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MAROUANE FELLAINI'S commitment to the Everton cause has never been in doubt in the dressing room, insists Phil Jagielka.
The Belgian midfielder was so determined to make amends for his controversial display in Everton's FA Cup quarter-final fiasco that he played with an ankle injury in the following victory over Manchester City.
Fellaini produced a pointedly fierce show of commitment to help set a dominant tone for the Blues last Saturday, although consequently received the booking which will rule him out of the next two fixtures against Stoke and Tottenham.
However, Toffees vice-captain Jagielka believes the 25-year-old deserves more credit for his displays this season in a role which has seen him regularly targeted by opponents.
He said: "Felli has taken all the beatings for us throughout the season and he will feel sometimes like the world is against him. Sometimes it has been.
"You can forget he is not that old. He hasn't grown up in the Premier League for all his career and hasn't been at this level as long as others.
"He had a painful ankle problem before the City game and he could have milked it and missed the game before disappearing off on international week. But he was desperate to play.
"He strapped himself up and put in a great performance. You cannot question his commitment."
Prior to his side's vital triumph over the reigning champions last Saturday, David Moyes admitted that he did not consider dropping Fellaini because he needed his best players on the pitch, and Jagielka hopes his team-mate can maintain the sort of influential contribution when he returns from suspension to help Everton's European charge.
"We know what sort of person he is and I'd like to think most fans would consider what he's done for the club this season," said the England defender, who is hoping to be in contention for a return against Stoke next weekend, if stitches in his ankle have healed enough.
"We can forgive him for five minutes of ultra frustration which bubbled over. It's good to see that he's up for it because when he's like that it makes us a lot stronger as a team."
FOR more times than he cares to dwell upon, Phil Jagielka has been forced into watching from the sidelines at a crucial point in Everton's season.
The Blues central defensive lynchpin and vice captain had been a vital part of his club's bid for European football this season, until a rash tackle from Reading's Adam Le Fondre earlier this month left him consigned to the treatment room.
He has suffered a similar fate at around the same stage in three of the last four seasons, missing an FA Cup final, semi-final, and this term's disastrous quarter-final.
But the upbeat 30-year-old is at least hopeful of being back in action sooner rather than later this time around - even if he is concerned about the current uncertainty surrounding tackling in the Premier League.
One thing is certain - as an old-school type footballer Jagielka loves a tackle, and would be reluctant to trash a fellow pro for getting stuck in.
But the England centre-back admits his concerns about the ambiguity generated by the FA's treatment of Wigan's Callum McManaman - who escaped censure for his terrible lunge on Newcastle's Massadio Haïdara last Sunday after the FA claimed one of the match officials had seen the incident, even if not the full extent of it.
"I didn't see Le Fondre's as a particularly bad tackle," says Jagielka, who is able to run in training again but must wait to see how stitches to the deep gouge in his ankle heal, before determining whether he will be fit to face Stoke City next weekend.
"I got to the ball before him and as I've kicked it, I've kicked his studs as much as he stands on my ankle. It happens. I've caught people late in the past.
"I was hopping into the tunnel hoping to get it stitched and come back out to play but when I took my boot off I realised. Still, he apologised and there was no malice in it.
"McManaman's is a really tough one. It was not the best tackle by a long stretch, and if he had been suspended no one would have grumbled about it. It's strange that there has somehow been a reason not to take action.
"The issue is too clouded. Now you can guarantee that in the next few months an incident will crop up and the FA will try and take retrospective action. Then someone will try and prove that an official saw it and so they can't do anything about it.
"It's a hard enough job being a referee or referee's assistant as it is - now this makes it harder to get consistent conclusions with things like this."
Jagielka was equally frustrated by Lee Probert's decision to dismiss Steven Pienaar - who along with Marouane Fellaini will now miss the next two games - for a second bookable offence against Manchester City last Saturday.
