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Roberto Martinez issues challenge to Sylvain Distin

The defender is back in the first-team picture, but he needs to fight for his place.

Paul Thomas

It has been a funny old few weeks for Sylvain Distin. For the past few seasons the 37-year-old Frenchman appeared to have halted the ageing process, defying his advancing years with a string of impressive performances at the heart of the Everton defence alongside captain Phil Jagielka.

The former Man City and Portsmouth defender maintained his pace over five yards, meaning that combined with his speed of thought and excellent positioning, he was a very tough player to get past.

Time, unfortunately,appears to have finally caught up with Distin this season though, if his performances so far are anything to go by.

Everton have conceded 16 goals in the five games he has featured in this season. And although it is unfair to blame one individual for a team's collectively poor performance, there can be no doubt that Distin has been below par since August.

His last game was an error-strewn display against Swansea in our annual Capital One Cup capitulation; he hasn't been seen since.

Rumours were abound that Distin had been told to stay away from training after some sort of bust-up with Roberto Martinez.

Martinez played down reports of a disagreement, but did confirm the defender had taken some time off. The true reasons why I guess we may never know, but it certainly seems relations have been strained recently.

He was welcomed back into the first-team fold by Martinez last week, the Spaniard confirming Distin was available for selection.

However, he didn't even make the bench for Saturday's win against Aston Villa, despite John Stones' injury. Antolin Alcaraz instead starting alongside Jagielka.

Martinez's latest comments suggests Alcaraz will stay there, barring (another) injury, meaning Distin has to impress in training if he is win his place back.

Martinez was quick to praise Distin and highlight his value to the squad though, meaning it is now up to the defender himself if he wants to add to his 197 appearances in a blue shirt.

The boss said:

"He’s involved, he is training but at the moment we have a lot of games and he needs to fight for his place.

"He is an important player to the squad but he has been on the sidelines for a long time. He is training really well, but just sometimes you need to make the decision on who has looked sharpest in training.

"I think for Antolin it is the first time he has had a solid 16 weeks of work with no niggles or problems. He looked really, really sharp in training so it was just that he was probably a little ahead in his match fitness than Distin, who had a little knock and a few times not training.

"Antolin looked ready for the opportunity and he showed everyone he is ready to fight for his place and I was very happy with his performance.

"Distin in a very important player and he will carry on that way. Sylvain is always there to help the youngsters, give good advice and he has lasted so long as a professional because he understands that in football you need to be at your best and ready to compete.

"Nobody is better than Sylvain at understanding that."