Mikel Arteta was determined to make an impact on his return from injury. And Morten Gamst Pedersen was not going to get in the way.
Arteta made an early return from a groin injury to inspire Everton to a last-gasp 3-2 win at Ewood Park on Saturday, starting the scoring by earning and converting a fourth-minute penalty. But he made an impact of a different kind when he squared up against Pedersen after a tackle later in the half. After wagging his finger, he angrily poked Pedersen in the cheek, then the eye. Arteta offered an apology – of sorts.
"I probably shouldn't have reacted like I did but there have been a few times – not just [Saturday] – when he's made bad tackles," Arteta said. "I don't mind it when they're fair or tough, I accept it with no problem. But with him it's different and he knows that – I told him after it today as well."
Because referee Andre Marriner cautioned both players, no retrospective action can be taken and Arteta knows he was lucky.
"But I made a mistake, I shouldn't have reacted and I apologise for it," Arteta said. "I probably got more upset because I was out for so long and don't want a stupid challenge like that injuring me again.
"I wasn't even touching the ball – he just trod on my ankle. It was stupid. If he did it because he wanted me to react then he got what he wanted, which I shouldn't have done, and I'm sorry for that."
Everton had drawn three games without Arteta, who manager David Moyes said played "on a different planet" against a Blackburn side that held Manchester United to a goalless draw the previous week. Moyes also admitted Everton's Europa League hopes would have been damaged had Arteta, returning from injury three weeks ahead of schedule, been banned.
"Yes and that's why I had a word with him," Moyes said. "It's something that you can't do but I think he was probably that frustrated with the number of times he's been kicked and he felt that he'd already had a couple of challenges he had to deal with."
Blackburn levelled in the 69th minute through Steven Nzonzi, who scored only his second goal of the season with a long-range curling shot.
Then the match was decided by substitutes. Seconds after coming on for defender Tony Hibbert, Ayegbeni Yakubu headed Everton ahead to 2-1 in the 78th. Blackburn replied again through a stunning volley from substitute Jason Roberts in the 81st before Tim Cahill won it for Everton in stoppage-time.
Blackburn Rovers (5-4-1): Robinson; Salgado, Nelsen, Jones, Givet, Nzonzi; Andrews (Hoilett, 71), Olsson (Di Santo, 90), Pedersen (Roberts, 64), Dunn; Kalinic. Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Grella, Basturk, Chimbonda.
Everton (5-4-1): Howard; Hibbert (Yakubu, 78), Distin, Jagielka, Baines, Neville; Pienaar, Arteta, Cahill, Bilyaletdinov (Anichebe, 69); Saha (Yobo, 90). Substitutes not: Turner (gk), Senderos, Duffy, Wallace.
Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).
Booked: Blackburn Rovers Pedersen, Andrews, Roberts; Everton Arteta, Distin.
Man of the match: Arteta.