Only a goal of genuine Premier League quality from Leon Osman spared Everton the inconvenience of a replay at Goodison Park against a committed and resourceful Macclesfield Town.
A team from almost three-and-a-half divisions below them proved a real handful for David Moyes's men. On their rare appearances at this stage of the FA Cup, the Silkmen have sometimes proved to be cannon-fodder but that was far from the case yesterday, when they dominated most of the first half and came back strongly at the end of the second to come agonisingly close to snatching a replay with the last kick of the match.
"I'm pleased with the performance," Keith Alexander, the Macclesfield manager, said. "On the balance of play, they had the possession, but we had the better chances."
Moyes had paid Macclesfield the compliment of fielding a near full-strength side, with the return of Victor Anichebe the only change from the team that beat Sunderland last time out. There was also a name from Everton's recent past on the home side's team-sheet, where Wayne Rooney's younger brother, John, was among the substitutes.
Macclesfield's record in the third round of the Cup was not an encouraging one, with seven defeats in seven attempts including a six-goal loss to Chelsea and the concession of seven to Coventry. But hope springs eternal at this stage of the competition and Moss Rose was full to its modest capacity of just over 6,000 to see whether they could improve on their past efforts.
Forty volunteers worked all night on the pitch to make it playable and it was the home side who adapted better to what was still a hard and bare playing surface. Their willingness to throw themselves into the fray produced two early chances, the first of them when a botched clearance from Phil Neville allowed Terry Dunfield to fire in a shot from an angle that was just a foot over Tim Howard's crossbar.
Better still was the chance that came the way of Nat Brown, when James Jennings' cross found him unmarked on the far post. He could not keep his header down and again the ball went just over the top. If Macclesfield were to spin a fairy-tale narrative, one of those chances needed to go in.
They remained the more dangerous side, however, until they lost concentration for a moment just before half-time. Perhaps distracted by Everton's unsuccessful penalty claim, they failed to close down a corner on the left. When Mikael Arteta's second ball into the area was only half-cleared, Osman was there to bring it down and fire a sublime half-volley into the top left-hand corner from 25 yards. Jon Brain in the home goal could get a hand to it but not keep it out.
Everton showed signs of taking control in the second half as their full-backs, Tony Hibert and Leighton Baines, found acres of space on the overlap. They should have capatalised, but a second goal would not come, leaving them vulnerable to a side that refused to give up.
Macclesfield finished so strongly that they could consider themselves unlucky not to have snatched a draw. They thought they should have had a penalty when the substitute Danny Thomas went down in Hibbert's tackle. "I've seen them given," Alexander said.
Thomas had a shot that dipped over but the golden chance came in the last minute when the veteran striker Simon Yeo hit a shot that was on its way into the net, but for an acrobatic save from Howard.
Steve Round, Everton's assistant manager, underlined the importance of that contribution. "He hasn't had much to do but he's kept his concentration at the end," he said.
Referee: Peter Walton
Man of the match: Arteta
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content