Tim Cahill returned from his round-the-world trip to Sydney, where he warmed the bench for Australia v Uzbekistan after being fittened up by Pim Verbeek and his team of miracle-workers (*cough!*). The rejuvenation effect has reached Tony Hibbert, who returned to the back line for Everton, and Andy van der Meyde, who appeared once again on the Everton bench. No sign of James Vaughan,. who is back in full training but clearly not yet ready for the challenge.
It was clear from the start that the instruction "No Hoofball!" had been issued and heeded, all the Everton players looking for opportunities to play the ball forward on the ground. But it was hard slog rather than fluid and flowing, Osman, Pienaar, Hibbert and Baines all struggling to feed Fellaini and Jô good balls. Cahill was playing deep alongside Neville.
But after a promising 15 minutes, it was Wigan who threatened, Scharner should have scored with a header at the near post. Osman was well involved but lashed at a shot well over the bar.
The first goal, though was a little more Route One, Jagielka lofting the ball for Fellaini to head down well under illegal pressure (Dowd played the advantage), and Osman for once did superbly to pick out Jô, who stayed just onside and drilled the ball confidently into the far corner. Nice!
Brown had targetted Cahill and his name went into the book before the half-hour for numerous angle and calf tapping episodes. Wigan were fouling frequently but Osman and Baines were doing little with free-kicks from promising positions, balls played in too close to Kirkland. Fellaini, though, was being called for plenty of niggly little fouls of his own.
Steve Bruce tried to change things at half-time, bringing on Rodeega, but two quick Everton goals soon put paid to any Wigan comeback.
First, good work down the right and a crisp cross from Hibbert was whipped past Kirkland with a deft clip from Fellaini, then some more crisp passing into the area gave Fellaini anther chance that Kirkland could only parry into Jô's path and the Brazilian gratefully accepted the easy finish. 3-0 and cruising. in the Goodison spring sunshine.
With Everton's clear superiority and domination finally paying off, it was Osman's turn to get on the scoresheet, Kirkland only able to parry a shot from Fellaini?. Finally, with 4 goals on the board, David Moyes rang the changes: on came Rodwell, Gosling and Saha.
Bramble, with a horrible tackle on Saha, earned only yellow for a dreadful studs up sliding tackle from behind. Fortunately, Saha recovered quickly. Wigan, to their credit, kept plugging away and giving the Everton defence a decent workout but there was no way Tim Howard was gonna lose this clean sheet.
A fantastic result, and just desserts after the appalling game at their place earlier in the season. The perfect platform for next week's crucial visit to Villa Park...
Their away form may be shakey after the loss to injury of the likes of Mikel Arteta but there can be little doubt that Everton are enjoying the comforts of home once again after recording their seventh consecutive success at Goodison in all competitions. As if to ram home the point, the Blues racked up their biggest margin of victory so far this season, capitalising on the frailty of Wigan's defence, a team hoping to join David Moyes's side in the Uefa Europa League next season by finshing in the top seven.
On this evidence, there is a yawning chasm between Everton and their Lancashire neighbours. The home side controlled proceedings without ever really finding a consistent rhythm and won comfortably despite meagre involvement from Steven Pienaar and Tim Cahill, two players who had traveled for internationals over the previous fortnight and exhibited predictable signs of fatigue as a result.
By contrast, Leon Osman, a player who has looked in need of a rest almost as much as Cahill in recent weeks, looked rejuvenated by the break and not only turned in one of his best displays of the campaign but also scored one goal and had a hand in the other three. Jô, another who had the chance to rest and refocus after the defeat at Portsmouth, grabbed another brace, and Marouane Fellaini — once again sporting that ridiculous afro — was also on target.
There was little evidence in the early going of Everton's romp to come, however. Having done so well in central midfield a few games ago, Cahill was deployed in the Arteta role by Moyes but struggled to have much influence on the game, mostly through fatigue but partly due to the absence of any real inspiration elsewhere in midfield.
Osman had the first sight of goal in the seventh minute when he dragged a shot well wide from the just outside the area before ballooning another effort from a similar distance over, while Fellaini's tame nod from a right wing cross by the returning Tony Hibbert didn't trouble Kirkland.
Wigan, for their part, had set their stall out to pressure the home side and swiftly close down any shooting opportunities but they weren't afriad to get forward when they could and when Valencia served up the best chance of the match so far for Paul Scharner with a right-wing cross in the 17th minute, the Austrian might have done better than power a header narrwly over the crossbar having out-jumped HIbbert at the far post.
It was all fairly pedestrian, truth be told, with Everton struggling to find any width but the route-one approach once again reaped dividends with 27 minutes on the watch. Joleon Lescott's flighted ball from deep in his own half was controlled by Fellaini and laid off to Osman and he in turn picked out Jô in space level with the last defender. The Brazilian gathered the ball in stride before raking a low, left-footed shot past Kirkland and inside the post.
A chance each for Pienaar, when he hooked a decent shot a yard wide of the upright, and for Emerson Boyce who powered a header off a corner into the arms of Tim Howard at the other end, were the only other highlights of the first half but, having made the breakthough, the Blues were fairly comfortable.
