Leighton Baines says sheer hard graft on the training ground was responsible for his dynamic performance in Everton’s victory over Lincoln City.
Left-back Baines returned to the team for Saturday’s FA Cup third-round tie and needed all of 12 minutes to exert a telling influence on the game.
Baines charged forward to collect a pass from Idrissa Gana Gueye and deliver a cross onto the head of Ademola Lookman, who embroidered his own livewire display with a skilful finish looped over goalkeeper Josh Vickers.
Captain-for-the-day Baines continued in the same vein all afternoon, his man-of-the-match contribution to Everton’s 2-1 win a mix of impeccable defending and characteristically bold attacking. His consistent presence in Lincoln territory, explained Baines, was down in large part to the nature of a contest between two teams separated by 57 positions in the league pyramid.
“I felt good, I always try to look after myself and get in all the work I can, in case I am ever called on,” Baines told evertontv.
“I enjoyed being back out there and was feeling good right through the game.
“The way football is now, it has got more tactical as the years have gone on, so instructions are game specific. There is nothing set in stone that you would apply to every game.
“The game we had on Saturday, you would expect to dominate the ball and get forward and try to supply some of the forward lads with opportunities.
“I was able to do that and playing with someone as good and intelligent as Bernard always helps.”
Baines dovetailed expertly with both Brazilian Bernard and England Under-21 international Lookman, the two goalscorers who swapped wings for an extended period in the opening 45 minutes.
The full-back mixed up his attacking play, Baines’ work a masterclass in sound decision making as he alternated between slipping clever passes infield and providing quality service directly into the penalty area.
Bernard’s cute finish had Everton 2-0 up on 14 minutes but Lincoln were back in it shortly before the half-hour when centre-back Michael Bostwick feasted on the scraps at a set-piece.
Marco Silva’s side was in the ascendancy for the remaining hour, albeit the Blues had to survive a couple of scares from the impressive and dogged League Two leaders to seal their berth in Monday’s fourth-round draw.
Baines was pleased his side achieved their “main objective” on the day, which was to progress in the competition at the first time of asking.
Viewing the whole picture, he hopes Everton’s win can act as the spur for a fruitful run of form.
Silva’s relatively new-look team – the manager brought in six outfield players following his appointment last summer and is implementing a fresh style of football – found the going tough over the festive period. Everton won one of five Premier League matches following a 10-game top-flight spell when they had five victories and three draws.
“It is the nature of the league we now play in,” said Baines, who made his 409th Everton appearance against Lincoln but first start since October 2. “It is ultra-competitive. A while ago there were games you would be big favourites to win.
“For the past couple of years teams have got results at places you would not expect. It is becoming more of the norm and every game is difficult.
“And there is the element of everyone still getting to know each other a bit more. It comes down to fine details and that might be one of them.
“We knew the main objective [against Lincoln]… was to win and get in the next round. We did that.
“We started well enough and got a couple of goals up. It looked like it was going to be a comfortable afternoon and we probably made it more difficult for ourselves than it needed to be. But you have to give Lincoln credit for getting back in the game and making life difficult for us.”