Replays seemed to suggest City's Spanish midfielder Javi Garcia over-reacted to the South African's 61st minute challenge, and Jagielka has sympathy for his team-mate.
"Steven knew he had already been booked and couldn't afford to mistime another one," he says.
"So as much as the guy made a meal of it, that's the football world we live in now. Not many will get up and brush themselves off and shake your hand.
"Steven's got to hold his hands up and say maybe he shouldn't have given the referee the chance to give him the card. But if you look at the two second bookings which have got him sent off this season (against City and QPR in October), overall he has been hard done by."
The victory over the reigning champions may have therefore come at a cost to personnel, but Jagielka says it was crucial.
"It was a very important game," he says. "It reminded me of the Manchester United game at Goodison earlier in the season, how we grew into it and really imposed ourselves.
"The lads were great. Jan made some good saves but nothing out of the ordinary. You could tell how important it was for us - maybe more so than it was for City.
"To have lost it or only got a point would have been tough after the previous week, and going into a long international break. Fair play to the manager he did well before the game to prepare the team, and the boys went out and proved we are a good side.
"We might lack that little bit of extra quality right throughout the squad but we can beat anyone on our day, and we showed our togetherness."
Jagielka believes it was important to remind the squad how well they had started the season, which is just what Moyes did with a special morale-boosting highlights film before last weekend's triumph.
"We normally try and forget about the start of the season," he says. "But this season we've been playing well for a far more prolonged spell than in a long time. Maybe six months now.
"There will be the odd game when it doesn't happen, and it was important for the manager to show us that has been quite rare this time. It helped the lads who had played well earlier in the season but whose form had dipped lately too.
"It was an ultra positive move and it was what we needed."
A fraught FA were doing all they could on Thursday to keep a lid on the controversy of Rio Ferdinand going on a 15-hour round trip to Qatar for TV work having withdrawn from the England squad to manage his back problems.
But Phil Neville, the latest part-time addition to the FA coaching staff, will be sitting alongside Ferdinand in the Doha headquarters of Al Jazeera on Friday.
Everton's Neville, who will be working as an assistant to England Under 21 boss Stuart Pearce at the European Championship in June, has also been signed up by Al Jazeera to work as a pundit for their Arabic broadcast of San Marino versus England.
But Neville going to Qatar during the international break at Al Jazeera's expense - his analyst fee is understood to be around £4,000 - is a lot less contentious than Ferdinand's misconceived venture.
Al Jazeera's pulling power is demonstrated by their pundits line-up of Michael Owen, Terry Venables and Alan Shearer for the England versus Montenegro game next Tuesday, albeit for the English language version from their London studio. Ferdinand and Neville's views will be translated into Arabic.
David Moyes believes Leon Osman has earned his place in the England squad because the midfielder has been ‘carrying' Everton this season.
Osman could add to the cap that he earned against Sweden in November last year if he plays in the upcoming games against San Marino and Montenegro.
Moyes believes the 31-year-old is finally getting the recognition he deserves: "I am delighted for him because he has been one of the players who has carried us for a lot of the season, he really has. Yes, at times he has dipped under his best like all players will do, but so far this season he has been very good.
"It's good that Roy's continued to pick him because he was first picked at a time when he was really in top form [against Sweden in November] but it's been tough for Leon because for a lot of the season he's been the one who's carried the team.
"His performances have been excellent. Whatever we've asked him to do - we've asked him to do different jobs at times - he's done it, he's come up with some important goals and he's had his best season at Everton for me.
"He's been exceptional and I'm delighted he's been given another call up by England."
Speaking to everton.co.uk, Moyes expressed his concern over the number of games Osman has played this season.
"Ossie, if you were being fair would probably be the one who, if anyone, could probably do with a week off just now because he's played all the games.
"He's been doing all the fetching and carrying for the team and he's taken a lot of the burden in terms of responsibility this season. We just hope he can keep that going for another couple of months."