EVERTON FC bolstered their hopes of European qualification this season with an assured 3-1 victory over Reading at Goodison Park.
David Moyes’ side had too much attacking prowess for the relegation-haunted Berkshire outfit, as they secured back to back wins in the space of four days following their progress into the FA Cup quarter finals on Tuesday.
Neither side had their first choice goalkeeper available so it was a contest which was always likely to feature goals, and Everton took their chances in timely fashion to close the gap on fifth-placed Arsenal to two points.
The Blues started brightly; with Steven Pienaar’s cross creating a prime opportunity for Nikica Jelavic to score in the opening seconds but the Croatian skewed his header badly wide.
Reading were still half asleep when Everton went close again; this time Jelavic turned provider and the South African scooped a close range effort over the bar.
Everton’s momentum wasn’t helped when Adam Le Fondre’s clumsy late challenge on Phil Jagielka meant the Blues captain could not carry on, and had to be replaced by John Heitinga.
The hosts lost their early momentum for a while then, and Brian McDermott’s side almost took advantage when Mikele Leigertwood flicked on Ian Harte’s corner and Le Fondre seized on the ball to strike the post with a venomous dive.
If it was something of a let-off for Moyes’ side, at least they responded in the correct manner, cranking up the pressure and carving out a string of chances.
However, as had often been the case this season, they failed to convert any of them. Jelavic had his effort on goal well saved by Stuart Taylor, Pienaar wastefully shot wide when well positioned and then Kevin Mirallas forced an excellent stop from Taylor with his ambitious attempt from outside the box.
In the dug-out, Moyes shook his head ruefully. He has seen his side pay for such wastefulness too many times this term.
Fortunately Marouane Fellaini hadn’t read the script. The Belgian swopped passes with Seamus Coleman who was pushing forward menacingly and the Republic of Ireland international’s cross was perfect allowing Fellaini to leap easily above Jobi McAnuff and head home at the far post.
Everton’s top scorer almost doubled his side’s lead with a thunderous strike from an acute angle just before the break which Taylor was forced to tip over the angle of the bar.
They maintained that pressure after the break, with Jelavic again probing. It seemed like his presence had earned a penalty hen Stephen Kelly shoved him over in a goal-mouth scramble, but Anthony Taylor somehow decided otherwise.
Mirallas wasted a useful chance in the aftermath, but the Blues were looking likely to build on their lead as Reading dropped deep.
Fellaini headed yet another chance over the bar after smart work from Pienaar, and Everton’s midfield dominance was total.
Pienaar might not have convinced with his gilt-edged chance in the first half, but he more than made amends on 59 minutes. The midfielder picked up the ball 45 yards from goal and burst forward. The nearest Reading player Harte appeared to turn his back, and the Toffees schemer unleashed an unstoppable shot which scorched past Taylor.
The visitors were bedraggled and demoralised, and pretty soon Everton rubbed it in.
The ball broke to Pienaar off Kelly and the playmaker slipped a defence-splitting pass to Mirallas who confidently beat Taylor at the near post.
On his first Premier League start Jan Mucha had largely been untroubled, but Tim Howard’s deputy played his part, making a fine reflex save from McAnuff as Reading attempted to hit back.
With 15 minutes remaining Moyes decided to further up the ante, replacing Osman with Victor Anichebe.
It had been a near perfect afternoon, but there was to be no clean sheet to make it complete. Harte was allowed too much time to cross from the edge of the area and substitute Hal Robson-Kanu rose practically unchallenged to score with a powerful header. It was disappointing, but not enough to marr an otherwise assured performance.
Anichebe went close after some nifty show-boating from Mirallas set him loose on goal, and Jelavic continued to take up dangerous positions in the area.
Everton continued to probe but were equally content to see out the remaining minutes secure in the knowledge that their much-needed surge in momentum may have arrived just in time.
EVERTON: (4-4-1-1) Mucha, Coleman, Jagielka (Capt) (Heitinga, 5), Distin, Baines, Gibson, Osman (Anichebe, 74) Mirallas, Pienaar (Hitzlsperger, 81), Fellaini, Jelavic.
Subs not used: Springthorpe, Oviedo, Naismith, Neville.
Goals: Fellaini (42) Pienaar (59) Mirallas (67)
READING: (4-4-2) Taylor, Pearce, Mariappa, Leigertwood, Hunt (Blackman, 75) McAnuff (Capt), Kebe (Robson-Kanu, 19) Harte, Kelly, Akpan, Le Fondre.
Subs not used: Henly, Gunter, Karacan, McGleary, Morrison.
Goals: Robon-Kanu (84)
Ref: Anthony Taylor