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Leighton Baines struggling to regain Everton spot ahead of West Brom clash

West Bromwich AlbionWest Bromwich Albion
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Everton's Leighton Baines faces the first serious competition for his long-established left-back spot after manager Roberto Martinez admitted he has been reluctant to change a much-improved defence.

The England international sat out the FA Cup fourth-round tie at Carlisle because of a minor knock but has not been able to displace Bryan Oviedo from the team after three consecutive 3-0 victories. The Costa Rican's recent performances have been rewarded with a new three-and-a-half-year deal, which he signed on Friday.

Everton have produced 11 clean sheets in all competitions this season but the fact three of those came in the last three matches convinced Martinez there was no need to disrupt the back four despite Baines being fit again.

The 31-year-old has been an unused substitute for the last two games and, while he will be hoping for a recall for the visit of West Brom, Martinez has offered no guarantees.

"Leighton had a really tough period with being out with an injury for such a long spell for the first time in his career," said the Toffees boss.

"He came back, got the rhythm slowly and he got in a very good amount of games in a short period of time but he had a knock against Carlisle and probably needed a bit of a breather.

"It was never a need to change the back five, it was the (same) back four plus keeper who kept a clean sheet against Carlisle after a difficult period in our defensive duties.

"Leighton is a very experienced and important footballer for us and we will all get the benefit of having him fully fit and ready to go to fight for his place."

While Baines is likely to remain on the bench, a late decision will be made on the fitness of goalkeeper Tim Howard and defender John Stones ahead of the visit of the Baggies.

The pair, out with knee and hamstring injuries respectively, have not featured in the last three matches and remain doubtful.

Midfielder Muhamed Besic (hamstring) is still absent and is unlikely to return for another couple of weeks while deadline-day striker Oumar Niasse has to prove his fitness before being considered having not played since December when the Russian league shut down.

Meanwhile, Tony Pulis insists West Brom's troubles in front of goal are down to failing to take chances, rather than struggling to create any.

The Albion boss has seen his team fail to register a single shot on target in three of their last four Barclays Premier League matches.

Pulis thinks the statistic is misleading and not a true reflection of how West Brom have been playing.

He denied his side are suffering from a creativity crisis and blamed the low number of shots on target recently on his players' wastefulness.

"It is a negative and we're very good at finding negatives in this country," said Pulis.

"We've had loads of shots, we just haven't been hitting the target. We had more shots than Aston Villa (last weekend) but Villa had two on target and scored two goals."

West Brom are the lowest scorers in the Premier League with 23 goals in their 25 games and statistics suggest that Saturday's trip to Goodison Park presents an ideal opportunity to improve that record.

Martinez's men have conceded more home goals (22) than any other team in the top flight but Pulis, with a squad beset by injuries, reckons his "walking wounded" could struggle on Merseyside.

Gareth McAuley's was the most noteworthy injury sustained during the FA Cup replay with Peterborough. He came off with a hamstring problem and will be out for about two weeks.

McAuley joins fellow defenders Chris Brunt (calf), Jonny Evans (hamstring) and Craig Dawson (ankle) on the sidelines, although the latter has a slight chance of being involved at Goodison Park.

On-loan pair Sandro and Alex Pritchard return to the squad after being ineligible in midweek.

"We're a team who needs our best players fit," he said. "With our best players fit we can win games without a question of a doubt.

"Our concern is making sure we get a team on the pitch. It's just looking at the team that's available. We'll see what's what."


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