Everton v Tottenham
David Moyes claimed this week he didn’t feel 10 years older for his decade of service at Goodison Park.
And no doubt it is gritty, hard-fought victories such as these – as stressful as they may seem as he looks on from the touchline – that help keep a youthful spring in his step.
Among the tributes for the Blues boss, whose actual 10th anniversary arrives on Wednesday, has been praise for his transfer market acumen.
And it was Nikica Jelavic, a deadline day signing from Rangers, who scored the vital goal that added Tottenham to the list of high-profile scalps hanging in the home dressing room at Goodison.
This, their fifth home win in a row, and fourth in succession supplemented by a clean sheet, took the Blues’ unbeaten run to nine games and steered them to within two points of Liverpool ahead of Tuesday night’s Merseyside derby at Anfield.
Jelavic’s classy strike lit up a first-half edged by the Blues, who took a deserved lead into the break.
Spurs, third in the league and praised so often for their attacking dynamism, were a different animal in the second half, but the hosts stood firm in the face of the ever-growing pressure.
That included the heart-in-mouth inevitability of a gilt-edged late chance for the returning Louis Saha, who somehow rattled the post when completely unmarked and within a few yards of goal.
The Blues held on though and Moyes, such an admirer of the defensive arts, will no doubt have taken immense pleasure from the collective will and sheer defiance shown by his players.
Gareth Bale has been cutting a swathe through the Premier League for almost two years now but has had little joy in past battles with Everton.
On more than one occasion Phil Neville has defied his ageing limbs – replacing vigour with nous – to nullify the rampaging Welshman.
This time, however, Bale started from the right so the fit-again Seamus Coleman switched to Everton’s left where it was felt he’d offer more protection than Royston Drenthe.
These were features of a hotly-anticipated teamsheet, largely because of Saha’s return to Goodison.
As it transpired the Frenchman was on the bench but his replacement, Jelavic, was on from the start and about to mark his full debut in spectacular fashion.
As in an opening 20 minutes high in intensity but low on quality, the Croatian showed exactly why Moyes was so keen to bring him to the Club in January.
The striker had just carved out the first chance of the game for Marouane Fellaini with a subtly-cushioned header when he gave his side the lead with a strike dripping with technical class.
Leon Osman, a man who has played more for Moyes than any other player but has been missing in recent weeks, underlined his importance to the team with a magnificent assist.
Collecting, controlling and turning in one fluid movement, the midfielder burrowed between two defenders and pulled back for the lurking Jelavic.
And with the ball squirming awkwardly off the turf he executed an exceptionally difficult volley as he leaned back and opened up his body before thrusting an unstoppable side-footed strike inside the post.
The striker was brimming with confidence and with a free-kick awarded 25 yards from goal he jostled his way to the front of the queue and spanked a shot towards the top corner only for a sprawling, panicky Brad Friedel to claw the ball away.
Tottenham finished the first half on the back foot but started the second like a team who had been subjected to a few choice words at the interval.
Jermain Defoe forced a save out of Howard within a minute, while a great block from Sylvain Distin thwarted the jinking trickery of Luka Modric on the edge of the box.
Tim Howard was untroubled as the ball zipped over his crossbar.Jelavic’s international teammate then had another sight of goal but
It was a worrying pattern as Spurs continued to enjoy the upper hand.
On came Jack Rodwell for Drenthe as Moyes looked to make his side more compact, by contrast, Harry Redknapp, who had already brought on Saha, sacrificed holding midfielder Sandro for Rafael van der Vaart.
With so many forward-thinking players on the pitch it left holes and the incessant Coleman poured through one to tee up Osman to force a good save out of Friedel.
It was a rare foray forward for the hosts who replaced an exhausted Jelavic with Denis Stracqualursi and brought on Phil Jagielka for Coleman to make a back three with Distin and John Heitinga.
It was backs to the wall for the Blues who dropped deeper and deeper in the dying stages.
The visitors would surely get a chance and there was an inevitability that the chance would fall to Saha.
Yet as he collected the ball with the freedom of the Park End penalty area and Goodison gasped, relief poured from the stands as he inexplicably clattered the post.
Everton had earned their luck. These are good times for the Blue half of Merseyside.