Staff writer

Good things can come in threes and that would certainly appear the case for Steve Sidwell.

If the arrival of his newborn second son last Wednesday wasn’t enough to crack the Champagne corks, or his 34-second opener at Everton three days later perhaps his 26th birthday on Sunday will allow him a glass of the sparkly stuff.

“I’ve always believed if your life is good outside football, you come to work with a smile on your face,” he says.

There’s little doubt Sidwell’s midfield partnership with Gareth Barry and Stiliyan Petrov has blossomed.

Not far back the former Arsenal youth will have been wondering where his first league start was coming from as he was hampered by a succession of injuries.

But a five-minute substitute appearance at Wigan in late October where he cracked a superb 25-yarder into the top corner changed his outlook.

Then, after brief appearances against Blackburn and Newcastle, it was a man-of-the-match performance in Prague in the Uefa Cup that forced Martin O’Neill’s hand.

Five successive league starts have given the supporters a glimpse of the form that lit up Steve Coppell’s Reading, capped by that fierce shot at Goodison Park which comfortably sits as the fastest goal of the season.

He believes it ranks in the top five in his career. “It’s up there with the best goals I’ve scored – in the top five,” he said. “I have a DVD of my goals at home, and that’s another one for the collection. But it doesn’t matter how the ball goes in. I’m just as happy with a tap-in. It was a great feeling to catch the ball so sweetly and score so early but maybe it was a bit too early. After that, the home team got momentum and came back strongly. It was good to score, but even better we got the victory. When Everton scored their second equaliser, you could see the reaction from the boys. We felt victory had been snatched from us.

“I took the kick-off with Gabby and asked the ref how long there was to go. He said it was the last minute and I thought we had no chance. But thirty seconds later, the ball was in the net.

“It was great stuff from Ashley Young. He thoroughly deserved his two goals and could have had a hat-trick.”

Sidwell dedicated his goal to new arrival Rocko, born to wife Krystell. Their first son Harry was born in April 2006.

“Before the game she sent me a text saying ‘Score a goal for him.’ It was an early one so hopefully he was awake!”

Meanwhile, O’Neill believes the best is yet to come for James Milner who, like Sidwell, has enjoyed a recent run after waiting an age for a chance.

Milner has started nine successive league games since breaking into the side in the goalless home draw with Portsmouth – a week before Sidwell’s league bow.

O’Neill said: “James had to wait a while to get into the team but I signed him for the next four or five years – not the next four or five games. I never ever doubted him and he is doing fine. There is more to come from him. He works exceptionally hard for the team. Taking players on is a big strength of his and he will only get better. I have been very pleased with him – but then there wouldn’t be too many that I wouldn’t be pleased with.”

O’Neill added: “When we signed James, there were a number of clubs interested. I was delighted to get him but, had things been right at Newcastle at the time, James may well have stayed there.