It is a perilous period in Everton's season. As the run-in looms most teams have prioritised their most important goals, and can make decisions accordingly. For example, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal clearly have Champions League qualification firmly in the forefront of their minds, with at least a fourth place finish as the ultimate goal.
Manchester United, with the league seemingly firmly in hand would have focused on Champions League glory if not for what could best be termed a harsh red card decision. And, at the other end of the table the priorities are equally clear for QPR, Reading, Aston Villa, Wigan and Southampton. Avoid relegation at all costs.
Everton, however, are caught in the middle. With the outside possibility of Champions League qualification still alive, they cannot afford to overlook any of their last 10 league matches. But, at the same time, with qualification only a remote chance, the FA Cup still remains the team's best hope for concrete accomplishment. Thus, while Wigan seems set to run out a team of back-ups and fringe players this weekend at Goodison, David Moyes is likely to rotate his squad little, if at all, and rely heavily on the first team stalwarts who have carried the team this far.
The concern, of course, is that in chasing all avenues of success, Everton will once again be left holding an empty bag. The wear and tear on the paper thin squad has almost certainly been a large contributing factor to Everton's second half malaise, and it remains to be seen if they have the legs to continue to fight on all fronts, a probably only exacerbated by Phil Jagielka's recent injury. Before being subbed off last weekend, the stalwart defender had played every single minute of the season for the team.
The combination of games ahead and lack of depth is what makes the reemergence of Kevin Mirallas and Seamus Coleman on Everton's right so important. The injury riddled seasons that both have suffered have left them with fewer minutes on their legs than other first team regulars. At a time when the usually dynamic left sided combination of Pienaar and Baines have seemed alternatively worn down by fatigue and crowded out by defences, it is the balance provided by Mirallas and Coleman which has led to Everton's last two victories against Oldham in the FA Cup and Reading in the league.
Whether Coleman and Mirallas can duplicate their performances against stiffer competition remains to be seen, and this week's test against Wigan won't tell is anything definitive either. It is safe to say, however, that if the right sided duo can't continue to carry the load then Everton will be forced to choose where to focus their limited energy, or risk falling short universally once again.