Wide men make the difference at Goodison

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Marouane FellainiPA PhotosMarouane Fellaini returns from a two-game suspension and will be keen to atone for his absence

After one victory in six games, back to back defeats at Manchester United and Norwich, Everton finally got back to winning ways with a 3-1 triumph over Reading at Goodison Park. After taking a while to spring into action, the wide players made the difference for the Toffees and the final scoreline failed to reflect the second half dominance enjoyed by the home side.

- Keen: Reading chewed up by Toffees
- McDermott: We battled well


Tim Howard sat this one out, his midweek injury getting the better of him. Howard's absence leaves him agonisingly short of a club record. Before Saturday, the goalkeeper had made 210 consecutive league appearances for Everton. As injury halts his run, the American shot stopper's league run ends just two behind club legend Neville Southall (212).

His replacement, Jan Mucha, is often widely criticised by fans and treated like the local leper. While there was a glaring howler against Chelsea many months ago, the former Slovakia number one has otherwise performed ably. Unfortunately, the Chelsea mistake has snowballed and Mucha is more of a comedic figure, with fans treating his mere presence with complete dread.

Faultless for the Reading consolation, Mucha made a couple of smart stops in the second half. Growing in confidence, as the match wore on; the Everton understudy has a clear edge over Howard in one department. Regularly finding Marouane Fellaini on goal kicks, the Slovakian has more composure on the ball and greater distribution.

Already without Howard and Tony Hibbert, the defence reshuffled again after just five minutes. Phil Jagielka became the latest Everton casualty, the centre-back received a late challenge from Adam Le Fondre and it curtailed his match. The England international requires stitches on the gash and is likely to miss two or three weeks as a result.

His replacement, much like Howard's replacement, is another player that often draws criticism from the fans. However, in this case, there is merit to the grumblings with John Heitinga well below his best this season. Playing 85 minutes here, Heitinga looked more like his old self, though, having seen the replays, questions marks remain over his involvement in the Reading goal.

Nevertheless, as Jagielka recuperates on the treatment table, Heitinga looks set to regain his place in the side. Always at his best when playing regularly, upcoming fixtures should provide the centre-back with the necessary game time, as he strives to regain his best form.

Ultimately, as mentioned earlier, the wide players made the difference for Everton. Steven Pienaar marked a fine display with an assist for Kevin Mirallas and a superbly taken goal. The South African midfielder also created five chances for his team-mates; Reading only managed six between them.

On the other flank, Mirallas was back to his imperious best. Boasting lightning pace and quick feet, the Belgian gave Reading a torrid time throughout. Crowning his performance with a smartly taken third, Mirallas adds another dimension with his ability to beat the opposition full-back through pace and trickery.

Raking through the statistics, it turns out that this is only the fourth match this season that Everton have started with a midfield of Mirallas, Darron Gibson, Leon Osman, Pienaar and Fellaini. That is probably the strongest available midfield and it is imperative that this quintet remain fit between now and the end of the season.

Producing a much brighter display than in recent weeks, some of the football in the second half was sublime. Having recorded consecutive home wins this week, Everton face another three home games with Wigan, Manchester City and Stoke visiting. Replicate the second half performance shown here and the Goodison faithful will be in for a treat this month.

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