The way Everton capitulated when a big FA Cup semi final with Liverpool dawned last April has not been forgotten. There was a kind of a haunting that day and one which was still occupying minds here tonight, with Wembley beginning to appear on the horizon. “Disappointment” was David Moyes' word. “Pain,” said Phil Neville.
The moment may arrive soon enough when Everton's ability to travel beyond a grand old Goodison night and reveal themselves as a side belonging on the big stage will be questioned again. They will believe that they can progress beyond a home quarter-final with Wigan Athletic on Saturday week. But what can be said without fear of contradiction is that they possess a particular type of hunger for the competition, not universally evident, which will make them a popular challenger for those who are neutral.
There was time here for Oldham Athletic's Matt Smith to establish his credentials as the scourge of Merseyside, with his fourth goal against a Premier League Merseyside team in a season when he has managed only three against League One opposition. Smith admitted he was disappointed not to start, despite being fit, in a game when he took fewer than 10 minutes to spin away from a static Sylvain Distin and score. "I'm not one to throw the toys out of the pram," Smith declared. "It's disappointing the adventure is over."
It may be the cause of a haunting for Oldham's caretaker manager Tony Philliskirk. "I knew I was going to get that question," he said when the decision to hold Smith back until the 55th minute came up. "Hindsight is a wonderful feeling. I may be criticised for not starting the lad but all decisions are made in good faith."
However, this was a comfortable progression, even though individual defensive errors contributed much to Everton putting behind them five FA Cup defeats at Oldham's hands, to record their first win over the club in the competition since February 1912 – two months before the Titanic went down.
Moyes' programme notes hinted at his fears that things might just be close. The "expectation mustn't turn into impatience" he cautioned, and though there was a hint of that in the early stages, Everton's ability to find space and operate between the lines was manifest and Darron Gibson was able to control and dictate with comfort.
"At half time the players were saying how difficult it was to pick up [Leon] Osman, [Kevin] Mirallas and [Steven] Pienaar," reflected Philliskirk. "Just saying those names! Top players find space on a football pitch."
The first half was full of good things from Gibson but few better than the fine cross he lifted in from the right after quarter of an hour which Mirallas, whose movement and capacity to take up good positions were striking, darted ahead to tap in on the half-volley while Oldham's Jonathan Grounds was still looking for an offside flag.
Philliskirk rightly praised his side's indefatigability, even when 3-0 down before a raucous 4,000-strong visiting contingent. That sentiment also went for their near immediate equaliser from the sweet right boot of Jose Baxter, who seized a loose ball, advanced into the left of the Everton area and bent the ball against the inside of Tim Howard's post. For a 21-year-old whose four years at the club did not deliver the career he had hoped for, it would have been a precious moment, though it was only a minor incursion into the story of Everton's domination.
Oldham's right-back Connor Brown, who impressed overall, "foolishly" handed Everton their second, as Philliskirk saw it, slipping and handling Seamus Coleman's cross into the box, with Baines converting the penalty under goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis who dived too early and watched the ball slip beneath him.
Oldham considered delivering Smith immediately after the break and in the ten minutes spent waiting to see how the second period would go, Osman had put the game out of sight. Oldham were finally dominating play when Osman levered an angled header into Pienaar's whipped ball from the left just past the hour, sending it looping in through the grasp of Bouzanis, who was distracted by the oncoming Nikica Jelavic.
Smith then arrived, whirling away impressively from Distain before striding back into the six-yard box to convert Grounds' corner. But with Gibson still having time for the miss of the night, sidefooting over from a neat Jelavic layback, the delay was academic.
Oldham return to a League One in which they stand a point and a place above the relegation zone. Everton are 90 minutes away from a chance to go back and exorcise some ghosts. "We've gone close a couple of times in this competition," said Baines. "It's whetted our appetite. Made it a target. So we want to go further."
Man of the match Mirallas.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee M Oliver (Northumberland).
Sixth round draw
Saturday 9 March Everton v Wigan (12.45pm, ITV); Manchester City v Barnsley (5.30pm, ESPN)
Sunday 10 March Millwall v Blackburn (2, ESPN); Manchester Utd v Middlesbrough/Chelsea (4.30, ITV)