Everton 1 Blackburn Rovers 0: Fighting Fernandes provides the key to unlock Everton potential

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The Independent Football

Everton bristled understandably when the manager of their greatest rivals took flagrant disregard of history by dismissing them as a "small team", but only a week after the ill-chosen words of Rafa Benitez provoked such offence to the blue half of Merseyside comes a reality check spelled out by their own manager.

While Liverpool rub their hands at the prospect of the hugely enhanced spending power likely to result from their £470m takeover, David Moyes concedes that the £12m said to be wanted by Benfica to allow Portugal international Manuel Fernandes to remain at Goodison Park beyond this season might be a little out of his pocket.

"He is a young, exciting, up-and-coming player, right up my street," Moyes said after watching the 21-year-old mark his debut on loan on Saturday by giving an instant infusion of energy and cohesion to the centre of Everton's midfield. "But I don't know if the price will be. I have heard that figure of £12m mentioned. I think the board are aware of it too. Beyond that I don't know." There is the difference. With new and vast resources at his disposal, a £12m fee would not make Benitez even blink. For Moyes, however, there is no such luxury nor, he admits, is there likely to be in the foreseeable future.

"I think as a club we will always need to buy carefully," he said. "We will be a club that makes some big investments but will have to look for bargains as well.

"Andy Johnson was a big investment but we don't have the money to make big, big signings so I am going to have to keep looking for players like Joleon Lescott and Tim Cahill, good players at prices we can afford. This is now a very well run football club and I don't think we will ever overspend."

Which is probably not what the fantasists among Everton fans want to hear, but if that assessment seems to confirm in one way that Benitez is right it should not be a source of despair. There are improvements to be made but on Saturday's evidence - and not only that involving the ball-winning and passing talents of Fernandes - this is an Everton side with top six potential if not better.

Six clean sheets in their last eight Premier League matches reflects the solid partnership developed by Lescott, Joseph Yobo and Alan Stubbs at the back, Lee Carsley remains a powerful force in midfield while the creativity of Cahill and Mikel Arteta dovetails increasingly effectively with the pace and finishing power of Johnson, whose sharpness on Saturday suggested, after his exclusion last week because of a suspect ankle, he is due a run in the England side.

His 10th-minute goal, the 10th of his season on his 26th birthday, resulting from the third touch by an Everton player inside the Blackburn penalty area, reflected confusion in a Blackburn defence lacking the suspended Stephen Warnock and the injured Andre Ooijer.

Mark Hughes' squad is in poor shape generally, with both Morten Gamst Pedersen and Matt Derbyshire having joined Steven Reid and Robbie Savage among the injured. Tugay Kerimoglu looked to be feeling the effects of a gruelling international trip to Georgia in midweek and David Dunn, making his first start in almost four months after returning to Blackburn from his injury-ravaged stay at Birmingham, lasted only 14 minutes before limping off with a sore hip.

"I don't like to make injuries an issue," Hughes said. "But with the week we have ahead of us [they face Bayer Leverkusen in the Uefa Cup followed by Bolton or Arsenal in the FA Cup] it is hurting us."

Goal: Johnson (10) 1-0.

Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville, Yobo, Stubbs, Lescott; Van der Meyde (Beattie, 55), Carsley, Fernandes, Arteta; Cahill; Johnson. Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Naysmith, Vaughan, De Silva.

Blackburn Rovers (4-2-3-1): Friedel; Khizanishvili (Todd, 83), Samba, Nelsen, Berner; Dunn (Roberts, 15), Tugay; Emerton, Bentley, Gallagher (Jeffers, 66); McCarthy. Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Henchoz.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

Booked: Everton Cahill, Fernandes; Blackburn Rovers Todd.

Man of the match: Fernandes.

Attendance: 35,593.

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