Any awkward decision Roy Hodgson has to make about Ashley Cole ahead of the latest World Cup qualifiers can at least be reached in the consoling knowledge that he has an understudy enjoying the best form of his career.
Leighton Baines, who covered for an injured Cole in the win in Moldova and the draw at home to Ukraine last month, was hailed by Everton manager David Moyes as the driving force after his side twice fought back from behind to salvage a point at Wigan. It will come as reassuring news for the England manager if the fallout from last week's Twitter outburst leaves the Chelsea player on the sidelines again for Friday's match against San Marino at Wembley. Baines may not draw the comparisons with Paolo Maldini that Hodgson made when talking about Cole as a footballer last week, yet it takes an exceptional left-back to influence a team in the way Baines has performed during Everton's fine start to this season.
The penalty from which he scored the second equaliser three minutes from time on Saturday merely rounded off an outstanding performance against his former club, particularly in combination with left-side midfielder Steven Pienaar.
"I thought Leighton was extraordinary, excellent today," Moyes said. "He kept pushing and driving us on. It is hard to say whether this is the best he has played but he has been doing consistently well and playing like a leader in the team, taking responsibility and doing a lot of good things. He was at the heart of everything we did."
Wigan captain Gary Caldwell joined in the applause, disappointed though he was after seeing Arouna Koné put his team ahead after nine minutes and set up Franco di Santo to restore their lead after 23, following Nikica Jelavic's fifth goal of the season for Everton.
"Without a doubt, [Baines] is the best left-back in the Premier League," Caldwell said. "He's the one player in their team you would target. When you look at their team and the left-back is their most attacking player, that shows he must be doing something right."
Hodgson was considering making Cole captain should the match in Poland a week tomorrow bring his 100th cap – he is currently on 98 – but the player now faces potential disciplinary action after labelling Football Association officials "twats" on Twitter and his selection is in doubt.
Baines, whose deliberately low off-the-field profile precludes him even having a Twitter account, reacted with typical modesty when told of Moyes's high praise.
"I don't know about that," he said. "In the second half, with Sylvain [Distin] coming on, it freed me up to feel more confident and try to drive us forward a little bit. Having Steven [Pienaar] at one side, Sylvain the other, you definitely feel good when you've got players like that around you."
Wigan: AL-HABSI 7/10; RAMIS 6; CALDWELL 6; FIGUEROA 6; BOYCE 6; McARTHUR 6l McCARTHY 6; BEAUSEJOUR 7; KONE 7; DI SANTO 7; MALONEY 8
Everton: HOWARD 7; BAINES 9; JAGIELKA 7; HETTINGA 5; COLEMAN 7; PIENAAR 8; NEVILLE 6; OSMAN 7; MIRALLAS 7; FELLAINI 6; JELAVIC 7
Goals: Wigan Koné 10, Di Santo 23. Everton Jelavic 11, Baines pen 87. Subs: Wig McManaman (Di Santo, 84). Eve Distin 7 (Heitinga, h-t), Anichebe (Neville, 81), Naismith (Mirallas, 90). Booked: Wig Maloney, McCarthy. Eve Fellaini, Baines, Jelavic, Neville, Anichebe. Man of match Pienaar. Match rating 8/10. Poss: Wig 46%. Eve 54%. Attempts on target: Wig 3. Eve 7. Ref K Friend (Leicestershire). Att 18,759.
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