Jagielka 44, Baines 83 (pen) – Hunt 37 (pen)
Leighton Baines’ second-half penalty gave Everton three points against Wolverhampton Wanderers in a tight game that was in the balance almost from kick-off. Stephen Hunt’s own spot kick put Mick McCarthy’s side in front before Phil Jagielka equalised on the brink of half-time, setting the stage for his England colleague to decide the match.
Everton entered the game on the back of a run of six defeats from seven games and with the loss of Sylvain Distin and Jack Rodwell through injury. Wolves kept faith with Kevin Doyle as the lone striker but made one change to the side that beat Wigan Athletic 3-1 in their last outing, Nenad Milijas replacing Adeline Guedioura in midfield. The result of two teams packing the midfield and playing just one striker was a tie that was competitive and feisty, but equally scrappy and lacking in quality.
It was Wolves who arguably made the best of their lone striker supported by a more advanced midfielder, despite recording only one shot on target. O’Hara, Doyle’s principal support, was often found in good positions unchecked by Everton, and the interchange between O’Hara and David Edwards unsettled the Toffees’ defence in the early going. Neither O’Hara nor Edwards could however turn their promising positions into something more tangible and despite at one point early in the first-half having more than 60% of possession, Wolves barely troubled Tim Howard in the Everton goal.
A large part of the reason for Wolves’ early statistical supremacy was Everton’s at times inept use of the ball. Movement was at a premium in forward positions for Everton and Jagielka was the unfortunate victim. Faced with few viable options ahead of him the centre-back usually resorted to a long ball for Tim Cahill or Louis Saha to fight for and, while his delivery was sometimes inaccurate and always unhelpful, it was a symptom of a greater problem. Despite Jagielka’s distribution problems Everton ended the match having reversed the possession ratio to more than 60% in their favour.
Everton were static and easy to defend against, but when they did up the tempo and inject some dynamism into their attacks they often found success. At one point Marouane Fellaini played the ball into Cahill’s feet in the centre-circle, and the Australian immediately flicked the ball wide for Seamus Coleman to drive forward. The winger burst to the touchline and pulled the ball across goal, where Cahill met it with a cushioned header, teeing up Saha who saw his volley tipped over the bar by Wayne Hennessey, the Wolves goalkeeper who did not deserve to be on the losing side. That the brief flurry of Everton attack lives so long in the memory is a testament to its rarity.
Three points arrived nevertheless for Everton, contentious as the award of the decisive penalty may have been – and Everton will argue Karl Henry pulled Cahill back in the penalty area in the first-half without punishment – while Wolves have to avoid falling back into the form that saw them lose eight games consecutively earlier in the season.
Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Heitinga, Baines; Coleman, Osman, Fellaini, Drenthe (Bilyaletdinov 85); Cahill (Vellios 73); Saha (Stracqualursi 90+4)
Wolves (4-4-1-1): Hennessey; Stearman (Elokobi 58), Johnson, Berra, Ward; Edwards (Fletcher 86), Henry, Milijas (Jarvis 80), Hunt; O’Hara; Doyle
Did you know… Tony Hibbert and Jody Craddock are the only survivors from the last time Everton beat Wolves at Goodison Park, in November 2003. Hibbert started both games while Craddock started eight years ago and was an unused substitute this time.