LEIGHTON Baines is still not over his ankle problems but Everton boss Roberto Martinez has stressed both he and John Stones are set to play major roles for the club between now and the end of the season.
Ankle surgery meant Baines did not make his first appearance this term until December, and the 31-year-old full-back has recently been spending time on the bench, with his last start coming in late January.
That was also the most recent time Stones was part of the first XI, the 21-year-old centre-back initially being sidelined by a hamstring issue and then joining Baines among the substitutes for the last two games.
With only two goals conceded and five wins registered over the last six matches, Everton have fared quite well without the pair, who are looking to be part of England’s Euro 2016 squad.
However, Martinez - while revealing Baines is to see a specialist over continued ankle pain but still likely to be available for Saturday’s home clash with West Ham - has emphasised both men are “vital” for the Toffees.
“Those two are vital for our future plans and for us to be successful from now until the end of the season, they are going to be a big part of that,” the Spaniard said.
“With Leighton, we have a little bit of a worry - he has been carrying a little bit of a niggle in his ankle and we have to make sure that gets right.
“Since the surgery, it has been giving him a little bit of soreness and managing that pain at times has been a little bit difficult.
“When he came on against Aston Villa (on Tuesday) he felt at times he had to play through the pain, and we have to make sure we solve that, because it is very unfair on Leighton.
“We will see a specialist, but it shouldn’t stop him from training.
“John is still a very young man who has already played the biggest amount of minutes he ever has in his professional career.
“So it’s important he is fully refreshed and ready for the final push in the campaign.
“He is a very important footballer for us.”
Baines’ fellow left-back Bryan Oviedo is to be assessed ahead of Saturday’s Barclays Premier League contest after sustaining a knock in the 3-1 win at Villa, along with midfielder Tom Cleverley, who missed that match due to illness.
Muhamed Besic and Darron Gibson could also make their returns to action in the game.
The visit of West Ham will be the first home fixture Everton have had since it was announced billionaire Farhad Moshiri was acquiring 49.9 per cent of the Goodison Park outfit.
Martinez has reiterated it is an exciting development for the club, while stressing they are not losing anything in terms of their “soul”.
He said: “This is a really exciting time for us, one of the most significant moments off the field that has happened for Everton and a really important time for our future.
“This is going to be the first home game and I’m sure Mr Moshiri will be around with our fans very soon, and everyone will get to know him.
“What is important is we haven’t lost anything in terms of the soul of our club. The chairman (Bill Kenwright) is going to be very important in terms of advice and experience.
“I don’t think he (Moshiri) will be there on Saturday, but he may be there for one of the next three games.”