"We couldn't score at all in the first half of the season and he makes us look like we are going to do it more often," DAVID MOYES hails the impact of Jelavic.
"It was a brilliant game, as good as I've seen in my time here. Considering the calibre of the team we were playing against, it was a brilliant display,” PAUL LAMBERT enjoyed the clash.
FROM misfit to blossoming maestro – Darron Gibson only travelled 36 miles when he swapped Old Trafford for Goodison in January, but he has come a long way since then.
The man whose quiet departure barely gave most United fans pause for thought, is settling nicely into the role of composer in royal blue.
Another assured display from Gibson, anchoring Everton’s midfield and directing their play with brains and panache, was pivotal to David Moyes’ men maintaining their unbeaten run, and keeping them in seventh place in the Premier League.
It is a measure of how far the Toffees have come since their January epiphany, that the hardy supporters who made the journey to Carrow Road on Saturday, left with a sense of frustration that their side could not widen the gap over Liverpool in eighth.
Gibson’s progress – he still hasn’t lost for the Blues in 11 games – is overshadowed only by another player who arrived on Merseyside in January with question marks hanging over him. Could Nikica Jelavic score goals south of the border, or was he more Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink than Henrik Larsson?
An expertly taken brace answered those doubters as emphatically as his other strikes so far, and this is a centre forward who is still adapting to a new club, still learning the rigours of a new division. If Gibson was a steal at £500,000, what of Jelavic for £5.5m?
That learning curve can excuse a bout of unedifying play-acting from the Croatian near the end, after he bumped into a Norwich defender and lay prone for longer than necessary, but the 26-year-old is swiftly absorbing the Everton way, and adding a thrilling dimension which Moyes’ side have lacked since Yakubu’s first season.
That’s not to say the Blues boss will have been pleased with every aspect of his side’s display on the East Anglian coast.
Surrendering a lead once is unfortunate, but twice perhaps indicative of tired legs and need for greater defensive focus ahead of the looming FA Cup semi-final.
The Blues did not get to grips with Paul Lambert’s decision to play two strikers in the second half, and it cost them victory.
If it was an audition for places in the back four ahead of Wembley, it was inconclusive too. The defence did some things very well, but did not cope well enough with the threat of Grant Holt – who scored the Canaries’ second – and they will have to be sharper against Luis Suarez and co.
Phil Jagielka showed great awareness in the final third to set up his side’s opener though. Leighton Baines slipped a ball into the box where Jagielka turned superbly, and crossed for Jelavic to delicately flick the ball past John Ruddy from six yards.
Norwich gradually began to offer their own threat, and as their passing improved, Andrew Surman gave the Blues a scare with a rasping low drive that flew only inches wide.
Then their enterprise was rewarded. Wes Hoolahan went raiding down the right, and his pass somehow evaded Jagielka and Distin, as Jonny Howson, another bargain buy on display, slipped his marker and arrived late to apply a simple finish.
The setback unsettled the Blues, as Norwich had two claims for a penalty in a 10-minute period. First Elliott Bennett tumbled under Leighton Baines’ inoffensive challenge, and Andre Marriner rightly ignored appeals. But Jagielka caused a fright when he appeared to handle while blocking Surman’s shot from just outside the area, even if replays were inconclusive.
Fortunately, Marriner was being far more indulgent to Everton than the last time he officiated them, in their first FA cup quarter-final tie with Sunderland.
Seamus Coleman replaced Magaye Gueye at the start of the second half, with the young Frenchman never truly appearing comfortable on the right flank.
It was a change to improve their attacking balance, but the Blues had to remain on the back foot for the opening minutes of the half, as Hoolahan again found space down the flank and Grant Holt should have done better with his header
It sparked Everton into life again though, and Pienaar produced another slick pass to Jelavic in the area, but Seamus Coleman was not quick enough to latch onto the Croatian’s weighted pass to the far post.
The game was wide open, and Jagielka made a superb block as Holt loomed on goal, before Tim Howard denied Howson with a reflex save.
Cue further adjustments from the visitors, who replaced skipper Phil Neville with Marouane Fellaini. And another near miss, this time when Cahill drifted in at the far post.
More than a few hearts were in mouths when Fellaini earned a place in Marriner’s book for a late stamp on Hoolahan, although Moyes was never going to risk being without the Belgian next weekend, and Sunday’s amnesty meant he was safe from a ban.
More encouragement followed. Everton kept the ball splendidly on the left courtesy of sharp passing from Jelavic, Pienaar and Gibson, before carving Norwich wide open with a move that saw Jelavic again apply the final flourish for his fifth goal in seven appearances.
Norwich threw everything into a fightback, and with willing and able runners in midfield, pegged the Blues back. Howson’s pass to Wilbraham was majestic, and even though the striker’s effort was saved by Tim Howard, he squared the rebound to Holt who kept his nerve to pick a spot beyond the USA goalkeeper.
Lambert confronted Marriner at the final whistle, later claiming he asked the ref if he was going out in Norwich that evening, but it was a fair result.
The relentless schedule of games goes on, and the Blues’ focus will switch to further fine-tuning ahead of their big day.
NORWICH (4-5-1): Ruddy, Martin, Drury (Naughton, 75), Holt, Surman, Hoolahan (Crofts, 90) Fox (Wilbraham, 65), Bennett, Ward, Howson, Bennett.. Not used: Steer, Johnson, Morison, Jackson.
EVERTON (4-4-1-1): Howard, Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Neville (Fellaini, 56), Gibson, Gueye (Coleman, 45), Pienaar, Cahill (Anichebe, 81), Jelavic. Not used: Mucha, Heitinga, Stracqualursi, McFadden.
GOALS: ; Howson 39, Holt 77; Jelavic 22, 61
CARDS: Booked – Baines, Fellaini, Pienaar.
REFEREE: Andre Mariner.