and Everton should have no worries about asking him to fill in.”
IT WAS the penalty which decided the future of two clubs. Bramall Lane, driving rain, May 2007. David Unsworth, representing Wigan, stepped up against Sheffield United, the club he had left just four months previously. Both were staring down the relegation barrel.
Score, and Wigan would stay up. Miss, and United were safe. He had missed a penalty for the Blades earlier in the season, but this time, in Wigan colours, he found the net (left). United have not been back to the Premier League since.
“I never had any worries over taking penalties,” says Unsworth. “For me, it was a free shot from 12 yards, a free goal. I’m always amazed when I see strikers refusing to step up, to be honest.
“That Wigan penalty (left), I never really considered its importance. To me, it was just a penalty that needed to be scored. I suppose when you look back on it, it was a really important one, but it didn’t feel that way at the time.
“Leighton Baines is the man now, where penalties are concerned. He strikes the ball cleanly – a lefty, like me – and he always seems cool and calm. But like I say, to me, it amazes me that strikers don’t grab the ball whenever there’s a penalty.”
Though his career was forged more on stopping goals than scoring them, David Unsworth boasts one Premier League record to be proud of.
With 38 goals, he ranks as the highest-scoring defender in Premier League history, comfortably clear of the likes of John Terry, Ian Harte and William Gallas.
Of course, 22 of those strikes came via the penalty spot. Not that Unsworth ever had a problem with stepping up from 12 yards of course.
FA CUP success could be the catalyst to convince David Moyes to remain at Everton FC beyond the end of this season – according to former Blues favourite David Unsworth.
Moyes’ Goodison Park future remains uncertain. His current contract expires in June, and the Scot, who is approaching 11 years in charge on Merseyside, has insisted he will not be making any decision on a new one until the end of the current campaign.
Everton, of course, remain keen to tie the 49-year-old to a new long-term deal at the club. They host Wigan Athletic this weekend looking to book their place in the semi-finals of the FA Cup – and with it a trip to Wembley – for the second successive season.
And Unsworth, who was part of the Blues’ 1995 cup-winning side, believes glory this season could convince Moyes to extend his Goodison stay. He believes every Evertonian should be desperate to retain his services.
“I don’t think there would be anything better than a trophy to convince David to stay,” Unsworth said.
“As an Evertonian, and someone with a great affection for the club, I am desperate to see David Moyes stay at Everton.
“He hasn’t signed a new deal yet, and he may well be waiting and seeing, but I’m sure if they can end the season with an FA Cup win, it will have a major bearing on his decision. It would be a massive factor.
“He deserves success as much as any manager.
“The work he has put in at Everton over the last 11 years has been nothing short of phenomenal.
“I know (Everton chairman) Bill Kenwright will be desperate to keep David at the club, and pretty much every Evertonian feels the same. Bill will be doing everything he can to convince David, but the team can give him a big helping hand by carrying on their progress.”
EVERTON striker Chris Long featured for England U18s as they ended their season with a narrow 1-0 defeat to Belgium on Tuesday.
Long played the full 90 minutes for Noel Blake’s side in La Louviere, and will return to Finch Farm for this weekend’s game with Manchester United.
Kevin Sheedy said: “It’s great for Chris to be involved with the England set-up, and recognition for the hard work he puts in every day.
“He’s been at Everton since he was six years old, so it is recognition not just for him, but also for the staff members who have helped his development throughout his time.”
Meanwhile, young Blues duo Jonjoe Kenny and Ryan Ledson have been named in the England Under-16 squad for the annual Montaigu Tournament in France later this month.
“Both have been big players at both U16 and U18 level,” added Sheedy.
STEVEN PIENAAR has urged Everton youngster Ross Barkley to make his mark as manager David Moyes juggles a wafer-thin squad in the Premier League and FA Cup.
The England Under-21 midfielder is back at Goodison Park following loan spells in the Championship with Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds. Moyes is not blessed with a big squad, and Pienaar believes it is time for Barkley to step up and seize his chance.
He said: “I’ve had a word with Ross and still believe he’ll be one of the best players in a few years if he pushes himself. He has the skill, but we can’t just keep on praising him; he has to do it himself.”