As Ruud Gullit discovered when dropping Alan Shearer for a derby with Sunderland, there is nothing quite so disastrous for a manager's prospects as exiling a player on principle and then seeing the result explode in your face.
David Moyes would not have been fired had Everton lost with Joleon Lescott watching from the stands. But following the humiliation by Arsenal which began the season, the scent of crisis was not far away at Goodison Park and, as those who had watched Everton flounder against Villarreal, Dinamo Bucharest and Standard Liege could testify, attempting to qualify for European competitions has given Moyes some of his bitterest moments.
Two goals from Louis Saha and the 18-year-old Jack Rodwell ensured that barring something unforeseeable in the Czech Republic, Everton have already arrived on the new shores of the Europa League. Should Moyes succeed in prising Steven Taylor from Newcastle as a replacement for Lescott for around £8m, Everton will be better off spiritually and financially.
At a glance, seeing off the team that had finished fourth in the Czech league would not count as a very great achievement. However, Sigma Olomouc had annihilated Aberdeen in the previous round and, having been playing competitively for almost a month, were fit and motivated. The opening half-hour was exceptionally close and Moyes thought Olomouc were unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty rather than see their forward, Michael Hubnik, booked for diving.
Olomouc may have denied the Premier League team their usual advantage in these contests of superior fitness but there was also superior skill, the sort that saw Saha meet Marouane Fellaini's low cross fractionally before Petr Drobisz at the near post. The Frenchman's second and Everton's fourth was beautifully finished, delivered from outside the area and arriving fractionally inside the post.
At least Moyes knew Saha could finish – he had no idea that a teenager he described as "a good boy and a good listener who wants to improve" could drive two shots from outside the penalty box that left Drobisz bewildered. "Jack always had great potential but I did not know he was such a good shooter," he said. Rodwell's only other goal had come against Aston Villa in last season's FA Cup and, had Lescott played, he would not have done so.
The night managed in part to wash away the aftertaste of Everton's 6-1 destruction by Arsenal. The saying that victory has many fathers but defeat is an orphan was not quite true at Goodison, where they queued up to take the blame for the debacle. "I take full responsibility," said Moyes in his programme notes. "It was totally unacceptable," wrote Phil Neville a few pages later, "and as captain, I take responsibility." Meanwhile, Lescott, the man whose desire for a slice of Manchester City's oil money has riven the club, sat in the main stand, his time on Merseyside ebbing away.
Everton: (4-1-4-1) Howard; Hibbert, Yobo, Neville, Baines; Rodwell (Gosling, 75); Osman, Cahill, Fellaini, Pienaar (Vaughan, 82); Saha (Jo, 80). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Duffy, Baxter, Wallace.
Sigma Olomouc: (4-1-3-2) Drobisz; Silva, Dreksa, Skerle, Onofrej; Kascak; Horava, Otepka (Bajer, 62),Petr (Janotka, 75); Ordos (Sultes, h-t), Hubnik. Substitutes not used: Lovasik, Ulma, Stepan, Bajer, Veprek.
Referee: L Batista (Portugal)
Booked: Sigma Olomouc Hubnik; Everton Neville.
Man of the match: Rodwell.