“We have started late again as usual but we want as many points as we can until the end of the season and the more games we play the better we will get.” TONY HIBBERT believes there is more to come from Everton.
“In the end we were thankful to some very good defending from Jonas Olsson and the goalkeeper (Ben Foster) to keep it to two." ROY HODGSON concedes it could have been worse for his men.
ELSEWHERE team-mates squabbled, managers accused players of leaking tactics and pressure bubbled over – but at Everton glorious harmony ruled supreme.
There was even a hug at the end, as David Moyes warmly embraced retiring referee Peter Walton – and seasoned home fans will have been forgiven for wondering if there really was something in the water at the sight of their manager displaying any affection for a match official.
But it’s been that kind of week for the Blues, and it was that kind of day.
If Everton’s players needed an extra spring in their step after a week which saw them steam-roller Sunderland in the FA Cup quarter final to secure an all-Merseyside FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, it was provided by taking three points from West Brom without ever really getting out of second gear.
There was a time not long ago that well-drilled opposition sides arriving at Goodison with two banks of four on a mission to frustrate were becoming a thorn in Everton’s side.
Not any more. Certainly not since that increasingly crucial last day of transfer activity in January when Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic joined Darron Gibson as permanent additions to a squad which was desperate for a sign of hope and ambition.
All three have made promising and significant impact; that crucial creative spark provided by Pienaar allows Everton to unlock defences, in Jelavic they finally have a striker who can turn those chances into goals, and with Gibson a midfielder whose slow burning qualities reveal themselves further by the week.
Back in January anyone who suggested the Blues could yet qualify for Europe via their Premier League finishing place warranted a check for concussion. But suddenly, after a weekend when they rose above Liverpool in the table there seems much to play for, after a swing in momentum to the blue half of the city has ironically followed soon after Moyes’ men were embarrassed at Anfield last month.
While the Blues’ relaxed approach after going ahead against the Baggies will have irked their manager, they were a class above the visitors throughout.
Leighton Baines crafted the first opening for the home side, with a typically adept delivery into the box which Leon Osman rose well to meet but headed wide. Then Steven Pienaar jinked into the area and pulled a pass back to the edge for the loitering Darron Gibson, whose fierce shot flashed narrowly over.
It was an irresistible start, which was soon rewarded.
Osman exchanged passes with Jelavic in the area, and as the Baggies defence were slow to respond, the midfielder’s shot took a deflection off Gareth McAuley on its way past a wrong-footed Ben Foster.
However, only a slice of fortune prevented an equaliser against the run of play. In a rare attack Paul Scharner, so often on the scoresheet against the Blues, unleashed a low strike which Tim Howard could only parry, and Chris Brunt’s effort on the rebound clipped Shane Long’s heel and carried the ball wide.
Marouane Fellaini went close moments later, as the pattern of incessant Blues attacking resumed.
Gradually Roy Hodgson’s side began to eke out a few openings, but Everton’s midfield got back to defend well, with Pienaar nipping in to chest back to his goalkeeper, averting danger as Shane Long lurked.
Everton’s tempo had dropped off near the break and their pressing became noticeably less urgent since they had opened the scoring.
So, they attempted to lift things after the break, and Fellaini again tested Foster with a vicious drive, before Jelavic was booked for a foul on Liam Ridgewell.
Then it was time for Pienaar to make the difference again. He slipped a smart pass to sub Victor Anichebe, who escaped the slack marking of Ridgewell and drilled his low strike in off the post for his second goal against the Midlanders this season.
The chance for Pienaar to apply some gloss to the score line went begging, when he seized on Jelavic’s delightful back heel to go through on goal but opted for power over subtlety, allowing Foster to block his strike.
Jelavic might have made it three with a brave header just before he was replaced to plenty of applause for another marauding display, but by then the result was beyond doubt. There were further positives. Fellaini avoided a booking, and understandable caution did little to limit his effectiveness.
Should he be yellow-carded against Norwich next weekend, Fellaini can simply be replaced to ensure he does not miss the semi-final.
The Belgian won’t want to do anything to jeopardise his place at the moment though, these are unmissable times.
EVERTON): Howard, Hibbert, Jagielka (Capt), Heitinga, Baines, Gibson, Fellaini, Pienaar, Osman (Gueye, 45), Cahill (Anichebe, 63), Jelavic (McFadden, 87). Not used: Mucha, Stracqualursi, Distin, Neville.
WEST BROM: Foster, Olsson, Scharner, Ridgewell, McCauley, Jones, Andrews. Brunt, (Coz, 77) (Capt), Tchoyi (Fortune, 73), Long, Odemwingie. Not used: Daniels, Dorrans, Shorey, Mulumbu, Dawson.
GOALS: McCauley og 18, Anichebe 68.
CARDS: Booked – Jelavic, Cahill; Name (time); Olsson.
REFEREE: Peter Walton