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Venue: Liberty Stadium, Swansea
Premier League
 Saturday 24 March; 3:00pm
SWANSEA
0 2
 EVERTON
Half Time: 0-0
Baines (59') 
Jelavic (76')
Attendance: 20,509
Fixture 30
Referee: Swarbrick

Match Report

Everton became only the third team to win at the Liberty Stadium this season, stifling Swansea's much-vaunted passing game and eventually turning on the style in the second half to record a handsome victory that leap-frogs them over the Welsh club in the table.

Leighton Baines' perfectly-struck free kick broke the deadlock just before the hour mark and, coupled with introduction of Marouane Fellaini, ignited a Blues attack that had hitherto struggled to carve out clear-cut chances. Nikica Jelavic atoned for an earlier miss by converting from close range to seal the deal with 14 minutes to go and with more composure in front of goal, David Moyes's side might have made it a rout.

With the FA Cup replay at Sunderland in mind, Moyes made changes to his line-up but did not go for the wholesale shuffle of his pack that was so heavily criticised after the Merseyside derby. Phil Jagielka, Phil Neville and Steven Pienaar came in in place of John Heitinga, Marouane Fellaini and Royston Drenthe — the Dutch winger wasn't even in the squad — and it became clear very quickly that the manager has tasked his charges with pressing the opposition high up the pitch and limiting the effectiveness of their ground game.

It was a strategy that for the most part worked in a fairly pedestrian first half, though it took some wayward shooting by the home side and a stirling performance from the returning Jagielka to keep the Swans off the scoresheet on the few occasions they did manage to penetrate.

Danny Graham found himself in behind the Everton defence after just six minutes but shot weakly at Tim Howard, Gylfi Sigurdsson missed the target from 20-odd yards after dispossessing Leon Osman, Wayne Routledge might have done better after 22 minutes but sliced his shot high and wide, while Joe Allen's drive through a crowd of players after he'd collected Pienaar's awful clearance skidded wide of Howard's left-hand post.

A disappointing header from Jelavic off Baines' free kick was about as close as Everton came during that first half-hour, a period characterised by some fairly insipid attacking play on their part, and though they seized control of the game for the remainder of the half, they consistently let themselves down with a poor final ball, both from open play and set-pieces.

Baines' service was particularly disappointing, Osman was slowly recovering from a dreadful start to the game, and though Pienaar was a hive of activity not much was coming off for him, That left Jelavic chasing shadows and feeding off scraps and offered little evidence of what was to follow after the break.

And though the Blues had been fairly comfortable in the first 45 minutes, they were given a warning not to rest on their laurels too much in stoppage time when they were sliced open by a superb pass down Swansea's right channel that Allen tried to centre to Graham but Jagielka was on hand with a sliding block to snuff out the danger.

If the first period had been all-too familiar from traveling fans' perspective, the second gradually grew into a pleasing exhibition of attacking football from Moyes's side, sparked mostly by an increasingly dominant display by Pienaar.

It was the South African's tenacity that created the first chance for either side after the interval when he charged down Ashley Williams' clearance but Jelavic couldn't steer the bouncing rebound on target and put the ball over the bar instead.

And Jelavic was the first to pounce on the loose ball again in the 53rd minute when Darron Gibson, making a solid return from a month-long injury layoff, unloaded with a stinging left-foot drive that Michel Vorm could only parry into the Croatian's path. With his back to goal, Jelavic expertly teed up his own over-head kick that Tim Cahill anticipated smartly and almost turned in as it flew across the six yard box.

The two sides then traded opportunities, with Graham getting in front of Jagielka but, thankfully, heading over the bar with Howard off his line and Pienaar dragging a shot wide with Jelavic in a good position ahead of him, before Williams' foul on Baines set up the opening goal. The direct free kick was in perfect Baines territory and the fullback rediscovered his magical left foot, curling an unstoppable peach of a shot into the top corner, well beyond Vorm's despairing dive.

That proved to be the watershed moment of the match and it was almost 2-0 in short order. Gibson led a quick counter-attack with a lovely ball out to the left to pick out Pienaar in space but, after cutting inside, the number 22 couldn't bend his shot inside the far post and whistled inches wide.

And when Pienaar's own interception set Everton away again on a counter down the left and he picked out Jelavic with a sublime return pass with the outside of his right boot, the striker slid a great chance wide when he looked certain to at least force a save from Vorm who had, to his credit, covered the angle well.

He would only have to wait another couple of minutes for his second goal in Everton colours, though. After keeping the ball from a throw in on the right flank when Tony Hibbert found substitute Fellaini with a pass inside the area, the Belgian midfielder determinedly turned inside two white shirts near the byline before cutting it back invitingly for Jelavic who had the simple task of side-footing into an empty net to double Everton's lead and effectively kill the game.

