Sam Allardyce is confident that Everton’s collection of returning stars can help the Toffees get “better and better” under his command.
Yannick Bolasie provided a steady stream of menacing deliveries into the box during Friday night’s FA Cup tie at Liverpool, where the winger turned in a direct and enterprising display as he completed 90 minutes for the first time since November 2016.
Bolasie’s comeback over the festive period coincided with the return to fitness of James McCarthy, who was characteristically energetic and aggressive as he played all but the final four minutes of last week's Merseyside derby encounter.
Manager Allardyce is also tentatively optimistic of having more of his walking wounded available at different junctures this term, with full-back pair Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman both working towards fitness, alongside Argentine defender Ramiro Funes Mori.
Centre-back Michael Keane and 28-year-old midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye were both ruled out of the fixture across Stanley Park – but neither player is expected to be missing for an extended period.
“I did not want to keep them [Bolasie and McCarthy] on the pitch for that long,” said Allardyce.
“As soon as I saw James was starting to stretch his calves he had to come off, but he did a brilliant job. And Yannick was worn out. I think he needed to go in an oxygen tent because he actually did far, far too much compared to what he really should have done.
“But, hopefully, that will get him up to speed quicker than we expected and James, hopefully, can have a run of games and stay fit.
“And with others coming back, I still believe we will get better and better, so let us hope they get back as quick as they can.”
Allardyce felt Everton deserved more than to go down to a late defeat against Liverpool – with momentum having swung in the Blues’ favour after Gylfi Sigurdsson skilfully struck to equalise James Milner’s penalty, before Virgil Van Dijk headed in with six minutes to play.
But the manager nevertheless drew further encouragement from the way his younger players performed in a typically competitive and high-quality derby skirmish.
“We had some young lads on that pitch who were not overawed – Jonjoe Kenny, Mason Holgate, young Ademola Lookman who came on [for Wayne Rooney on 52 minutes], and Dominic Calvert-Lewin up front – so we have a lot of young players," added Allardyce.
“And Jordan Pickford is only 23. So to perform like that, with those lads playing a part in the side and the experienced players playing to that [high] level... I am pleased with the level of performance we are beginning to hit. I just think that the final third is still a bit of a problem for us.
“I think the midfield and defence, and our defending as a team, were very, very good – but we have got to start delivering better quality to create more chances, become better finishers and score more goals. Then we will win more games.”
The Cup defeat means Everton must now switch their full focus to the Premier League, with Allardyce having overseen a rise up to ninth in the table following his appointment six weeks ago.
And the boss could potentially have Turkish hotshot Cenk Tosun available when the Blues resume their top-flight campaign at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.
Twenty-five cap international Tosun completed his move to Goodison late on Friday night – and Allardyce is pleased to have beefed up his attacking artillery.
“I hope Cenk's part can be played instantly,” said Allardyce. “But he might need some time to settle in. I am not heaping pressure on him, I am just hoping he can deliver straightaway – but if he cannot we will have to be patient.
“He is an all-rounder, with good movement. He is two-footed, not the biggest but efficient in the air and in the box. He gets good space to get his head on the ball.
"We will try to break him in gently – but I do not think you can break anyone in gently in January. It is a case of get in, get your sleeves rolled up and get on with it!”