By Rob Stewart
Former Everton manager Joe Royle believes in-form striker Nikica Jelavic could prove to be the difference when his old club face neighbours Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Saturday.
Everton have been beaten twice already this season by their local rivals in the Premier League but as the teams vie for a place in next month’s final Royle tipped Jelavic to give David Moyes’ side the bragging rights this weekend.
The 26-year-old Jelavic has already scored five times for Everton since his £7 million move from Scottish giants Rangers during the January transfer window and Royle believes his cutting edge could be crucial against Kenny Dalglish’s side.
“Everton beat Manchester City when City were supposed to walk all over them and it didn’t happen because they were very workmanlike and very honest," Royle told Goal.com.
"Now they have got a goalscorer they have got a bit of flair about them and an extra threat in the penalty box.
“Nikica Jelavic has come in, settled down very quickly and he has scored goals and he looks very promising.
"Marouane Fellaini and John Heitinga are in the best form that they have been in since they arrived at Everton so Everton are strong and probably the form side going into the game.
“The minus is that Steven Pienaar is not available because he is Cup-tied and he has been terrific for Everton but on the other hand Liverpool will have their third-choice goalkeeper in between the posts in Brad Jones and he has not got an awful lot of games behind him recently.
“He looked nervous against Blackburn. It is hard for him to come in. In fact it is hard to come in in any position but when you have been out of the mainstream as he has it will certainly be a difficult game but it is too hard to call this one.”
Liverpool beat Everton 2-0 at Goodison Park in October before running out 3-0 winners thanks to a Steven Gerrard hat-trick last month but Royle – who guided his old club to FA Cup glory in 1995 – believes that results will count for nothing at Wembley.
"Now Everton have a goalscorer they have got a bit of flair about them & an extra threat in the penalty box. Jelavic has come in, settled down very quickly & has scored goals - he looks very promising."
“So I don’t think there will be an inferiority complex as far as Everton are concerned. I think that Everton will be right up for it because they are in such good form and Liverpool have been struggling for form.“Derby games are always too close to call but particularly Everton-Liverpool games,” Royle added.
“I know Liverpool won the game at Anfield recently in quite a convincing manner but it was a strange game with Everton fielding a weakened side with the quarter-final against Sunderland coming and they will certainly be a lot stronger this time.
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“Despite winning at Blackburn the other night they were not overly convincing at times. Kenny knows himself that they are going to have to up it because Everton are a lot stronger and more resilient than Blackburn were.
“David Moyes is a very methodical manager. As all managers are these days he is a firm believer in the importance of organisation and he starts with that. Despite that 3-0 defeat at Anfield, Everton are generally hard to get at.
“Nobody really gets at Everton and the bigger the game in the league the bigger the team they have generally risen to the challenge. So Everton will be a hard side to play against.”