Aaron Lennon says it is “great to be back playing football” – and revealed how a conversation with David Unsworth paved the way for his Everton first-team return.
Lennon started Unsworth’s first three matches in charge – away trips to Chelsea, Leicester City and Lyon – and produced a valuable cameo from the bench when his trickery earned the Toffees’ match-winning penalty against Watford on Sunday.
Prior to Unsworth assuming the helm, Lennon had been restricted to 61 minutes of football across three substitute appearances this term. The winger's start in the Carabao Cup tie at Chelsea last month was his first since the Premier League victory over Southampton on 2 January.
“It has been brilliant,” Lennon told evertonfc.com. “I had not played for a while but the gaffer brought me back in and it is just great to be back playing football – and to be with the lads again.
“He (Unsworth) has been great. He spoke to me straight away and said, 'I want you back in the team'. He has been brilliant for me and it has been great to be back.
“I missed a lot of football – but you just have to keep training hard and hope you will get your chance.
“Physically, I felt quite fit (at Chelsea). My match fitness was slightly down, but my overall fitness did not feel too bad. It is a tough game any time you play at Stamford Bridge!”
“The manager wants us to be on the front foot with a lot of high pressing. That is a big part of my game, I enjoy that. I enjoy working and pressing. You can see the lads have bought into it.”
Lennon joined the fray against Watford with the score locked at 2-2, after Oumar Niasse and Dominic Calvert-Lewin had struck to wipe out goals from Hornets pair Richarlison and Christian Kabasele.
The 30-year-old won the decisive penalty when he astutely manipulated the ball to outwit Jose Holebas, with the Greek defender tumbling and dragging his opponent to the floor.
Lennon’s impudent piece of skill drew praise from Match of the Day pundits and former England striking pair Alan Shearer and Ian Wright – although the former Leeds man admitted he entered the pitch with some pretty straightforward instructions ringing in his ears.
“The gaffer said to me, ‘try to win us the game’,” said Lennon, who has 21 England caps and represented his country at both the 2006 and 2010 World Cup finals.
“I got us the penalty and Bazza (Leighton Baines) put it away. It was an important win for us… and it felt great.
“I did not see the analysis but it has been mentioned! I just tried to come on and win the game, to create a little moment... and I managed to do that.”
Goodison Park was in characteristically raucous mood on Sunday, three days after 3,000 Evertonians had travelled to watch the team take on Lyon in south-east France.
Lennon insists the support for his team is second to none – and is grateful for the backing he has had from the Club’s fans since he arrived from Tottenham on an initial loan deal in February 2015.
“The fans have been great for me ever since I have been here,” said Lennon. “And not just me, for the whole team. Whenever we play, at home or away, the fans have been excellent. They really do help us.
“We said it in the dressing room after the Watford match: once the Goodison crowd gets going, it is not a place any team wants to be.
“It is brilliant for us, it lifts us. You could see how the lads were buzzing on Sunday
“We went two goals down but the fans were still with us. We kept going and got what we deserved in the end.”
Everton Football Club has released a special commemorative range of clothing to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Goodison Park.
The Goodison 125 range is available now online at evertondirect.com and in-store at Everton One and Everton Two.
Browse the range or order by clicking here.