Everton manager David Moyes will be sweating on the fitness of Australia midfielder Tim Cahill this week after witnessing the effects of his absence from his line-up. Cahill was forced off at half-time of Saturday's 3-1 victory over Stoke City with a calf strain which initial reports suggest should not be too serious.
Everton were leading 2-0 at the time, through goals from Jo and Joleon Lescott, but almost threw away the lead after the interval. With Cahill sidelined, Stoke scored through Ryan Shawcross and might have equalised before Marouane Fellaini put the outcome beyond doubt in the 90th minute. With Everton still competing for a place in Europe, not to mention the FA Cup final, another injury to a key player, in a season which has featured so many, is the last thing that Moyes would want.
"Tim was a miss," said Moyes. "He had a slight pain in his calf, so he came off and he was a miss to us because he is a threat in both boxes, and defending set pieces for us is a big part of his game.
"And maybe there was a bit of complacency crept in, that can happen. But Stoke are the type of team who can score quickly out of nothing. They got better and we had to hang in there. Thankfully, we did.
"We have played West Brom, beaten Blackburn and Newcastle recently and they haven't been great football exhibitions," Moyes added. "But we're in a period of winning games. We've not quite got the flow we'd like, but we will take wins any time."
Impressively, Everton have now lost just once in their last 18 league and cup games and Moyes concedes that his team will need to maintain that form to achieve the success they have in mind.
"We just want to keep going," said Moyes. "There are nine games left, so there is still a long way to go. If we want to catch the teams above us then we will have to win the majority of those games, so we put this one under our belt and move on again."
Despite their impressive second half performance, Stoke are still searching for their first away win in 15 attempts to date this season and have collected just four points on their travels all term. Those statistics may make grim reading as City slumped into the bottom three on goal difference on 14 March, but manager Tony Pulis insists that he remains optimistic about his club's survival chances.
Pulis said: "Away from home, we have started slowly on lots of occasions. I don't know whether it's a lack of belief in the team or going to new grounds. I was desperately disappointed with the first half; we didn't throw any punches and just sat back and let Everton take the initiative.
"And winning away might be a block we have got to get over. But our destiny is in our own hands, which is brilliant with nine games to go. People have been writing us off since the beginning of the season, but we have nine to go, five at our place, which gives us a fantastic chance of staying up."