Leighton Baines is targeting Capital One Cup glory after emerging from a seven-month injury nightmare.
The 30-year-old England international played a cameo role in Everton’s 2-0 quarter-final victory at Middlesbrough on Tuesday evening when he replaced Brendan Galloway for the last 17 minutes - his first competitive football since May.
Baines underwent two operations on his damaged ankle during a lengthy lay-off but is now desperate to play his part in a second half of the season which the Toffees will approach with eager anticipation.
He told evertontv: “We’re excited about where we are at the moment and we’re looking forward. This run is something we’re all excited about - you could see that in the way we played and the support we brought up.
“There are no easy rides and we are prepared for that. We are made up to be in the [semi-final] draw. We’re not far off from where we want to be in the league as well.
“We’re a few good results away from getting back in the mix for the European positions and there’s no better time to hit form than now over the Christmas period.”
Everton booked their place in the last four with the minimum of fuss at the Riverside Stadium as the made Barclays Premier League class tell.
It was not that Sky Bet Championship promotion hopefuls Boro did not play well but rather that, in their star men, Roberto Martinez’s team simply had too much for them.
The brilliance of Spanish midfielder Gerard Deulofeu paved the way for victory as he opened the scoring with a superb solo effort before tying makeshift left-back Fernando Amorebieta in knots to deliver the cross from which Romelu Lukaku completed the win with just 28 minutes gone.
But while Martinez was pleased with that aspect of his side’s performances, he was even more satisfied with how they managed the remaining 62 minutes three days after squandering 2-0 and 3-2 leads at Bournemouth.
However for Baines, it was a thrill simply to be back involved in senior football after his frustrating lay-off.
He said: “It was great to get back out on the pitch. It has been a long time for me - it’s getting on for seven months now since I last played any competitive football - so it’s nice to be involved and back out on the pitch.”
Boro boss Aitor Karanka had no complaints about either the result or his team’s performance and as he turned his attention back to the task of winning promotion back to the Premier League after a seven-year absence, there were words of support from compatriot Martinez.
The Everton boss said: “Middlesbrough had a terrific few years and then they lost their way a little bit and Aitor Karanka, what he has done as a foreign man - which is very, very difficult - is to understand the needs of the football club, understand what the fans want and he’s put together a team that it’s just a matter of time before they get back into the Premier League.
“For me, that’s a terrific way of managing, managing like you are going to be at a football club for 100 years, setting up a philosophy, a way of working that clearly is going to be very enjoyable for the fans and for the players and very successful.”