Arouna Kone nears Everton return

Arouna Kone is close to putting 13 months of injury misery behind him after travelling to Germany as part of the Everton squad for Thursday's Europa League meeting with Wolfsburg.

The Ivory Coast international striker has not played for the Toffees' first team since October 2013 after suffering knee ligament damage that required surgery.

That injury came three months after the striker left Wigan to join Everton, for whom he has still not started a Premier League match.

He did appear to be close to a comeback after playing 80 minutes for the club's Under-21 side against Chelsea on Sep. 14.

But having been named as a substitute for a Capital One Cup tie at Swansea nine days later, he complained of pain during the warm-up and embarked on an extended recovery programme.

Manager Roberto Martinez insisted at the end of October that there were no concerns about Kone's career, and the 31-year-old appears to be closing in on a comeback at last.

He played 45 minutes for the Under-21s as they drew 1-1 with Celtic in a Premier League Under-21 International Cup match at Goodison Park on Tuesday, and has flown to Germany for the Europa League Group H match.

Martinez told a news conference: "We had really good news on Arouna. He participated in an Under-21s game yesterday and came through really well for 45 minutes.

"He is going to be part of the squad tomorrow and that is fantastic news. We've been really clear with the individual programme we gave him and the Under-21s game fitted really well with that.

"I saw him so free and mobile that I think he is now ready to be involved with the first team."

A draw in Germany would be enough to take Everton into the Europa League knockout stages with a game to spare, while a win would ensure they finish top of Group H.

Forward Steven Naismith is out with a hamstring injury, and Martinez rates him "50-50" to be ready for Sunday's Premier League trip to Tottenham.

Full-backs Leighton Baines (hamstring) and Bryan Oviedo (leg) has not travelled to Germany, and neither have midfielders Gareth Barry (ankle), Steven Pienaar (groin) and Darron Gibson (sore knee).

Martinez said: "They all have a small chance of being involved on Sunday, but it is very difficult at this stage to tell which ones have a realistic chance of being match fit."