Everton 1 Reading 0: Jagielka finds his place to conquer curse of versatility

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For a footballer, versatility can be as much a curse as an asset, particularly if no one can decide what you are really good at. Ask Phil Jagielka. In 287 games for Sheffield United, he performed with distinction in every function, including goalkeeper. Neil Warnock, his manager then, said he was "the sort of player you want to have in three positions at once", but could never quite identify the one he should make his own.

It did not stop him landing a £4m move to Everton last summer, but after filling temporary roles in midfield and at full-back without establishing himself in either, Jagielka might have wondered if he would ever be more than somebody else's stand-in.

But that may be about to change. Asked to play at centre-half while Joseph Yobo was on African Nations Cup duty, he has grown into the job so convincingly that when the Nigerian returned on Saturday it was Jagielka who kept his place, with Joleon Lescott moving to left-back.

Anthony Gardner, signed on loan from Tottenham, so far looks surplus to requirements. Jagielka was singled out for compliments by his manager, David Moyes, and not only because his winning goal spared the Everton manager any awkward questions over Yakubu.

Twice he probably stopped goals, too, first with a stretched-leg interception to deny Dave Kitson a clear run at Tim Howard, then with a steadfast stand-up block as the substitute, Jimmy Kebe, unleashed a powerful attempt to equalise. Yet Moyes revealed that it was not long ago that he had needed to put a reassuring arm around Jagielka's shoulder as the 25-year-old fretted over the wisdom of moving to Goodison.

"We brought Phil in as someone who could play two or three roles and he has had to be patient," Moyes said. "I had to tell him that it is not always easy moving clubs and that with respect this was a step up for him.

"I wouldn't say his spirits were getting low but I think for a spell he might have thought, 'Wait a minute, this is a step too far' and he did need reassurance. But he has come through those times and deserves to be applauded for playing well.

"We always thought centre-half would be his best position and I said to him today I think that his form has been terrific. But it is not as if it is a one-off; he has been like it for six to eight games."

As it happens, Everton have kept six clean sheets in their last eight Premier League games, keeping them in pole position in the race for fourth place despite the absence of Yobo, Yakubu and Stephen Pienaar. But Moyes knows that it will need more than a solid defence to secure a Champions League berth.

With Andy Johnson still short of his best, the Yakubu dilemma could not have come at a less opportune time. Despite Everton going three matches without a goal, Moyes dropped the Nigerian as a disciplinary measure following his late return from Africa and has yet to decide whether he plays in Wednesday's Uefa Cup match against Brann Bergen in Norway.

Just as well then that Jagielka was in the right place when Leon Osman lobbed a half-cleared corner back into the box in the 62nd minute, to send a looping header beyond the reach of the goalkeeper, Marcus Hahnemann.

Yet more rough luck on Reading, whose performance did not merit a seventh straight league defeat, leaving them in the bottom three. "This season has probably been what everybody expected last season, when we massively overachieved," manager Steve Coppell said. "But we are up for the challenge. It is nothing to be frightened of – just 12 games of football."

Goal: Jagielka (62) 1-0.

Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville, Yobo, Jagielka, Lescott; Arteta, Carsley, Fernandes (Vaughan, h-t), Osman; Cahill; Johnson. Substitutes not used: Wessels (gk), Hibbert, Van der Meyde, Nuno Valente.

Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Sonko, Cissé, Shorey; Oster (Kebe, 81), Matejovsky, Harper, Hunt; Kitson (Long, 75), Doyle. Substitutes not used: Federici (gk), Rosenior, De la Cruz.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).

Man of the match: Jagielka.

Attendance: 36,582.