Mirallas keeps Everton's hopes alive

Posted by Alistair Tweedale, WhoScored.com

Kevin Mirallas celebrates after giving Everton the lead at SpursGettyImagesKevin Mirallas celebrates after giving Everton the lead at Spurs

Alan Hansen boldly predicted on Match of the Day that Everton would finish fifth in the table this season after the show had just aired highlights of the Toffees' victory over Queens Park Rangers at the weekend. There might have been an element of not wanting to offend the Everton manager - his fellow Scot - who happened to be sat right next to him on the panel of pundits, but with Everton only three points off Spurs and Chelsea in fourth and fifth place, it doesn't seem like too terrible a shout. As WhoScored.com can point out, things are going well for David Moyes' team, and their destiny is well and truly in their own hands.

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Each of Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs have dropped points more recently than Everton, who are five games without defeat at present and are thus on the longest current unbeaten streak in the top flight (along with Southampton). While Arsenal look well set - having won seven of their last eight matches - to complete a top-four finish, and Chelsea have a great chance with the extra game they have to play, both have yet to host Everton and those games could prove crucial. The Chelsea-Everton clash comes on the final day of the season, by which time the contest might well be decided, but Everton are certainly in with a chance of obtaining Champions League qualification against the odds.

With Nikica Jelavic struggling for goals this season - particularly in the second half of the campaign - and the early season form of Marouane Fellaini petering out somewhat, other members of Moyes' squad have had to step up and take control. Victor Anichebe is a handful for defenders he comes up against and has been a more than adequate deputy for the underperforming Croat striker, but it has been Kevin Mirallas that has stood out in recent weeks. Having arrived on Merseyside last summer, the Belgian winger has only completed a full 90 minutes three times in the Premier League, but he has become a significantly more important member of the squad in the last couple of months.

He set up Anichebe's goal in the 3-3 draw with Aston Villa at the beginning of February before netting the third in a comfortable win over Reading a month later. Everton then beat reigning champions Manchester City at Goodison Park, with stand-in goalkeeper Jan Mucha starring with a WhoScored Man of the Match performance. In the midst of such an impressive win, Fellaini and Steven Pienaar picked up two-match suspensions, and Everton's notoriously thin squad would be tested to its limits with tough upcoming games against Stoke and Spurs.

It was in those games that Mirallas' quality really shone through. Against Stoke, Everton failed to dominate possession in a way the Potters are used to playing against. Stoke have averaged a mere 41.1% possession on their travels this term, and managed a relatively grand 46% at the ground of a team who were still firmly in the hunt for Champions League football. Moyes opted for two up front in the absence of Fellaini and Pienaar, yet his side still lacked a lethal scoring touch, and it was Mirallas who provided the only goal of the game, netting a superb individual effort, picking the ball up in his own half after a Stoke set-piece. A vital three points kept Everton's run going.

Then onto White Hart Lane, facing a Spurs team without Aaron Lennon or Gareth Bale, but again themselves without Fellaini or Pienaar. Whilst Phil Jagielka scored from a corner, Everton struggled to retain possession; their 68% pass success rate was the worst they have had in a Premier League game this season. Similarly, going forward they lacked a cutting edge with Anichebe amongst those to spurn good goalscoring chances. Mirallas, though, popped up once again with a brilliant solo effort, twisting and turning to wrong foot the back-tracking Steven Caulker before firing past Hugo Lloris. But for a late equaliser, Everton were so close to three points that would have meant they were now level with Spurs in the league.

They still have a couple of great chances to make up ground on those directly above them though, beginning with Tuesday's trip to the Emirates, for which those previously suspended star men will be back, and fresh for the challenge. This will be another game when the Toffees won't register much possession, with Arsenal up there with the best of the league in terms of keeping hold of the ball. However, with Mirallas and his team-mates finding form, and a fully available fit and healthy squad, they could well pick up at least a point at a ground where the Gunners have only dropped points in two of their last nine outings. Two of Everton's three counter-attacking Premier League goals this season have come in their last four matches, and they may well need the likes of Mirallas to add to that on Tuesday night.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

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