Sam Allardyce hailed Seamus Coleman after the Republic of Ireland right-back impressed on his first appearance since breaking his leg as Everton beat Leicester City 2-1 at Goodison Park.
Allardyce handed Coleman his first competitive appearance since suffering the injury on international duty 10 months ago, and the 28-year-old produced an energetic display.
Theo Walcott scored two first-half goals before Jamie Vardy’s penalty set up a nervy finish, but Everton held on to the victory – and Allardyce singled out Coleman for praise.
Speaking after Everton’s first win since December 18, Allardyce said: “Bearing in mind Seamus has been out for 10 months, to be as fit as that is really impressive, and what about that run at the end?
“It was a very important win for us today, and him coming back is a great boost. He’ll be dead on his feet tomorrow. With Arsenal coming up so quick, he’ll want to play but I’m not so sure that will be right for us. We’ll have a look and see how he recovers.
“I spoke to him at half time and told him to play with his head. If you feel yourself fatiguing, give us a wave and we can bring Jonjoe [Kenny] on. But when you see him still running forward at the end, he showed that he was right and he was wrong!
“We just need to get a few better combinations down the left-hand side but were defensively quite sound. There was a bit of a panic giving them a penalty, which was a bit silly because we had been very comfortable.”
Everton have closed the gap of eighth-placed Leicester to three points, but more importantly the club are now eight points clear of the relegation zone in a heavily congested bottom half of the table.
The man-of-the-match performance from Walcott will raise hopes of a strong end to the season, and Allardyce was also satisfied with the efforts of Oumar Niasse despite the striker missing several gilt-edged opportunities.
The Blues boss added: “Theo could’ve scored a hat-trick in the end, and Oumar could’ve scored a hat-trick himself and he couldn’t score one, but I was very pleased with his work-rate.
“For us, it’s all about trying to improve from here as we’ve taken a bit of pressure off ourselves. We’re into single figures in terms of the number of points to get over the finish line which is survival first and then we’ll see how we go.”