Everton hopeful of Phil Jagielka return
Everton captain Phil Jagielka is on course to end an injury absence of more than two months by facing Manchester City in the Premier League on Saturday, manager Roberto Martinez has said.
But Jagielka's central defensive partner Sylvain Distin is rated only 50-50 to play as the Toffees seek to secure a place in Europe next season.
Both defenders have been struggling with hamstring problems, and neither featured in last Saturday's 2-0 defeat at Southampton. England international Jagielka has missed 11 matches and has not played since the 1-0 loss at Chelsea in February.
Martinez initially suggested that the 32-year-old was close to a return at the end of March but his comeback date has continued to be pushed back, with the manager reluctant to risk aggravating the problem.
Jagielka played 30 minutes in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Walsall a week ago in a bid to build up his match fitness, while Martinez has revealed that Everton have held discussions to reassure the Football Association that the centre-back will be fit to play for England at the World Cup.
Distin, who sustained his injury during the 2-0 win over Manchester United earlier this month, has a chance of figuring in Everton's final two matches.
Martinez told Everton's official website: "Phil has done really well in his programme and has developed strength in his muscles. He looks completely regenerated and is desperate to be available.
"It will be a late call whether he is available or not, but I would be surprised if he doesn't make the squad for Saturday.
"Sylvain Distin again is pushing himself to be available. We need to carry on with the programme that he has and make sure that the treatment is bringing a good effect.
"I would say he is 50-50 for the weekend -- but now we have hope that we will see Sylvain before the seasons ends, which is a fantastic bonus."
Martinez's hopes of Champions League qualification have all but disappeared as Everton lie four points behind fourth-placed Arsenal, who beat Newcastle 3-0 on Monday, with two games remaining.
But they will ensure a place in the Europa League if they can secure a point from either of their final two matches, at home to Manchester City and away to Hull.
Everton will be without on-loan City midfielder Gareth Barry on Saturday, as he cannot face his parent club under Premier League rules, but left-back Leighton Baines is set to figure despite suffering a knock to his knee late on against Southampton.
Martinez said: "Leighton did incredibly well on Saturday to be on the pitch after having a knock because he had some discomfort in his knee. We had the tests and the scans, and everything is very positive.
"He's going to be treated over the next few days to see how he responds, but we don't expect any major problem so we hope he can be involved in Saturday's game."