Phil Jagielka praised his Everton teammates for doing a “fantastic job” to beat Cardiff City – after channelling his own pre-match “excitement” into producing a consummate defensive display in the Welsh capital.
Centre-back Jagielka made his 381st appearance for the Club against Cardiff – and 317th in the Premier League.
He was nevertheless starting for the first time since Everton’s draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers in the season’s opening game. Jagielka last completed 90 minutes back in May when the Blues played West Ham United on the final day of 2017-18.
However, the 36-year-old seamlessly slotted into the middle of Everton's back four and helped Marco Silva's team record a seventh top-flight shutout this term.
Everton claimed a maximum points’ haul against Neil Warnock’s Cardiff courtesy of goals in either half from Gylfi Sigurdsson and Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s splendid late strike.
“I have not had a full 90 minutes for eight or nine months…so it [returning to the team] was difficult,” Jagielka told evertontv.
“But the excitement was there – and a few nerves, having not played for so long.
“It was nice the guys around me played so well and we kept the clean sheet, so job done.
"I really enjoyed being out there and being captain.
“There were a few bits of ring rust in the first five minutes but once I got rid of those, all I had to do was try to prove what I could still give to the team.
“The boys around me did a fantastic job and scoring the three goals made our lives a lot easier.
“Everyone is really happy and excited with the performance and it is time to move on to the next game now.”
Everton delivered a controlled performance against a Cardiff side scrapping for survival near the foot of the table and keen to impose their physicality on visitors to the Bluebirds' corner of South Wales.
Jagielka and his colleagues nonetheless prevented the hosts – who had won two of their previous three games to climb out of the relegation spots – from having a single shot on target.
Everton were clinical at the other end of the pitch, too. The excellent Sigurdsson twice buried difficult opportunities, leaving goalkeeper Neil Etheridge helpless on each occasion, while Calvert-Lewin completed a pleasing night’s work when he raced onto Idrissa Gana Gueye's threaded pass to conjure an immaculate first-time finish from 20 yards.
Jagielka won four aerial duels – a notable feat against Cardiff’s robust collection of forwards – and completed four clearances and two interceptions.
It did not escape his notice that striker Calvert-Lewin matched his number of clearances in a rounded team performance from which Jagielka drew plenty of encouragement ahead of Liverpool’s visit to Goodison Park on Sunday.
“We knew what to expect from Cardiff and that we would have to defend a lot of long throws and set pieces,” said Jagielka.
“But the boys did well, even those coming back from up front and having to make clearances. Everyone mucked in.
“And, thankfully, we still showed a lot of creativity... made at least three really good chances and took them.
“The first goal came from a fantastic ball from Morgan Schneiderlin to play in Seamus [Coleman] and he found Gylfi nicely - and if you want anyone in that position, it is Gylfi.
"And in the second half, with his left foot, Gylfi put it over the goalkeeper’s head but kept it down enough for it to go in.
“Then Gana showed a little bit of magic at the end with a nutmeg and assist from midfield.
"And Dom deserved his goal. I told him that, he had an important role for us on his own up front against two big, strong defenders and when he came back to defend set-pieces he got his head on a few things.
“I was delighted he got on the scoresheet.
“Confidence is building again and, hopefully, it will be an exciting game on Sunday and we can continue generating momentum.”