It takes a brave manager to discipline and drop his leading goalscorer with Champions League ambitions at stake so this, if you like, was a victory for integrity as David Moyes stuck by his principles over Yakubu yet gained the win which kept Everton's grip on fourth place in the Premier League.
The Nigerian striker was left out as a punishment for his late return to Merseyside from the African Nations Cup. Expected back on Wednesday, along with his team-mate Joseph Yobo, Yakubu did not show until Friday. After three games without a goal from anyone, some players reportedly felt he should be forgiven but Moyes insisted that there should be no compromise.
So it was with some relief, when the final whistle sounded on a sometimes laboured Everton performance, that he was able to celebrate, after Phil Jagielka had supplemented an outstanding display in defence by coming up with the decisive goal 17 minutes into the second half. Moyes has not yet decided whether Yakubu will be involved against SK Brann in the Uefa Cup in Norway on Wednesday.
Jagielka's headed goal keeps Everton three points ahead of Aston Villa and will look more valuable still if Liverpool, a point further back, draw a blank when they play one of their two games in hand at Chelsea today.
The goal condemned Reading to a club record-equalling seventh consecutive defeat. It was a fate they did not deserve after a performance at odds with their now perilous position in the bottom three but that was of little consolation to their manager, Steve Coppell, as his team battles to keep their Premier League status alive. "I think we deserved better," Coppell said.
For long periods they frustrated the home side, not by packing players into their own half but by competing in midfield and making openings in attack without any sense of brittle confidence. A single shot on target, by Andy Johnson, and a couple of wide attempts by Tim Cahill made up the whole of Everton's creative product in the first half.
Moyes withdrew Manuel Fernandes from midfield in the second half so that James Vaughan could join Johnson in attack. It almost brought a dividend within five minutes as Vaughan supplied a pass that Cahill could not quite poke over the line.
Yet the decisive goal was down to the player whose outstanding form in defence earned him the right to partner the returning Yobo in the middle with Joleon Lescott switched to left-back. After Mikel Arteta's corner from the left was headed clear, Leon Osman put the ball back into the danger area, the Reading defence pushed out but left Jagielka onside and the former Sheffield United player's header looped beyond goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann.
"It was a good win and throughout the season you win in different ways. I don't think we were fortunate but we had to grind it out," Moyes said afterwards.Reuse content