Leighton Baines is convinced Everton will reap plentiful rewards from allowing winger Yannick Bolasie to “go and express himself”.
Bolasie started his fifth successive match in Saturday's 1-1 draw with Swansea City, as the 28-year-old ramps up his comeback from the serious knee injury which sidelined him for more than 12 months.
The former Crystal Palace man was a thrusting presence in the Blues’ attack in south Wales, providing valuable width and consistent ambition in possession.
Both of Bolasie’s shots drew saves from Swansea’s accomplished number one Lukasz Fabianski, with his burst into the box and subsequent goalbound strike causing significant panic in the hosts’ rearguard in the lead-up to defender Kyle Naughton’s 43rd-minute own goal.
Baines’ late free-kick was inches from locating substitute Ramiro Funes Mori’s back-post run and restoring the Toffees’ advantage after Jordan Ayew had levelled with 19 minutes to play.
The full-back, then, was left with conflicted feelings over the game’s eventual outcome, even more so given fellow defender Seamus Coleman saw a shot cannon back off the crossbar on 75 minutes.
But he was delighted to further cement his left-sided relationship with Bolasie, who has also had a huge hand in goals against Brighton & Hove Albion and Stoke City in the past five games, as well as blasting home a terrific opportunistic strike in last month's clash with Premier League champions Manchester City.
“Yannick is another player who has been disrupted with his injures and such a long layoff,” Baines told evertontv.
“When you have that type of injury it is always going to take you a bit of time to get back up and running and get your legs back under you.
“He has started to do that and is someone I know, that if I give him the ball, I just have to support him from behind. He is good to play with. He is always a threat for us and keeps the opposition full-backs busy.
“Yes [Bolasie’s confidence is rising]. He has had a few good performances, set up a few goals and scored as well.
“That will give him confidence and he has started to show that on the pitch with the positivity in his play. That is the type of player he is. He is someone you have to allow to go and express himself. If you tried to stifle him it would take so much away from his game, so you just have to let him go and play.”
Bolasie’s purposeful running against Swansea won Everton two free-kicks deep in opposition territory, while he also strode forward to tee up Wayne Rooney for a second-half effort which the Blues midfielder struck narrowly off target.
Everton directed the thick end of 45 per cent of their attacks down their left flank – with 31 per cent of forward raids launched on the right and 24 per cent aimed through the middle.
Yannick Bolasie's heat map at Swansea City shows his work-rate down the left flank
Defender Baines was a driving force behind his side’s attempts to win the match following Ayew’s equaliser. The 33-year-old, playing his 399th match for Everton and starting a 314th Premier League game for the Club, was advanced into a wing-back role by boss Sam Allardyce, who paired Theo Walcott with Cenk Tosun in a two-pronged forward line in a bid to find a decisive goal.
Baines swung in five crosses – more than any other player – while, on the other flank, Coleman, in addition to hitting the woodwork, was responsible for creating a further two chances for teammates.
The experienced pair were called on to do their share of defending, too, completing three interceptions and three clearances between them. Baines also applied a vital touch to divert a first-half Jordan Ayew effort off target.
The Liberty Stadium draw edged Everton to within one point of Leicester City in eighth and – against a Swansea team that had inflicted defeats on Liverpool and Arsenal in the course of winning its previous four home games – represented a solid result following victory at Stoke City last time out on the road.
“We could have won the game – but could have played better once we were 1-0 ahead: been better with our possession and kept them off a bit more,” added Baines.
“But we knew Swansea would always be pushing if they got in that position [a goal behind] because of the situation they find themselves in, fighting for their lives.
“We are a bit disappointed but we hung in there in the end. We will take a point back and we have a home game coming up [against Newcastle in seven days]. Our home form is great and we will look to go and win it.”