David Moyes is confident that his captain, Phil Neville, and his South African midfielder Steve Pienaar will both be fit to face Chelsea in the FA Cup final at Wembley on Saturday.
Both players were withdrawn early from Sunday's 2-0 win at Fulham with hamstring problems, but Moyes confirmed yesterday: "I don't see there being any great problem for either of them unless something changes in training."
Everton last won the cup in 1995 before the "big four" took a stranglehold, winning it every season from 1996 to 2007 inclusive. Portsmouth last year broke that sequence, and Everton are just one win away from their first trophy for 14 years.
Pienaar has been in superb form in the last two months while Moyes believes Neville has been instrumental in helping to transform Everton into the fifth force in English football.
"I've worked and played with some really good professionals but in recent years Phil would be the best professional because he prepares for every game like it is a final, not just the final," he said. "From that point of view he has been excellent."
Moyes signed Neville in 2005 when he had become surplus to requirements at Old Trafford despite playing a role in winning six Premier League titles, three FA Cups and the Champions League in 1999.
It took time for him to settle at Goodison, where he was handed the responsibility of captaincy. But Moyes says that Neville "has had probably his best season at Everton". Moyes added: "He came with such high standards from the club he left that maybe even the players and supporters didn't realise the levels he wanted to take the team to, and he has done that. He has taken the team to extraordinary heights with his leadership."
Neville's brother, Gary, was a shock inclusion in Fabio Capello's England squad, announced at the weekend. Phil (with 59 caps) could arguably make as good a claim, if not a better one, than Gary for a place in the squad. He has been a key figure in a stable Everton team all season while Gary has not featured regularly at United.
But Moyes said he was "not really" surprised that Phil was not picked. "I have been too concerned with ourselves to really worry about who has been picked for England. My job is to pick the Everton team, not England. Phil has got to the stage where he won't get picked for England again. He knows that as well. But for consistency and reliability he has been great. I'm just pleased he is playing so well for us."
Neville spent 11 years at Manchester United, playing 263 league games before seeking a fresh challenge that could yet have its first major sporting reward this week.Reuse content