The second half was less than two minutes old when they doubled their advantage. Osman collected a throw-in level with the Wigan area and laid it back to Hibbert whose low cross found Fellaini and he swept the ball first time past the 'keeper to make it 2-0.
The Belgian went for a second two minutes later when he nodded another Hibbert cross straight at Kirkland but the home side only hasd to wait a further couple of minutes to see their side put the game beyond the visitors' reach when Jô struck again. Osman slipped a short pass to Fellaini who took once touch before surprising Kirkland with a low drive that the former Liverpool 'keeper could only palm into Jô's path and he simply side-footed into the empty net.
Another 10 minutes later it was 4-0 with that goal coming in similar circumstances to the third. Fellaini it was who again tested Kirkland with a powerful shot from 20 yards that he spilled to Osman and he rammed the loose ball home to cap a fine individual display.
With the game easily one, Moyes took the opportunity to rest some of those busy international stars, withdrawing Cahill for Jack Rodwell after 64 minutes and then giving Dan Gosling and Louis Saha a runout for the last 20 minutes who came on for Pienaar and Fellaini.
It was then that Wigan finally managed to assert some pressure in the final third of the field and half-time substitute Rodellega was inches away from registering a consolation goal for the Latics with a superb turn and shot but it whizzed past Howard's right-hand post. But Everton effectively shut up shop and played out the remainder of the match with little incident beyond an injury scare for Saha who went down clutching his ankle in some distress after being caught by a very clumsy Titus Bramble tackle.
A strange game overall, really, seeing as Everton didn't ever get to full throttle but beat Wigan with plenty to spare. That aspect of it will please Moyes but he will be looking for more from Pienaar and Cahill in particular over the next three big games against Aston Villa and Chelsea in the League, and Manchester United in the cup semi-final.
Significantly, Phil Jagielka and Lescott were excellent again in central defence, Hibbert showed no ill effects from his recent layoff and Fellaini was pivotal once more in that supporting role behind the lone striker that is proving to be his most effective. And, of course, praise for Osman and Jô should be reiterated. The Brazilian may be struggling to make an impact on the road but he is clearly at home in the confines of Goodison. His two goals today took his tally to five in seven since joining on loan from Manchester City.
Next up, Villa who lost their fourth game on the bounce this weekend at the hands of United and who now lie just a point above Everton in the table going into next weekend's clash between the two sides at Villa Park.
The fortnight's break for internationals out the way, Everton return to Premier League action this weekend with a home clash against Europa League-chasing Wigan Athletic. The reverse fixture, an awful defeat at the JJB Stadium at the tail end of November, has largely been cited by David Moyes and his players as the catalyst for a run of form that had until two weeks ago yielded just two defeats in the 20 matches in all competitions.
Unfortunately, that purple patch has been losing its color in recent weeks as injuries to key personnel piled up and the Blues' away form, at one point the pillar of their season, gave way, culminating in the defeat to Portsmouth in their last outing.
Hardly a time for rest and recuperation, though, the international break saw seven of Moyes's players travel to represent their countries, and Tim Cahill in particular wasn't afforded much opportunity to recover from a calf strain that has kept him out of the last game and a half. His absence was particularly keenly felt at Pompey but if Australia manager Pim Verbeek is to be believed, he'll be fit enough to take his place in Everton's starting line-up this weekend as the Blues chase a seventh straight home win.
Of those on the injured list for the Portsmouth game, Cahill is the only one who stands a chance of returning... unless Andy van der Meyde has recovered from a hamstring strain — but he is sufficiently off the radar that his condition isn't mentioned in the pre-match build-up. That means that Moyes could name an unchanged line-up or switch Cahill in for one of Jô or Louis Saha.
Wigan, meanwhile, will be without star loan striker, Amr Zakhi after the Egyptian failed to return from international duty on time. The Latics are currently the Blues' closest challengers for sixth place but with Aston Villa's form having collapsed, Everton are keeping their eyes focused upwards, particularly as Villa are their next opponents.
And with Arsenal playing all of the top three in their last eight games, Moyes still hasn't given up on finishing fourth. "Arsenal are seven points ahead of us so that is quite a gap," he says. "I want a last push. That means getting to the FA Cup final, hanging in there in the league and qualifying for Europe because that is a big thing to do."
|Premier League Scores|
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|2008-09 Reports Index|
|When Skies Are Grey||Report|
|Everton fans' reports|
|Other media reports|
|4 the Game||Report|
|Cahill (61' Rodwell)|
|Pienaar (70' Gosling)|
|Fellaini (72' Saha)|
|Subs not used|
|Van der Meyde|
|Valencia (72' De Ridder)|
|Brown :29' (45' Rodallega)|
|Subs not used|
|Premier League Scores|
|Saturday 4 April 2009|
|Sunday 5 April 2009|
|Man Utd||3-2||Aston Villa|
|Premier League Table|
|After 5 Apr 2009|