If there is never a good time, say, to play Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal, there is a gathering body of evidence from the season so far that it might always be a good time to play Derby County, who look miserably out of their depth at this level.
Buoyed as they might have been by a strong performance in the Uefa Cup last week, Everton had been nursing concerns over their domestic form before yesterday, having lost four matches in five. No better moment, it turned out, to visit Derby, where the home side worked as hard as they always do yet still made enough fundamental errors to provide the visitors with instant relief.
The worry for Derby is that there is not much that they can obviously do, before the January transfer window at least, to put matters right. Billy Davies has spent close to £16m since he became manager in June last year yet, with the odd exception, has assembled a squad of players of no better than decent Championship quality. The consequence of that is as might be expected.
Only minimally threatening in attack, they fought gamely against greater numbers in midfield, but in defence a charge of ineptitude would not be cruel. Everton were by no means in sparkling form, yet Derby, bottom again after Bolton's point against Aston Villa, made it easy for them.
Everton probably should have gone in front after 10 minutes, when Tim Cahill headed Lee Carsley's cross the wrong side of the post when it seemed easier to score. The Australian knew he had missed a good chance, although in his first Premier League start for seven months he could be accused of a little rustiness.
It mattered little. After 26 minutes Phil Jagielka struck a diagonal ball towards Ayegbeni Yakubu, from whom a stepover was all that was needed to wrong-foot both the Derby players closest to him. As Darren Moore and Stephen Pearson obligingly stopped in their tracks, Mikel Arteta ran into the space behind them and, though his shot took a slight deflection, it was strong enough to beat Stephen Bywater, putting Everton a goal up.
"I was disappointed with how easily heads dropped after that," Davies said. "In recent weeks we have shown we can compete, especially at home, but today there were simply no excuses. Everton are a good side and the simple fact is that they have more quality than we do."
The second goal was of similar construction to the first, set up by a pass from the hard-working Steven Pienaar but again involving a dummy, this time executed by Cahill, whose feint had much the same effect, leaving Yakubu with space and time to beat Bywater comfortably.
"Yakubu showed some of the ability we know he has," said the Everton manager, David Moyes, of his £11.25m record signing. "All we wanted from him was to score the goals he scored for Middlesbrough and Portsmouth, but he has showed himself to be a more intelligent player than I thought.
"It was a great dummy for the first goal," he added. "To do that you have to know where the players are around you and he showed awareness and speed of thought."
Moyes was amused that the Nigerian had received applause from the Everton fans for his work rate, which has not thus far been his most obvious quality.
"It is funny that no matter how skilful a player is," Moyes said, "in this country we always want to see them work hard. It is part of our culture. Yak did that today and gets a standing ovation."
Work rate was about the only quality to commend Derby, who have not scored in their last five hours and 41 minutes of Premier League action. "The January transfer window is going to be crucial," added Davies, who might have increased funding if a possible takeover by the former Hull City chairman Adam Pearson goes ahead. The fear is that by then it may be too late.
Goals: Arteta (26) 0-1; Yakubu (63) 0-2.
Derby County (4-4-2): Bywater; Mears, Moore, Davis, McEveley; Fagan (S Howard, 62), Oakley, Pearson, Lewis (Earnshaw, 57); Miller (Jones, 80), Barnes. Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Leacock.
Everton (4-1-4-1): T Howard; Jagielka, Yobo, Lescott, Baines (Stubbs, h-t); Osman; Pienaar, Arteta, Carsley, Cahill (McFadden, 86); Yakubu (Anichebe, 81). Substitutes not used: Wessels (gk), Gravesen.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).
Booked: Derby Moore; Everton Jagielka.
Man of the match: Pienaar.
Attendance: 33,048.Reuse content