Everton have a new spring in their step and Smith's accent on youth has refreshed a weary season. In stark contrast, Middlesbrough must halt a worrying run of just two points from seven games in order to prevent a slide into relegation trouble.
The inspiration behind Everton's turnaround of fortunes has been Don Hutchison's switch to partnering Francis Jeffers in attack. Where Jeffers catches the eye, Hutchison prompts and probes by dropping off the defensive line to supply Everton's marauding midfield men. Middlesbrough were overpowered and overwrought, the rancour within their ranks all too evident.
Smith felt the performance was just culmination for several weeks of improving form.
"I feel in a lot of the home matches we have deserved to win some that we have drawn. We've never really looked like scoring a lot of goals but in the last two games we've had a lot of attempts on goal. Scoring so early in the match was the most important factor for us. It gave us a bit of confidence," added the Everton manager, whose night was blighted by a booking for Olivier Dacourt which sees the Frenchman suspended for the quarter-final of the FA Cup against either Newcastle or Blackburn.
Middlesbrough were caught on the hop and were hopping mad. Intricate approach play featuring Hutchison and Dacourt released man of the moment Jeffers down an exposed left Middlesbrough flank. A formality of a cross was tucked away by the unguarded Nicky Barmby within the first minute.
The visitors' recriminations were immediate but remedies hard to find as Everton dominated the midfield with a new-found poise and flair. The build-up for the second goal capitalised on more Middlesbrough confusion as a first-time Hutchison pass split three defenders to find Barmby arriving late into the box. His deft touch caressed the ball over the oncoming Mark Schwarzer and into the vacated goal.
The third goal arrived on the counter-attack when Hutchison cleverly waited for support from his young partner Jeffers, who teed up a curling Hutchison effort that Schwarzer spilled into the path of Dacourt for a regulation tap-in.
The Italian defender Marco Materazzi nonchalantly struck the fourth goal direct from a free-kick and more considered work from Hutchison from a short corner and his subsequent delivery into the heart of the Middlesbrough area produced a point-blank header for David Unsworth to rub salt into open wounds.
Everton (4-4-2): Myhre; Dunne, Materazzi, Unsworth, Ball; Oster (Weir, 73), Dacourt, Grant, Barmby; Jeffers (Bakayoko, 76), Hutchison. Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Cadamarteri, O'Kane.
Middlesbrough (5-3-2): Schwarzer; Stockdale, Cooper, Vickers (Summerbell, 71), Pallister, Gordon; Mustoe, Gascoigne (Ricard, 71), Townsend; Beck, Campbell. Substitutes not used: Beresford (gk), Moore, Maddison.
Referee: K Burge (Mid Glamorgan).Reuse content