Everton 2 - 1 Hull City

It's fair to say that Steven Pienaar's season hadn't really got going by the time he tore a hamstring in training before the Chelsea game last month, just three Premier League games into the new season. His famous link-up with Leighton Baines down Everton's left hadn't been able to help provide a League win in August as Roberto Martinez began his time tenure with three consecutive draws and his personal form was, by many accounts, below his usual standards.

Fast forward seven weeks and the South African steps off the substitute's bench to score a vital winning goal with his first touch of a game that Everton deserved to win despite a feisty display by a Hull City side who appear to have enough spirit and endeavour in their arsenal to stay up on their return to the top flight.

Certainly, this was not the mauling that the Tigers suffered the last time they were at Goodison Park and they caused the Blues plenty of problems – albeit mostly from set pieces – and it wasn't Everton's best or most consistent display either but Martinez's men had enough quality in the final reckoning to register their fourth victory in their last five matches.

What Everton did re-establish, however, was the start-to-finish dominance of possession instilled and mandated by Martinez, something they had relinquished in the second half against Newcastle three weeks ago and, more predictably, at the Etihad Stadium last time out. It didn't always make for comfortable viewing , however, as Steve Bruce had clearly done his homework on the discomfort Everton's central defensive pairing have exhibited with the order to play it out from the back at almost every turn over the past few weeks.

Sylvain Distin, in particular, was caught out on a couple of occasions after being chased and harried by Hull's forward players, which created unnecessary disquiet in the Everton defence and led some early chances for the visitors from set-pieces as the Blues struggled to cope with Hull's aerial threat. Three times in the first half hour, either Curtis Davies or Abdullah Faye were allowed free headers but, thankfully, they failed to find the target on each occasion.

Everton didn't take long to threaten themselves, though, Romelu Lukaku initially contining the rich vein of form that helped secure Belgium's passage to the World Cup Finals in Brazil next summer by brushing Davies aside with almost comical ease in the fifth minute and then testing Alan McGregor in the Hull goal with a side-foot effort that the 'keeper beat away for a corner.

And just three minutes after that, the Blues' first goal arrived, initially thanks to a lovely move down the left flank that ended with a one-two between Kevin Mirallas and Leon Osman that forced a corner on the Everton left. Leighton Baines collected the subsequent clearance before moving it on to Osman who fed it to Kevin Mirallas about five yards outside the area whereupon the Belgian stroked a low shot that crept in off the post with McGregor, presumably unsighted, rooted to the spot.

Analysis of the TV replays would show that Gareth Barry was marginally offside and in the 'keeper's line of sight when the ball was struck but the goal stood.

Despite having grabbed the early lead, though, Everton found it difficult to dictate the game and struggled to consistently create chances. Ross Barkley, who had a mixed afternoon overall but whose precocious, purposeful forward runs were a vital attacking weapon throughout his time on the pitch, forced a save from McGregor with a good shot from the edge of the box and Osman bounced a shot-cum-cross wide that Lukaku came within inches of converting in front of goal.

While Everton were generally struggling to win the aerial battles, it was from a rare chance created on the ground that the Tigers equalised with half an hour gone. Sone Aluko drove impressively to the byline and eluded the attentions of Baines by sending his cut-back into the area between the defender's legs where Yannick Sagbo, an early substitute for the injured Danny Graham, arrived untracked to smash ithe ball past Tim Howard.

Importantly, though, the Blues responded by reestablishing their momentum for the remainder of the half, Barkley seeing a decent effort blocked, Mirallas firing an ambitious, dipping shot just over and Lukaku inadvertantly blocking Phil Jagielka's goalbound header from a corner just before the interval.

Hull ended the half as they had begun it, by pressing Everton into mistakes at the back and a slip by Jagielka let Aluko in for a shot on goal that looped off Distin and over the bar. And there was more uncertainty from the resulting corner where Baines had to head behind at the back post with the same Hull player lurking with the intent of sending the visitors into the break 2-1 up.

To Everton's credit, they emerged from half time in more disciplined mood. Aided by another industrious display by James McCarthy, whose tenacity and ability to seemingly be everywhere across the centre of the park in recent games is going a long way to justifying his hefty price tag, and the welcome return of Barry, Martinez's side remained largely in control of proceedings.

There wasn't much end product for the first 10 minutes or so, though, and Lukaku continued to be largely peripheral to the action. The manager made a positive move just 11 minutes into the second period, though, withdrawing the increasingly ineffective Osman in favour of Pienaar, who hadn't been expected back until next weekend at the earliest.

15 seconds after his introduction, Barkley surged forward and fed Mirallas who centred first time to meet Pienaar's run and the South African swept the ball home with a deft, first-time touch to make it 2-1. It was no more than the Blues deserved, even if Steve Bruce would grumble after the game that Barry might have been sent off for tackle on Aluko where the follow-through of his boot off the top of the ball took his studs in the opponent's shin. The Hull boss would make no mention of an equally ugly-looking, studs-up tackle by Sagbo on Jagielka in the 70th minute.

