Carlo Ancelotti says Everton’s victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Tuesday was a product of his side's adaptability and resilience.
Michael Keane’s powerful header with 13 minutes remaining – the centre-back's fourth goal this season – decided the contest at Molineux after Alex Iwobi’s sixth-minute opener was cancelled out by Ruben Neves.
Deprived of the services of striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ancelotti sprung a selection surprise by deploying James Rodriguez and Gylfi Sigurdsson in attack.
Lucas Digne, playing in the Premier League for the first time since 22 November after overcoming an ankle injury, operated on the left of midfield and created Iwobi’s goal with a sumptuous, volleyed cross.
Everton’s win was a fifth in six Premier League matches and moved them up three places from seventh and into the top four.
Ancelotti’s side are next due in action at Aston Villa on Sunday, where they will be missing the services of Abodulaye Doucoure, the French midfielder serving a one-match ban to end his ever-present league record after collecting a fifth booking of the season for a trip on Wolves forward Pedro Neto.
“It is a great result, if you win here you have to have a good performance and we played a good game,” said Ancelotti, whose side have won six away matches this term.
“We were solid defensively, we attacked well and were good on the flanks
“The game was in the balance and, in the end, we won thanks to Michael, who scored a fantastic goal.
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KEANE PRAISES EVERTON'S STRENGTH AND SPIRIT
“We adapted for the players who were available, they were not so tired after the FA Cup [Saturday’s third-round tie with Rotherham United].
“The positions of James and Gylfi up front were really good and we adapted well to the characteristics of our players.”
Everton hit the front courtesy of a tremendous move featuring Iwobi, James and Digne.
James’ 40-yard pass – after receiving possession from Iwobi – fell perfectly for the onrushing Digne to cut back an exquisite first-time ball.
Iwobi had continued his run and arrived on cue to steer his finish low past goalkeeper Rui Patricio.
Neves equalised when meeting Rayan Ait-Nouri’s 14th-minute delivery to turn home on the volley for only the fifth goal Everton have conceded in eight Premier League matches.
But Everton landed the decisive blow when Keane leapt above Ait-Nouri and Romain Saiss after substitute Andre Gomes recovered a partially-cleared corner and sent over a tremendous cross from the left.
Ancelotti’s side leapfrogged Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton into fourth place and are four points behind Premier League leaders Manchester United.
“Without Richarlison and Dominic it is more difficult to score but throughout the game we played well defensively and got a result,” continued Ancelotti.
“To be focused defensively helped us have a good game.
“And Lucas did really well, he is not so happy to play in that positon [left-midfield] but he did for the team.
“The first goal was a fantastic combination between Lucas, James and Iwobi.”
Richarlison came on for the closing 14 minutes in the Black Country after sitting out the Rotherham clash.
Everton contested a Premier League fixture without Calvert-Lewin for this first time this season, however, the England international forward currently nursing a hamstring problem.
The excellent Doucoure will be the next Everton player to lose his 100-per-cent appearance record for the campaign when Ancelotti's team go to Villa Park at the weekend.
"He is a key player, it was a fantastic signing in the summer," said Ancelotti. "He is a fantastic guy and fantastic professional.
"I think he deserves to rest, so it’s not so bad.
“Richarlison is available, for sure.
"Dominic, I don’t think so but with him we have to pay attention, we have to be careful and when he is ready, he can play.”