There can be only three things that would have made Everton’s 3-1 win over Reading a more pleasurable outcome – a clean sheet, a fully fit Phil Jagielka and a goal for Nikica Jelavic. But David Moyes will be more than satisfied with the comfortable victory and goals for Marouane Fellaini, Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas.
It could all have been so different though, as in a fairly even opening 20 minutes, Reading thumped a shot against the woodwork after Everton failed to deal with a corner, a recurring theme of recent weeks. It was quite literally a warning shot, and questions should be asked as to how Adam Le Fondre was unmarked 12 yards from goal in an otherwise crowded penalty area, but from then on Everton were on top.
Mirallas was in inspired form, the kind of productive display that has been seen too rarely since his summer move. The winger not only terrorised the opposing defenders but gave something to show for it at the end, from a first-half drive that needed a spectacular save to his second-half goal, a calm and collected near post finish that left the Reading goalkeeper completely wrong-footed.
Pienaar’s goal was the most eye-catching, cutting inside from the right wing onto his left foot, but what might be most notable about the South African’s strike is his starting position. Pienaar and Mirallas swapped wings for most of the match, a departure from the norm that has seen Pienaar and Baines rarely broken up and Mirallas stationed only on the right.
It’s understandable in one respect why Moyes was so hesitant to tinker with the Baines-Pienaar partnership. For a few years, including before Pienaar left for Tottenham, it was the fulcrum of Everton’s attack and this season’s best football was played with the two dominating possession. But that hadn’t been the case for a few games, perhaps because one or both were tired or the opposition had found a way to block out the over-and-underlapping runs.
By declining to try Pienaar in another position Moyes was making Everton a victim of their own past success. By allowing Pienaar and Mirallas to swap, Moyes opened a raft of new angles for Everton to attack and the rewards were instant. That’s not to say Everton should expect this kind of return in every match, or that they shouldn’t reunite Pienaar and Baines in future, but some variation is clearly needed.
If the victory over Reading marks a return to form then it’s come at an opportune time, just ahead of the FA Cup quarter-final with Wigan. Moyes has put a lot of store in the competition this year, so it doesn’t feel wrong to suggest that it’s Everton’s biggest game of the season. A return to Wembley is much desired, not least because of how wrong it went last season.
The Latics were beaten 2-1 at Goodison in December and a repeat result would breathe new life into Everton’s season, setting up a stirring spring.
See what the expert tipsters are tipping on OLBG
Think you know your football? Share your knowledge, tips and comments to win cash prizes in OLBG's tipster competition – £11,000 to be won monthly!