ABSENCE makes the heart grow fonder. And the notable lack of Kevin Mirallas from Everton over the past few months has served only to underline the excellent business in bringing the Belgium international to the club during the summer.
Mirallas made his long-awaited return to action with a 24-minute cameo in the second half of the goalless draw at Southampton on Monday night.
Even in that short period, the difference made was evident as his pace stretched the Saints backline and created space in which Everton almost snatched a smash-and-grab victory.
Mirallas had previously played just 45 minutes in almost 10 weeks after aggravating a hamstring problem during his comeback match against Tottenham Hotspur.
Of the 11 league games he sat out, Everton won only four. Perhaps more pertinent was that they drew six.
As Moyes admitted last weekend while lamenting the Belgian’s lengthy spell on the sidelines, Mirallas offers something extra to the attack that no other player in the squad can, the cutting edge and unpredictability that can turn that succession of draws into victories required to sustain a challenge for Champions League qualification.
Indeed, arguably not since Andrei Kanchelskis have Everton possessed a talent that has the potential to simply scare opposing defences into submission.
It’s not just down the flanks, however, that Mirallas excels, his versatility making him a danger through the middle, the Belgian having replaced an out-of-sorts Nikica Jelavic at St Mary’s.
“It was great to see him back,” says skipper Phil Neville. “It showed when Kevin came on, when their defenders dropped off a little bit, that they knew there was a player with pace.
“He brought others into the game. I thought Victor Anichebe made a huge change as well, causing them problems, and that was important for us.”
For around £6million, Mirallas would seem to represent a snip, another piece of inspired business by Moyes and the Goodison recruitment team.
The Everton manager hinted after Monday’s game that Mirallas was now in line for a starting role in Saturday’s FA Cup fourth round trip to npower Championship side Bolton Wanderers.
It’s the start of what Neville regards as a significant week for Moyes’s men, who battened down the hatches on the South Coast after a torrid first half to emerge with a point.
“We got a draw and we are drawing too many games, but it’s better than a defeat,” says the captain, who celebrated his 36th birthday on Monday.
“We have a big week coming up. We have West Brom and then Aston Villa at Goodison, so they are three big games for us. But we are looking forward to it.”
While Everton have already sold out their away allocation of almost 5,000 tickets – and many more will no doubt be dotted around the Reebok – Bolton still expect a crowd of only 17,000 for the tie in a stadium that holds more than 25,000.
Nevertheless, Neville says: “It’ll be a tremendous atmosphere.
“They're a Premier League side with a Premier League stadium, even though they’re playing in the Championship, and we'll need to show better form and better concentration than we did against Southampton.
“I'm sure we'll be okay and we'll be backed by a lot of fans, so that will spur us on as well.”