IT wasn’t just his incredible unbeaten Premier League record that followed Darron Gibson down the tunnel at the Hawthorns back in September.
With him went an integral cog in Everton’s defensive solidity that has been difficult for David Moyes to replace.
In the 14 Premier League games in which Gibson has appeared since arriving from Manchester United in January, Everton have conceded 13 goals, although the most recent three against Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion were when the Irishman had been substituted.
And since Gibson suffered his thigh strain, the Goodison outfit have conceded the same amount in only nine league games, shipping two goals in five of them.
So the news the Republic of Ireland international is approaching full fitness will be a welcome boost to Moyes given the injury that will keep Phil Neville out until the New Year.
While admitted for his fine range of passing and explosive shot, Gibson’s perceived lack of mobility has been highlighted as a negative. But it means the midfielder is rarely caught out of position and offers a valuable shield to the back four.
With Ross Barkley back from a successful loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday and short-term signing Thomas Hitzlsperger given his opportunity, the Goodison manager will explore his different central midfield options with Everton facing a defining spell of nine Premier League games in the next six weeks.
Moyes could also do with a fit Tony Hibbert. Seamus Coleman has progressed this season, but against Fulham and at Reading last weekend, he has been at fault for goals that have cost Everton points.
Coleman continues, at least defensively, to learn the hard way. The return of the ever-reliant Hibbert would at least ease the burden on the youngster.