Everton v Wigan
Apostolos Vellios and Royston Drenthe scored their first Everton goals as the Blues finally shrugged off the shackles against dogged Wigan at Goodison Park.
For so long in a deeply frustrating second half it looked as though they would have to settle for a point as they laboured in vain to crack the Latics' code.
With the score locked at 1-1 clear-cut chances were not exactly flowing, but when one came along, 19-year-old Greek prospect Vellios produced a towering header to ensure the afternoon didn’t end in tragedy.
Tony Hibbert was the architect as his perfect cross – one of several he delivered throughout the course of the afternoon – was planted beyond the stricken Ali Al Habsi.
And special credit must go to the long-serving defender for making a truly courageous block in the immediate aftermath of that crucial strike to keep his side on course for what proved the epitome of a hard-fought victory.
Any lingering doubts over the destination of the points were eventually dispelled as Drenthe capitalised on panic in the Wigan defence to make it 3-1 with a calm finish deep into injury time.
Skipper Phil Jagielka had earlier cancelled out Franco Di Santo’s deflected opener before Everton finally came good to bank a welcome and deserved maximum.
On so many occasions last season the Blues dropped points when faced with a similar scenario, and supporters will hope this is a sign of things to come as they departed Goodison with full reward for their efforts.
After an encouraging display against Aston Villa last time out, David Moyes resisted the temptation to tinker with his starting line-up.
With the likes of Drenthe, Louis Saha, Johnny Heitinga and Magaye Gueye all pushing for a place in the side, the Everton boss is not short of options, but all were disappointed as he rewarded the vigour shown last week by submitting an unchanged teamsheet.
That also meant consecutive starts for Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and the Russian was involved as the Blues engineered the first chance of the match. Both he and Leon Osman tried to penetrate down the left and, with anxiety spreading in the Wigan defence, Leighton Baines swung a cross to back stick for Seamus Coleman to force a panicky save out of Al Habsi.
The game lulled for a spell until the ingenuity of Osman flickered in the gloom – his effortless control, turn and reverse ball punching a gaping wound in the Latics’ defence.
Baines took full advantage of the resultant disarray but Tim Cahill wanted too much time after the full-back had picked him out in typically composed fashion.
Goalscoring opportunities weren't coming thick and fast but they were all at one end as Marouane Fellaini became the latest player to threaten – his shot desperately blocked by flailing limbs of Gary Caldwell.
But as so often can happen, Everton’s aura of supremacy was shattered in a flash as Wigan made the most of their very first foray forward.
The otherwise faultless Osman was guilty of letting the awkward Di Santo breeze past him and his outrageously optimistic punt ricocheted off of Hibbert’s studs and skewed wildly away and into the top corner.
It was against the run of play, incredibly fortunate, and the generally goal-shy Di Santo made the most of his rare success with a cringeworthy jig.
However, his giddy tomfoolery had barely finished by the time teammate Al Habsi was left dejectedly picking the ball out of his net as the Blues hit back inside a minute.
Baines’ corner was headed onto the bar following a muscular leap by Cahill and, as the ball dropped, the home skipper was unobstructed as he calmly nodded into the Park End net.
Parity was the least Moyes’ side deserved and they began the second half attacking an expectant Gwladys Street End with renewed energy.
Coleman is often the one to lift the crowd with his exuberance and he hustled past the full-back and curled wide with his left peg to alleviate the interval slumber.
Yet as the second half settled down the pattern became one of frustration for the Blues. The visitors suffocated conductor in chief Osman and the hosts too often tried to force the play. Moyes’ answer was to send for Drenthe and Vellios, who both arrived around the hour mark.
Both tried to make an impact, but while certainly not short of perspiration, it was inspiration the hosts required, and they grew increasingly exasperated as Wigan’s wall of white blocked their route to goal.
However, when that creative spark eventually came, it was from a somewhat unfamiliar source as the excellent Hibbert stepped up to deliver the incisive pass – a peach of a cross that found Vellios rising supremely to glance an unstoppable header past Al Habsi.
The relief inside the ground was palpable but hearts were in mouths almost instantly as David Jones looped the ball on to the bar.
And with Tim Howard scrambling and Victor Moses picking up the pieces, the heroic Hibbert produced a jaw-dropping block to save his side.
Any remaining angst was then assuaged as fans' favourite in the making, Drenthe, kept his cool to deliver the knockout blow and make it 3-1 in the eighth minute of stoppage time.