Left out by England despite declaring himself fit to face Spain, Everton's striker Andy Johnson responded with a display of what the national side were missing by scoring the goal that proved enough to keep alive his side's top-six ambitions.
Johnson, who had been tipped to start the Old Trafford friendly, was sent home on the advice of the England physiotherapist, Gary Lewin, even though he had said the ankle problem he reported at the beginning of last week had cleared up. "He is still carrying it, but I would have been happy for him to play," his manager, David Moyes, said.
There was little evidence of injury yesterday. There should have been more goals from Everton in general and Johnson in particular, on his 26th birthday, as Blackburn, a shadow of the side who won 4-1 in the FA Cup at Goodison a month ago, suffered the consequences of a lengthening injury list which Morten Gamst Pedersen and Matt Derbyshire joined last week.
"I don't like to make injuries an excuse but this was one occasion when it really hurt us," Blackburn's manager, Mark Hughes, said. "We played better in the second half but we were probably fortunate to come in at half-time only one goal down."
Johnson threatened Blackburn whenever he had the ball, but his was not the only impressive performance on display yesterday. Equally eye-catching was the Portuguese midfielder Manuel Fernandes, who made a notably influential contribution on his Everton debut.
The 21-year-old, on loan from Benfica, appeared to have an immediate grasp of what Everton were about and his energy and movement let him play a major part in both winning the ball and setting up attacks. He and Johnson, with assistance from Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill and Lee Carsley, dominated the first 45 minutes.
Johnson needed only 10 minutes to score his 10th goal of the season but the visitors could have suffered worse, Everton's incisive football creating chances for Cahill and Andy van der Meyde as well as a couple more for Johnson. Fernandes drew a save from Brad Friedel with one shot and only narrowly missed with his follow-up.
Blackburn's cause had not been helped by an injury to David Dunn, whose first start in a senior game since he faced Derby as a Birmingham player in October lasted only 14 minutes following a bang on the hip in a challenge on Everton's Phil Neville. His team were below par anyway, conceding the early goal to Johnson when Dunn's header from a Neville throw was nodded back by Carsley and flicked on by Arteta before Johnson, just onside, hooked it past a helpless Friedel.
Everton would have been spared the frustration of waiting for a second goal had Johnson been able to convert the pass from Arteta that had invited another celebration for the England striker seven minutes into the second half. But Johnson managed to get the ball stuck under his feet and the opportunity was lost.
"Andy looked sharp, he had three or four good attempts at goal," Moyes said. "He is 26 now and I think his peak years are to come. He has his pace, but what will come with maturity is intelligence and nous. Hopefully, he will be close to future England squads."Reuse content