Everton named an unchanged XI from the side that started a week ago against Wolverhampton Wanderers, but were forced into an early change when John Heitinga picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Jack Rodwell, while Blackburn handed a debut to Ruben Rochina in support of Roque Santa Cruz. Both teams lined up with a lone striker, Santa Cruz for the visitors and Jermaine Beckford for the hosts, with Rochina and Leon Osman the primary supports, and the similarity in systems produced a first-half bereft of inspiration. Everton barely edged proceedings while the industrious Rovers remained a threat on the break, and had in Rochina the brightest spark of an otherwise dour 45 minutes. Rochina, signed in January from Barcelona B, was lively in the early stages but drifted as the game went on, and is unlikely to forget his first meeting with Phil Neville in a hurry after some feisty challenges from the Toffees’ captain.
While Rochina impressed early, the most consistent creative force was Osman. Everton began the second-half more vibrant than at any time in the first with Osman at the heart of all their good play, linking well with Magaye Gueye and Leighton Baines as Everton upped the tempo. Osman eventually gave Everton the lead 10 minutes into the half with a thumping effort from wide in the penalty area after a short corner that flashed past Paul Robinson via a Christopher Samba deflection. For their part, Blackburn offered little to test Tim Howard, instead resorting to longer and more hopeful punts towards the Everton backline that were dealt with in relative comfort. Everton continued to press with Osman a central figure again, slipping Gueye into space only for the French winger to blast wide, but when Baines doubled Everton’s advantage from the penalty spot with 15 minutes remaining, Blackburn lacked the quality to recover.
Morten Gamst Pedersen almost made life difficult for Everton, firing wide after some hesitant defending following a long ball forward but the winger, a substitute, hurried his chance. The presence of Pedersen and his fellow replacements Jason Roberts and Benjani upset the travelling Rovers support, who shouted throughout the second-half for the introduction of Nikola Kalinic, and, when the striker was not called on, responded with taunts of “you don’t know what you’re doing” and “you’re getting sacked in the morning” to their beleaguered manager Kean, as well as one or two less repeatable chants. The lack of a game plan to recover from a goal down and the absence of quality outside the inexperienced Rochina do not bode well for Rovers’ hopes of safety or Kean’s hopes of keeping his job. Everton, meanwhile, can continue to dream of a return to Europe, thanks in great part to the excellent Osman.