Leighton Baines says Cuco Martina deserves “great credit” for his performances at left-back during the 33-year-old’s absence from the Everton side through injury.
Baines made his comeback in the Blues' convincing 2-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion on 10 March, setting up Cenk Tosun for the second goal at Goodison to cap an impresssive performance in his first outing for more than three months, and retained his left-back spot in Saturday's 2-1 success at Stoke City.
The clash against the Seagulls was the first time Baines had played under manager Sam Allardyce after suffering a calf injury at Southampton on 26 November. In his absence, natural right-footer Martina deputised at left-back, drawing praise from the Toffees boss for his performances in the role.
Indeed, until the win over Brighton - which saw Everton take their home record to 23 points from the past 30 available - Martina had played every minute under Allardyce since he took charge in late November.
And Baines was full of admiration for the way the 28-year-old adjusted to playing in an unfamiliar role, revealing the difficulty for full-backs to adjust on opposite flanks.
“I played right-back once and I know how tough it is,” he told evertontv. “People might think it is the same position but it isn’t. Your bearings are different. And I think he played really well in a lot of the games.”
Baines has produced accomplished defensive displays in the two matches he has played since his return alongside Phil Jagielka, Seamus Coleman and Michael Keane in defence while linking up with Yannick Bolasie to carry an attacking threat.
While deputising for Baines, Martina also showcased his ability to defend assiduously and break into the opposition half – most notably when he set up goals for Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Oumar Niasse with pinpoint left-footed crosses against Arsenal and Crystal Palace respectively.
Speaking to evertonfc.com
last month, Martina – who signed for Everton last summer after leaving Southampton – explained how he had been working tirelessly on the training pitch with first-team coach Duncan Ferguson on improving his left foot
. The Curacao international also revealed he had been meticulously studying match footage with assistant manager Sammy Lee.
This hard work at USM Finch Farm was evidenced in how Martina grew into the left-back role and Baines was eager to recognise his performances.
“I think he has done very, very well,” Baines added. “He deserves great credit for the work he has done in the past few months.”