One of these sides had been off for more than two months' winter break before last night but for almost an hour it was hard to tell which one. Everton were just plain off, rank in fact, until Leon Osman's pearling right-footed volley from 25 yards put them ahead. They were better thereafter, but not much, although Victor Anichebe's 88th-minute stab-in provided not just gloss for dross but a valuable second Uefa Cup away goal.
Everton will host Brann in the second leg of this last-32 tie next week as the hottest of favourites to progress to a meeting with either Fiorentina or Rosenborg. They should prevail, surely, to keep on track the only silverware remaining available this season. But their manager, David Moyes, acknowledged that establishing this two-goal cushion was hard work.
"It was a terrific result and one that we had to fight for," he said. "If I had been offered 2-0 at the start I would have taken it. In the first half we were moving the ball about but we weren't going anywhere. I had to tell the players at half-time that there's a set of posts up one end and you're supposed to put the ball between them. I think they were more energetic in the second half."
He declined to predict that progress is on the cards, not least because of recent poor cup results at home: being embarrassed in the FA Cup by Oldham, and being outclassed in the Carling Cup by Chelsea.
"I'll not say anything about progress until the job is done," he said. "With our cup record at Goodison, it would be foolish to do so."
The match ended with a minor pitch invasion by about a dozen Everton fans wanting to congratulate their players. Or maybe just ask: "How the hell did you manage to win that?" Uefa are sure to look at it, although it was quickly dispersed. The fan who remained on the pitch longest was aged about 10, and was eventually led back to the stands by Tim Cahill. It is not known whether the kid asked Cahill for his shirt, or his place in the team.
Moyes picked a surprising starting XI in that he paired Aiyegbeni Yakubu –dropped last weekend after returning late from the African Nations Cup – with Andy Johnson. That left Cahill – who functions best just off a central lone forward – out of sorts in central midfield. Cahill did thunder a tremendous left-footed volley at goal in the second half, at least. Hakan Opdal got his fingers to it, and it slammed the post.
Everton should have been ahead after 35 seconds when Yakubu ran onto Phil Neville's long pass down the inside right channel and shot. He had more time than he imagined and Opdal saved the rushed effort.
Neville spent most of the first half misplacing his passes, and a general lack of Everton urgency allowed a tireless Brann to prosper, if not score. Hassan El Fakiri was a conduit in the middle, Petter Vaagan Moen a threat on the left, and Thorstein Halstead and Araz Karadas repeatedly tricky up front.
Karadas's first chance was an eighth-minute header, just over. Minutes later, Cahill was dispossessed by El Fakiri, who set Karadas and Halstad on their way to an attempted one-two, cut out by Neville.
Moen looped a ball to Helstad, who was squeezed out, and then Karadas set up Helstad, who slalomed on goal before Phil Jagielka nicked the ball. Osman drew a one-handed aerial save from Opdal at the other end before Moen's next cross found Karadas, who dipped to the ball like a sprinter at the tape, and flew under it. In first-half injury time, Brann had the ball in the net but it was disallowed for a shove on Tim Howard by Eirik Bakke.
Osman scored eight minutes after the break, Brann had more chances thwarted, and Anichebe wrapped things up after a super late cross from Joleon Lescott.
SK Brann (4-4-2): Opdal; Dahl (Thwaite, 89), Bjarnason, Sigurdsson, Hanstveit; Solli, El Fakiri (Huseklepp, 75), Bakke, Moen; Helstad, Karadas (Demba-Nyren, 69). Substitutes not used: Udjus (gk), Guntveit, Thwaite, Misje, Winters.
Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Neville, Yobo, Jagielka, Lescott; Fernandes (Hibbert, 90), Cahill, Carsley, Osman; Johnson (Anichebe, 76), Yakubu (Baines, 90). Substitutes not used: Wessels (gk), Van der Meyde, Vaughan, Rodwell.
Referee: A Genov (Bulgaria).Reuse content