Lukaku, presumably tiring after his international commitments, had been withdrawn by that stage to give Arouna Kone the chance to make an impression and within 10 minutes of coming on, the Ivorian would get the opportunity to score his first Everton goal served on a platter at the end of a impressive, quick move. Jinking to his right to make space on the right of the defender in front him, he seemed to have done the hard part but then smacked his shot off the post trying to drive it past the 'keeper's reach.

Barely a minute later, Kone was in on goal again as he drove into space ahead of him but McGregor foiled him this time with a one-handed save and with that went a great chance for Everton to wrap up the game with time to spare.

While that made for a more nervy finale than was necessary, in truth Hull hadn't been much of a threat since Livermore wasted a good opportunity in the 56th minute, dragging a free shot across goal and behind. The Blues comfortably saw out injury time with a spell of keep ball and time was called on another successful day at the office for Martinez's men.

Questions will continue to be raised about the uncertainty at the back and the continuing inability to really kill opponents off when the team is in control but, at the end of the day, the three points are all that matter. Yes, more accomplished opposition would likely have have given us a more thorough examination and possibly exploited the shortage of tightness at in defence but the job was done at the other end and the win was secured without a starring role from Lukaku or a complete display from Barkley.

The latter exhibited plenty of raw talent and unabashed ability to cause problems with his desire just to keep driving forward but he was guilty of a couple of poor decisions in the second half, one in particular prompted a petulant reaction from Mirallas when he didn't lay the ball on to him when he was in oceans of space on the right side of the area. On the whole, though, he did well and continued his education at the top level.

Annoying away wins for Manchester City and Tottenham mean that the Blues stay in seventh place but as long as the wins keep coming, the League placing will take care of itself. Another three points on the road at Villa next week to match Spurs' result would go a long way to enhancing Everton's prospects of finishing in the European places this season, even at this relatively early stage.

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Mike Hughes
627 Posted 21/10/2013 at 14:32:37
Amazingly, Jags just made Garth Crooks' team of the week.
Just goes to show how we all view things differently!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/24603253

Mike Gaynes
655 Posted 21/10/2013 at 16:01:38
Great summary, Lyndon. I'm actually more concerned about how Jags and Distin are performing defensively than offensively... their usual tight coordination is often missing this season. Sagbo couldn't have been more open for his goal.

I cannot remember any player, ever, scoring with his very first touch of the season. Extraordinary.

Linda Morrison
890 Posted 22/10/2013 at 16:30:50
You know what I think like all fans we are a little bit overcritical of the team. It's especially hard for the 2 main defenders, Jags and Sylvan to adapt to such a difference approach, but they will, it's up to the midfield to take the pressure off them.

I think they were all jaded after the internationals and still adapting

Trevor Lynes
492 Posted 24/10/2013 at 12:17:34
My opinion for what it is worth is that Jags and Distin in tandem are amongst the best centre-back pairings in the whole Premier League. An added big bonus is that neither ever seem to get booked so suspensions are non existent. Both always give 100% and their stats bear out the fact.

I think the problem with short passing for them has been apparent elsewhere as teams are beginning to close down the defenders. Man Utd got themselves in a twist many times against Southampton and Liverpool had similar problems of late so it's not confined to us.

What is needed is variety. When sides are closing our defenders down quickly, surely a switch to longer balls or throws out from the goalkeeper would put the problems on to the opposing defences who would be short handed. Man City defenders, especially Lescott, give the ball to Toure or Fernandez as soon as possible and let the midfielders do the more incisive passing.

Jagielka and Distin are top class defenders and do their job very well. Midfielders are supposedly the creative players who are the playmakers of the team. I'm really happy that Pienaar is back as he works his socks off covering back as well as working in tandem with Baines. He could be the outlet for Distin who normally covers Baines when he go's on his forays up front. Barry should then be the player to receive from Jagielka to enable Coleman to provide similar support to Mirallas on the right.

Tom Bowers
511 Posted 24/10/2013 at 15:31:18
Without being overly negative, one has to look at the central defence these days which has been somewhat worrying. Distin has been a great buy and a model of consistency but age may be catching up just as it did Sol Campbell who was another great performer.

Sure, Sylvain can still match opponents in the air but that extra yard on the ground cannot be covered up. Jags also has been a great buy and still has it in my book but the partnership itself is not very watertight this season and needs a serious rethink by RM.

Unfortunately the options RM has are not ready yet and may not be for a while unless Alcaraz is fit soon. I would think Everton's first priority in the transfer window will be fixing this problem if it continues to be so.

Trevor Lynes
524 Posted 24/10/2013 at 16:11:17
Tom...last season we conceded less goals than any other team except for the Manchester clubs, surely this is testimony to the excellence of our defence which has absolutely carried us up until very recently when we acquired some strikers.

Coleman, Jagielka, Distin and Baines have been by far our best defenders. It's only when Heitinga played that we suffered defensively as he could not cope against strong, big strikers.

This season we have struggled a bit more than usual as a lot of teams are pressing further up the pitch to counteract sides who play out from the back. I already suggested variety in play to stop us being stereotyped.

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