EVERTON maintained their seven-game unbeaten run with a 2-0 victory over woeful Blackburn Rovers at Goodison.
David Moyes has overseen few easier afternoons at home in the league this season, as his injury-hit side did just enough to dispose of Steve Kean’s limited relegation strugglers who were without several key men.
The win restores the gap between the Blues and sixth-placed Liverpool to one point, with Kenny Dalglish’s side facing the tough prospect of a visit to the Emirates stadium to take on title chasing Arsenal tomorrow (Sunday).
Although largely uninspiring, the result again underlined that Everton have learned how to break down defensively minded opponents, following their 3-0 thumping of Wolves last weekend.
The first chance fell to Everton. Phil Neville crossed, Rovers defender Jermaine Jones got his header wrong, and Jermaine Beckford latched onto the ball but lashed his first time shot over.
The Blues comfortably bossed the early possession against a visiting side with only 11 goals between their starting line-up, but misfortune struck after 16 minutes when John Heitinga hobbled off with a hamstring injury. The Dutchman’s loss meant a return to action for Jack Rodwell, who had only made the bench for the first time since sustaining an ankle injury against Fulham on March 19.
That failed to unsettle the Blues though, and it seemed to be a case of when not if they would score against a side limited in ability and ambition.
Blackburn were not solely to blame for the first half’s sleepy pace and lack of quality however, as Moyes’ men increasingly struggled to carve out any clear cut chances.
The half’s lone shot on target was courtesy of a late Leon Osman fizzer which Paul Robinson held comfortably.
Thankfully Everton showed renewed vigour after the break. Magaye Gueye impressed with some sharp turns, and launched one vicious effort narrowly over. Then Leighton Baines hit a low pile driver just wide from 30 yards.
Finally the Blues had the game by the scruff of the neck, and Leon Osman – possibly in the form of his career – opened the scoring courtesy of a deflection by Christopher Samba.
The Toffees midfielder collected a short corner and ghosted easily past former Barcelona youth player Ruben Rochina, before unleashing a swerving strike that was helped past Robinson by Samba’s outstretched boot.
Inertia returned, despite Seamus Coleman doing his best to enliven things when he replaced Gueye.
But Rovers sealed their fate with a quarter of an hour left. Phil Jones scythed down Coleman in the area, and Leighton Baines coolly dispatched the resulting spot kick.
The visitors could have had a lifeline minutes after when Baines and Jagielka got themselves horribly mixed-up over a routine clearance in Everton’s area, but Mort Gamst Pedersen lashed his shot wide.
It was to be their last hint of hope though, as the Toffees held on to ensure a comfortable victory that keeps their gossamer thin hopes of Europe alive.
EVERTON: (4-4-1-1) Howard, Hibbert, Distin, Jagielka, Baines, Neville (capt), Heitinga (Rodwell, 16), Bilyaletdinov, Gueye (Coleman, 65), Osman, Beckford (Vellios, 85).
Subs not used: Mucha, Anichebe, Mustafi, Forshaw.
Bookings: Baines, Rodwell.
Goals: Osman, Baines (pen).
BLACKBURN ROVERS: (4-4-2) Robinson, Salgado, Givet (Pedersen, 68), Samba (capt), Olsson, Emerton, Dunn, Jones, Rochina, Santa Cruz (Roberts, 62).
Subs not used: Bunn, Kalinic, Benjani, Hanley, Diouf.
Referee: Kevin Friend.