Everton vs. Reading: 6 Things We Learned
Moments before halftime, Marouane Fellaini towered over a pair of defenders to convert Seamus Coleman's cross, and from then on it was a much smoother ride for David Moyes' men.
Steven Pienaar made it 2-0 on 59-minutes, with a superb left-footed strike, before masterfully dissecting the Reading defence a few minutes later to allow Kevin Mirallas the chance to slot home a third.
Reading managed a late riposte, through a Hal Robson-Kanu header, but rarely threatened the hosts after the break.
Here are six Everton-related talking points to emerge from this win.
Tale of Two Halves
This game fell under the category of one of the most common clichés in football, as Everton struggled in an abject first half, before imposing themselves during the second.
Having undergone a miserable February, with just one Premier League point from a possible nine, the crowd at Goodison Park were understandably edgy; nervous about their side's dwindling form.
This seemed to transcend down to the pitch, as the hosts appeared especially disjointed and allowed Reading several early sights of goal.
The Toffees' build-up play was slow and predictable, there was a lack of fluidity in the passing game and it seemed as though players were waiting for an individual to spark them into life.
Thankfully Fellaini's goal did just that minutes before the break, and Everton's second-half showing was a complete contrast to the first.
Attacks were intelligently crafted, built at pace, and the passing game was far more slick and in-sync. For the first time in a while, Everton were also clinical enough in the final third to finish off their opponents while in the ascendancy.
Key Switch from Moyes
One of the catalysts for this gradual improvement in play was David Moyes' decision to switch Pienaar and Mirallas late-on in the first period.
Managers often tinker with their wide men and it rarely makes a notable difference; however, on this occasion both players were significantly more prominent after the change.
Pienaar came over to the right and Mirallas the left and almost instantaneously Reading found it far harder to suppress the Toffees' width.
Mirallas appears far more comfortable coming in off the left, as he did at Olympiakos, where he was last season's top scorer in Greece.
The natural chemistry between Pienaar and Baines has perhaps left Moyes reluctant to switch his wide men more often; however, on the evidence in this game, it's certainly something to implement more.
Pienaar Shows His Class
As well as Mirallas, Coleman and a couple of others played, Steven Pienaar was his side's best performer by a considerable margin.
With Everton often struggling to gain a two-goal cushion this season, his strike just before the hour mark was arguably the most crucial of the game.
Taking a pass from Fellaini, he cut past a pair of Reading defenders before hitting a powerful left-footed drive past Stuart Taylor.
He also collected an assist, for Mirallas' goal, and was the most creative player on the pitch, fashioning out five chances in total—all from open play and just one fewer than Reading's whole team managed.
Tim Howard's failed fitness test an hour before kick-off left many Evertonians fretting at the prospect of Jan Mucha replacing him in goal.
In brief glimpses, the Slovakian international's hardly endeared himself to supporters, making a number of comical gaffes during cup matches.
The fact this was his first league outing in two-and-a-half years at the club says a lot about the confidence Moyes holds in his reserve goalkeeper.
However, despite several negative preconceptions, Mucha was tidy enough for the Toffees and almost kept what would have been his side's fifth clean sheet of the season.
He still looked shaky at set-pieces and generally unconvincing in the air; however, the Slovakian will be content at finally recording a Premier League start.
Howard's injury meant the American missed a league game for the first time since 2007 and fell agonisingly short (two games) of passing Neville Southall’s Everton record of 212 consecutive league appearances.
A record it's fair to say Mucha won't be troubling.
Fellaini Keeps on Scoring
Marouane Fellaini's clever header took his overall goals tally to 12 this season, with 11 coming in the Premier League.
That's a total only twice beaten in the past 12 top flight seasons at Everton—by Yakubu in 2007/08 and Louis Saha in 2009/10—and considering the varying roles the Belgian plays, it's an especially impressive feat.
It was also his fifth header, making him the Premier League's joint most potent aerial finisher, an accolade so often held by his former team-mate, Tim Cahill.
Whether Everton can keep hold of Fellaini for next season or not, finishing this season in style is essential in order to inflate his value as much as possible.
Confidence Boosting Win
Having stuttered their way through February, this second-half showing was exactly the tonic needed to galvanise Everton's players and supporters alike.
Remarkably the Toffees have not enjoyed a Premier League win by more than a one-goal margin since September, some 21 games ago, so this was an occasion to savour.
The win should soothe tired legs, restore faltering confidence levels and help erase memories of a disappointing January transfer window.
With much still to play for, in the FA Cup and over the next ten league games, hopefully this victory can spark some late-season form and see the Toffees end the season in notoriously commanding fashion.
Statistics via EPL Index