Withdrawn a few minutes later in order to protect him ahead of Tuesday's cup replay, Jelavic was replaced by Denis Stracqualursi and he should really have made it 3-0 with six minutes left of the 90. Pienaar again danced down the left and squared it perfectly across the six-yard box to the Argentine but his side-footed tap didn't have enough on it to beat the 'keeper from close range and Vorm saved.

Still not done, Pienaar did it again four minutes later with a mesmersing feint that allowed him to drift into the Swansea box again but his centre this time found Stracqualursi with his back to goal and although the striker was able to flick the ball up, he couldn't supply the contact to drive it home.

With things tightening up in the race for seventh place and goal difference therefore becoming a factor, it would have been nice to pad the win out with a couple more goals but this was, in the final reckoning, an enormously satisfying win. Yes, there were long periods where the team's inability to supply a killer pass in the final third or make set-piece situations pay made a 0-0 draw look like a decent bet, but the manner in which Pienaar came to life in the second half and Fellaini provided that little bit of extra guile that Cahill couldn't was pleasing. Too bad, of course, that Pienaar will be ineligible for the all-important trip to the Stadium of Light.

Level on points with Sunderland and two behind Liverpool with eight games to go, there's still plenty to play for in the Premier League for Everton and this first win in five gets them back to winning ways at just the right time.

Player Ratings: Howard 6, Hibbert 6, Jagielka 8, Distin 7, Baines 7, Neville 7, Gibson 7, Osman 6, Pienaar 8*, Cahill 6 (Fellaini 7), Jelavic 7 (Stracqualursi 6)

Lyndon Lloyd

Match Preview

With the momentum of their good run of results since mid-January stalling, Everton face a tricky-looking trip to Swansea City as they seek a morale-boosting win ahead of the all-important FA Cup quarter-final replay at Sunderland.

The Swans only returned to the top flight at the beginning of the season but sit in eighth place with eight games of the Premier League season to go with a squad that cost a fraction of the teams around them.

Not only have they thus far out-performed a clutch of clubs who would have expected to be well above them at ths stage of the season — and that would include Everton, of course — but they have done it with style, sticking by an attractive passing game that has started to reap dividends away from the Liberty Stadium after initially struggling on the road.

Their home form has been particularly impressive, though. They've only been beaten in Swansea twice this season — to fellow new-boys Norwich City and Champions Manchester United — and their last scalp was Manchester City whom they bested by a goal to nil two weeks ago.

So David Moyes will not be taking this first visit to south Wales lightly, particularly given his team's struggles in front of goal recently. The Blues have scored just once in their last three matches in all competitions and continue to have problems creating enough chances.

Moyes's options could be bolstered by the return of Darron Gibson, though, after a month out with a knee injury. The Irishman returned to full training at the beginning of the week and could line up alongside Marouane Fellaini in central midfield.

And given the number of changes the manager rang for the Merseyside derby 10 days ago, there could more shuffling of the pack in other areas of the pitch, with Phil Neville, Magaye Gueye, Victor Anichebe and Denis Stracqualursi possible options depending on how many of his regulars Moyes feels he should rest.

These two sides have only met 14 times before but Swansea have never beaten Everton and, with the gap to Liverpool in 7th standing at just five points, it would be disappointing if the Blues succumbed to a first defeat to the Swans this weekend.

In truth, a draw with no disclipinary or injury issues would be a perfectly satisfactory outcome with the quarter-final replay in mind.

Lyndon Lloyd

* Unfortunately, we cannot control other sites' content policies and therefore cannot guarantee that links to external reports will remain active.

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SWANSEA (4-4-2)
  Vorm
  Taylor
  Williams
  Caulker
  Rangel
  Britton
  Sigurdsson
  Routledge (Lita 71')
  Allen booked
  Sinclair (McEachran 71' )
  Graham (Moore 71')
  Subs not used
  Tremmel
  Tate
  Monk
  Gower

EVERTON (4-5-1)
  Howard
  Hibbert
  Jagielka
  Distin
  Baines
  Neville
  Gibson booked (Heitinga 84')
  Osman
  Pienaar booked
  Cahill (Fellaini 58')
  Jelavic (Stracqualursi 81')
  Subs not used
  Mucha
  McFadden
  Gueye
  Anichebe
  Unavailable
  Rodwell (injured)
  Coleman (injured)
  Bidwell (loan)
  Forshaw (loan)
  Wallace (loan)
  McAleny (loan)
  Nsiala (loan)
  Yobo (loan)

Premier League Scores
Saturday
Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa
Bolton 2-1 Blackburn
Chelsea 0-0 Tottenham
Liverpool 1-2 Wigan
Norwich 2-1 Wolves
Sunderand 3-1 QPR
Stoke 1-1 Man City
Swansea 0-2 Everton
Sunday
West Brom 1-3 Newcastle
Monday
Man United 1-0 Fulham


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