Leon Osman celebrated his contract extension by helping fire Everton to within touching distance of the Europa League knock-out stages.
After his new one-year deal had been announced earlier in the day, Osman set the Blues on their way to an emphatic 3-0 victory over Lille at Goodison Park.
The midfielder blasted in the opening goal midway through the first half before Phi Jagielka headed Everton into a commanding position shortly before the interval – the skipper’s third goal for the Toffees this term.
Steven Naismith’s finish at the start of the second period put the seal on what was one of the Blues’ most complete performances of the campaign to date.
The victory sets up what could prove to be a top-spot decider away to Wolfsburg in three weeks’ time, after the Germans beat FC Krasnodar 5-1 at home.
Everton maintain their grasp on top spot in Group H having recorded two wins and two draws from the four games played.
Wolfsburg are breathing down the Blues’ neck having recorded seven points – one less than Roberto Martinez’s men – but progression is looking like a tall ask for Lille and FC Krasnodar who have three and two points respectively.
Everton made their intentions clear within the first 30 seconds of the game when Romelu Lukaku, one of four changes to the team named against Swansea, was unlucky not to give the Toffees a dream start.
The Belgian was denied by a world-class save from Lille keeper Vincent Enyeama after a fine spin-and-shot, following classy, incisive play involving Osman, Leighton Baines and Naismith in the left channel.
It was a controlled start by Everton and Naismith, with a far post header from Aiden McGeady’s free-kick, also went close inside the first quarter of an hour.
Lille crept into the contest but it took until the midway point before they troubled Tim Howard. And when Idrissa Mendes tried his luck from the edge of area, the American had his near post covered and pushed the ball behind for a corner.
Everton looked dangerous every time they ventured into French territory and Osman’s opener on 26 minutes was a deserved reward for an enterprising opening.
A cross from the right by McGeady evaded James McCarthy – but Osman was well-positioned to take a touch and lash past Enyeama into the Park End net.
McGeady’s trickery was causing all kinds of problems for Lille’s rearguard. In Everton’s next attack, the winger delivered another inviting delivery, this time from the opposite flank, which Lukaku couldn’t get enough purchase on.
The former Spartak Moscow man didn’t have to wait much longer for his second assist of the evening, however.
His outswinging corner was perfectly-weighted for Jagielka, who shrugged off his marker, dove forward and powered home a bullet header to double the advantage just before the break.
Gordon Strachan was at Goodison as part of ITV’s coverage and, with Scotland due to host Republic of Ireland in the upcoming international break, McGeady’s form will have certainly given him cause for concern.
Conversely, Naismith’s performance would have been a boost to the Tartan Army chief.
The forward had gone close to making it 2-0 before Jagielka did, intelligently beating the offside trap and forcing Enyeama into an excellent stop, a save which led to the corner for the Blues’ second goal.
Naismith did get his goal on the hour-mark, however, providing the finishing touches after Lille had been cut apart by more crisp passing.
Lukaku, whose 25-yard free-kick had been excellently saved by Enyeama moments earlier, fed Baines and when the defender pulled the ball back to Naismith, the Scot smashed in Everton’s third at the near post.
Blues boss Martinez would have been delighted with manner of Everton’s win, though slightly concerned when Gareth Barry hobbled off after a challenge with Sébastien Corchia deep into the second half.
Darron Gibson came on, as did Christian Atsu and Muhamed Besic in the closing stages.
Everton comfortably saw out the game and after this evening’s work, the most likely question is not whether the Toffees can qualify for the next stage of the competition but whether they have enough to finish at the summit of Group H.