An England recall is on the cards for Leighton. (©PAphotos)
by Tom Moore
, read by 514 people.
Leighton Baines may not consider 2010 to have been the most successful of years so far after failing to make the cut for England's World Cup squad.
Despite making his full international debut against Egypt in March and playing an active role in the following warm-up games, Stephen Warnock - a player who hadn't been capped for two years - was preferred at the expense of Baines.
At club level, however, Baines has well and truly established himself as the best Everton left-back in several years and has become a vital part of David Moyes' team.
The Kirkby-born defender moved to Goodison from Wigan in 2007 for a fee of £6m, though the form of other defenders combined with an injury meant it wasn't until the 2008-09 season that Baines began to cement his place in the side.
As Everton recovered from a poor start to finish 5th in the league and reach the FA Cup final, Baines began to strike up a formidable partnership with Stephen Pienaar down the left wing. The quick interchange of passing between the two combined with the left-back's overlapping and natural tendency to attack became one of the team's most potent attacking threats and remains so two seasons on.
This was evident in the final minute of Everton's win at Birmingham earlier this month. Instead of playing for time to protect the 1-0 lead as many others may have done, Baines won the ball outside the box and surged forward, playing a beautiful ball in for Tim Cahill to seal the victory, Furthermore, Baines was the top provider of Everton's goals last season with an impressive 14 assists.
It was also during this season that Baines notched his first goal for Everton, a sweetly struck left-foot free-kick that curled into the Portsmouth net in March 2009, a goal not dissimilar to the one scored at White Hart Lane last weekend. His ability from the penalty spot also began to shine through; first through a remarkably cool penalty amongst the unbearable tension of an FA Cup semi-final penalty shoot-out, and secondly in the final minute of a game against former club Wigan early the following season which secured a first victory of the campaign.
As valuable as these attacking instincts are, it is Baines' consistently solid defensive work that is most overlooked. Rarely does he get caught out, combining a will to get forward with a strong positional sense and excellent defensive tackling evidenced by a superb disciplinary record. In 2009-10 he was booked twice in 48 games, missing just one game through injury.
Playing full-back can often be a thankless task. They can be undervalued and overlooked for player season of the awards as more glamorous positions receive the plaudits, but the importance of Leighton Baines to Everton should not be underestimated, especially given the current lack of cover at left-back.
As such he is one of the most important and consistent players Everton currently possess, and while he continues to be overlooked at international level, there is certainly no danger of Evertonians forgetting Goodison Park's Mr. Reliable.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.