* Pienaar's goal awarded to Corluka (og) by the Premier League Dubious Goals Panel (31 Dec 2008)
Until three years ago, a trip to White Hart Lane offered little cause for optimism for Evertonians but thanks to a determined display in the face of the loss of two strikers to injury, the Blues have now won three games in a row on Tottenham's turf.
They followed Monday's awful defeat at Wigan with the kind of professional, gritty performance that has characterised much of the David Moyes era and eked out a highly satisfying 1-0 victory thanks to Steven Pienaar's deflected shot following a quickly-taken free-kick that caught Spurs off-guard.
That goal arrived six minutes after half time and Everton defended it with the continuance of an impressive rearguard action that had began more or less from the first minute and allowed Moyes's side to edge the first period. Tottenham, who were three for three since Harry Redknapp took the reins, looked more like the Juande Ramos-brand Spurs for long periods but they mounted a sustained attempt to rescue a point in the last quarter of the game, only to meet stiff resistance from the towering trio of Phil Jagielka, Joseph Yobo and Tim Howard.
Everton's post-match celebrations were tempered, though, with the news that Aiyegbeni Yakubu has been ruled out for the rest of the season after rupturing his achilles tendon after falling awkwardly in an aerial challenge with Ledley King.
The Yak's participation came to an end just seven minutes in and Louis Saha, himself an injury doubt after limping out of the action at the JJB Stadium six days ago with a hamstring strain, came on in his place to spearhead a 4-5-1 formation. Though the Frenchman showed few effects of the injury early on and could have put Everton ahead a minute before the interval when he rose to meet Tim Cahill's perfect cross but planted the best chance of the half straight at Heurelho Gomes, there was an air of inevitability of his departure from the game with 20 minutes left — he himself was stretchered off after crumpling to the turf with an undeniable strain to the same hamstring.
In the face of adversity, however, the Blues kept plugging away and with Spurs offering little threat beyond a series of long balls with which Jagielka and Yobo quickly got to grips, they sensed an opportunity to take all three points back to Merseyside. It took them a while — the first test of Tottenham's laughing-stock goalkeeper Gomes didn't come until the 28th minute when was called upon to claim Leon Osman's deep cross — but few could argue that by the halfway mark, Moyes's boys had looked the more likely.
Marouane Fellaini, criticised for his woefully ineffective turn against Wigan and general lack of impact in recent games, was having as good a game as any since his record-breaking deadline-day move and he probably surprised even himself when he drove his lanky frame down the left past Tom Huddlestone and crossed for Osman. Gomes, however, got in ahead of the midfielder and pushed it away for Woodgate to hack clear.
The Belgian tested the Brazilian 'keeper again five minutes after that when the ball sat up for him 25 yards from goal and he hammered a shot that Gomes pushed up into the air. Neither Osman nor Saha could dig out the ball as it dropped near the edge of the box but it broke kindly to Fellaini again but again Gomes got behind it and bundled his low drive unconvincingly behind.
After Lennon had skied an angled effort into the stands, the home side might have drawn first blood four minutes before the break when Assoua-Ekotta's cross skipped through Pavlyuchenko's legs and passed Yobo to Darren Bent. With just Howard to beat, however, he despatched a weak side-foot effort straight into the 'keeper's arms.
Pleasingly, the Blues came out of the half-time interruption — prolonged when Pienaar came out wearing one of Osman's shirts and had to return to the dressing room to grab one beating his own name and number — strongly and they were rewarded with what proved to be the winner in the 51st minute. Referee Steve Bennett whistled for mystifyingly soft free kicks all game long and Lennon was perhaps unfortunate to be pulled up for a foul on Pienaar 30 yards from his own goal.
While the Spurs defence grumbled, Arteta took the kick quickly to Pienaar in acres of space on the left side of the box and he had time to line up a drive that deflected off Corluka and flew past Gomes to send the impressive ranks of traveling fans into rapture. The South African whipped his shirt off to reveal the message "God is Great" in black letters on his t-shirt as he ran to the faithful and was, of course, booked for an over-exuberant celebration.
The lead was almost a very short-lived one, though, but the Blues were thankful when Pavlyuchenko ballooned David Bentley's pass from a free kick over the bar from 14 yards out.
Still Everton remained a threat and Pienaar had the opportunity to double the lead with an hour gone when he stung the palms of Gomes with an angled drive. The 'keeper parried it and the danger was cleared.
Chasing the game, Redknapp withdrew Bent and threw on the in-form Fraizer Campbell and the home side had a good spell where they were in the ascendency and the Blues looked as though they might shoot themselves in the foot with some wasteful possession in midfield.
And when Fellaini bamboozled Bentley to the ground and picked up a routine booking with the kind of clumsy challenge that has become his trademark, the stage seemed set for the England midfielder to curl home the equaliser from 25 yards. Instead, though, he fired his shot into the wall and danger was averted.
After Everton had been rocked by the loss of Saha, Pavlyuchenko looked to have salvaged a point for Tottenham when he latched onto Bentley's early cross but Howard brilliantly palmed his shot behind for a corner.
Eight minutes later, the Russian international was in again and odds-on to score until he was foiled by the superb Jagielka who got enough on his shot to deflect it past the post for another corner that came to nothing. And when the fourth official set up a nailbiting finale by signalling six minutes of stoppage time and Victor Anichebe had rolled a shot agonisingly past the post at the other end, Jags repeated the feat when he got in the way of Campbell's shot five minutes past the regulation 90-minute mark.
Moyes had made no secret of his disgust at the team's effort against Wigan and the players responded in the perfect manner, rediscovering their graft, their unity of purpose, their spirit and some of their attacking impetus and were good value for the victory.
Make no mistake, in the context of a difficult run of games between now and Christmas and the poor performances that have been a feature this season, this was a massive result against a rejuvenated Spurs side. Special mention must go to the back four and Howard who were immense, but to a man the Blues put in a terrific shift and shut out one of the Premier League's form teams.
With Saha likely to be missing for an undetermined period, James Vaughan sidelined until the New Year and now the Yak ruled out until next season, Moyes's boys are going to have to dig deep until the January transfer window opens and the manager can attempt to bring in reinforcements on loan.
Having blown the opportunity to consolidate a place in the top six by dropping points in a soft part of their fixture calendar against Middlesbrough and Wigan, Everton go into a four-game stretch against some very in-form sides, starting this weekend at rejuvenated Tottenham, low on confidence and with the free-flowing football that characterised their excellent form a year ago seemingly as far away as ever.
James Vaughan is ruled out until the New Year with a knee cartilage injury and there are major doubts over Louis Saha, who suffered a hamstring strain at Wigan on Monday, Victor Anichebe, Steven Pienaar, Nuno Valente (recovering from knee surgery) and Tony Hibbert (thigh strain). That could leave Moyes with Yakubu as his only fit striker.
Although Pienaar's knee injury has responded better than expected to treatment this week, he is not expected to be fit for this weekend's trip to North London. Lars Jacobsen wll have to wait to take his place on the bench for the first time after resuming full training 10 days ago but striker Lukas Jutkiewicz and fullback/midfielder Dan Gosling were named in David Moyes's squad.
Tottenham will be missing star playmaker Luka Modric who has a groin strain and will also be without Alan Hutton and Giovani dos Santos.
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|Huddlestone (76' Boateng)|
|Bent (62' Campbell)|
|Subs not used|
|Osman (Baines 88')|
|Yakubu (11' Saha (71` Anichebe))|
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