Victor Anichebe, a peripheral figure at Goodison Park over the past two seasons, played his way back into the hearts and hymns of Everton's away-day army by plundering the late goal that took David Moyes' side above West Bromwich Albion into ninth place yesterday.
The heavily-built Anichebe, whose career has been blighted by injuries, has started only one Premier League match this season, back in August, while his last goal had come at Birmingham two years ago in March. Yet after coming off the bench midway through the second half, the 23-year-old Nigeria striker pounced on a defensive error to ensure that Albion, cheered from the pitch after Boxing Day's 0-0 draw with Manchester City, departed to the jeers of their fans.
As Moyes noted wryly, it was not a spectacle that anyone will want to buy on DVD. "We'd run out of ideas," the Everton manager admitted with refreshing candour when invited to take the credit for Anichebe's impact. "We wanted to somehow try something different. In the end we nicked a goal but it always looked as if it would take a wonder goal or a mistake."
The aberration, when it came, was a miscued header by Paul Scharner. That allowed Anichebe to hold off Gareth McAuley before turning to fire left-footed past Ben Foster from six yards. However, Everton's slick build-up – a chipped reverse pass by Leon Osman and concise cross from Tony Hibbert – was out of keeping with the plague of wild shots, wayward passes and poor touches.
Albion's head coach, Roy Hodgson, complained about "a very hard result to take", because, echoing Moyes, he had settled for the consolation of a clean sheet. "It was a 0-0 game where both teams nullified each other. Then it became a 0-1 game. We've given three big points to one of our rivals. [Everton] did enough to deserve a draw but we gifted them the goal."
Hodgson, whose side have won only two matches and scored just seven times at the Hawthorns, hinted that he expected the Albion hierarchy to finance some incoming transfers this month, although they have not paid a fee during the January window since signing Richard Chaplow from Burnley seven years ago. "If we're going to have a good season, we need some help," he said pointedly. "I'd like to think we've reached the stage where the type of players who would help us would cost money and demand high wages. And I'm not interested in just bringing in bodies unless I'm sure they're better than what we've got."
Moyes, meanwhile, did not disguise his delight over his "new" player Anichebe. "Victor tore a groin muscle on international duty [in September] and has had no games really, even in the reserves. He played only 25 minutes and even then he felt tired. But he's someone we've missed because he can play wide or through the middle. The goal and the reaction of the supporters will help his confidence."
Substitutes: West Bromwich Albion Dorrans (Brunt, 90). Everton Gueye 6 (Rodwell, 57), Stracqualursi 5 (Saha, 65), Anichebe 6 (Neville, 65).
Booked: Everton Baines, Stracqualursi.
Man of the match Osman. Match rating 4/10.
Possession: West Bromwich 48% Everton 52%.
Attempts on target: West Bromwich 2 Everton 8.
Referee S Attwell(Warwickshire). Attendance 23,038.