The loss of Mirallas underlines his recent improvements
Reports first emerged late on Monday, with worst fears confirmed on Tuesday afternoon: Kevin Mirallas is out for the rest of the season through injury, having torn his groin in the win over Manchester United. The winger will miss the trip to Southampton, the visit of Manchester City, and the potentially crucial final day clash at Hull.
While it goes without saying that there is never a good time to get injured, this setback is especially cruel with Mirallas turning in arguably his performance of the season against United on Sunday.
- Report: Mirallas to miss rest of season
United's Alex Buttner can attest to that, as Mirallas and Seamus Coleman ran him ragged throughout the match. The exquisite finish for Everton's second underlined the quality that the former Olympiakos man possesses.
The Belgium international remains something of an enigma, nonetheless, regularly dividing opinion among supporters. Capable of the brilliant and the banal, consistency has always been his biggest stumbling block.
Earlier in the season, there were times when Mirallas seemed unable to put one foot in front of the other. His attitude was that of a petulant schoolboy and his performances fell short of both his and the fans' expectations.
The conundrum facing manager Roberto Martinez is the same one former boss David Moyes faced after signing Mirallas. At his best, he is an automatic pick, a vital cog in this attacking machine. At his worst, he is a liability, yet offers a steady stream of goals and assists.
During an injury-hit debut season, there were three assists and six goals, not a bad return for a player adjusting to a change of surroundings and several trips to the treatment room. The standout moments were the solo goals against Stoke and Tottenham towards the end of the season.
This season was different on the fitness front, however. Injuries had taken a back seat until this cruel blow. As mentioned, though, while early season form flattered to deceive, Mirallas has delivered more often than not since Christmas.
The definitive turning point was the mauling at Anfield that saw Everton thumped 4-0 by Liverpool. Mirallas shone despite the carnage around him. While his teammates crumbled, Mirallas was relentless, trying to influence the match on the ball and never allowing Liverpool to settle off it.
This came after goals against Norwich and West Brom and a man-of-the-match display in the FA Cup against Stevenage. There are or were, at long last, signs of the player clicking into top gear.
Some of the team's attacking statistics reflect the greater consistency shown this campaign. Mirallas sits atop the creativity charts, a place usually reserved for one of the left-sided duo of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar. Nobody betters his 61 chances created for teammates this season; Baines is second on 44 with Coleman third on 42.
Mirallas also leads the way on assists, posting eight, with Romelu Lukaku next on six, Gareth Barry on four and a clutch of players on three. Add in his eight goals, which is a total only Lukaku on 13 can improve upon, and it is clear Mirallas has built on his first season.
The key for next season, with Mirallas spending forthcoming weeks returning to full fitness, is ensuring that the improvement in terms of consistency persists and becomes the norm. There were occasions when the loss of Mirallas would not have concerned too much -- some as recent as a few months ago -- but it is testament to his upturn in form that this is a big blow for Everton and Martinez.
Still, as one door closes another opens -- or at least that's probably how Martinez would see it -- and the Blues are fortunate to have, in theory, the strength in depth to cope. This is a chance for Aiden McGeady or Gerard Deulofeu to leave their imprint on the last leg of the closing stages of this European push.