THEY might never build a statue of John Heitinga at Goodison and his name may not go down in Royal Blue folklore – but at least he will always have the eternal gratitude of 5,000 Evertonians.
It may have been boos which greeted the introduction of the out-of-favour Dutch international for Nikica Jelavic towards the end of Everton’s FA Cup fourth round tie at Bolton, but the away end was exalting him to the heavens 10 minutes later.
Heitinga saved those hardy Blues who descended on the Reebok Stadium on Saturday from having to sit through a replay of a game which will be memorable for the explosive way it ended and nothing else.
Prior to the 91st minute, Everton’s cup credentials had seemed as enduring as the snowmen which were slowly melting into slush outside the ground.
David Moyes’ side remain off-colour and this was, the first 20 minutes aside, a drab companion piece to the apologetic performance at Southampton.
Fortunately you don’t necessarily get silverware for playing pretty football.
The Toffees enjoyed a promising start with Kevin Mirallas restored to their starting line-up for the first time since early December, but when he limped off yet again any fluidity from the visitors quickly evaporated.
Yet if there’s little doubt that this is a sticky spell for Everton, they’ve developed a promising knack of avoiding defeat no matter how poorly they perform.
Maybe it’s karma. Cast your mind back to the autumn when Everton were regularly out-playing teams with scant reward, the solitary point after demolishing Newcastle at Goodison in particular.
The last two results suggest that misfortune is beginning to even itself out.
The Blues started with a phase of almost total dominance when they poured forward at will, and seemed to have recaptured the spark which was so lacking on the south coast.
Moyes had persevered with Jelavic and the Croatian formed a partnership with Victor Anichebe, who started in confident fashion thanks to his much improved form.
The Nigerian international went close with a header, and Mirallas tried his luck as Bolton left-back Marco Alonso probably began to wonder what he had let himself in for.
The Spaniard needn’t have worried. Mirallas lasted just 17 minutes before signalling to the bench that his hamstring was troubling him, and had to be replaced by Magaye Gueye. It was a bitter blow, but the gloom was swiftly eased when Everton took a fortuitous lead moments later.
Anichebe turned Zat Knight smartly and his blocked attempt was deflected past Bolton keeper Andy Lonergan by Steven Pienaar.
Instead of galvanising the Premier League outfit the goal only fired up their hosts, and Dougie Freedman’s players began to probe with ever ominous intent.
By the half hour mark, with Bolton in the ascendency, their spirited response was rewarded.
The impressive Darren Pratley was left by Marouane Fellaini to escape down the right and his low cross was turned in expertly at the near post by Marvin Sordell.
Then Tim Howard had to be at full stretch to deny the resurgent hosts as Pratley tried his luck with a fierce effort from range. So it continued until the break, with lacklustre Everton fortunate to still be on level terms as they headed in for a dressing down.
Suitably chastised, the Blues emerged early for the second half and tried to up the tempo, with Pienaar and Leighton Baines exerting gradually more influence.
But Bolton remained a threat on the counter, and Howard had to be alert on several occasions, particularly when thwarting Alonso.
But Bolton’s goalkeeper Lonergan had to be nimble too, particularly to tip Pienaar’s smart effort over the bar, as the Blues playmaker started to pull the strings and find space in dangerous areas.
Still the game wore on with a replay looking ever more likely as Everton’s momentum faded. Moyes had hinted before the contest that he was minded to rest the mis-firing Jelavic, and although he changed his mind it was the Croatian who made way for Heitinga prompting the disapproval of the travelling Toffees.
It proved to be the decisive change, and Heitinga will at least remember the contest fondly – even if few others will. Bolton failed to clear Baines’ corner and the man who has gone from Everton’s player of last season to periphery man reignited his prospects with a thumping strike.
It wasn’t all he ignited either – a celebratory flare was released among the throb of ecstatic supporters who made more noise than the trickle of home supporters had done all afternoon.
Never mind – it wouldn’t be an authentic cup run without a game when it nearly all went wrong before scraping over the line.
In the end cup football is all about winning – and in the very end that’s just what Everton did.