When David Moyes was planning the current campaign he was eager to strengthen the spine of the team. Andy Johnson and Joleon Lescott duly arrived for around £11m but another player slipped into Goodison Park almost unnoticed.
Tim Howard was surplus to requirements at Manchester United so Everton moved to sign the American goalkeeper on a season's loan. Overlooked and over here he may have been, but it has proved to be an astute piece of business by Moyes, and one that has encouraged talk of a tilt at Europe.
Howard made at least two first-class saves in this game - most notably from point-blank range from Colin Kazim-Richards - which helped build the impression that Sheffield United would not have scored if they had played until Christmas. And he achieved this despite suffering from a virus that was taking grip on the Everton team and forced the early withdrawal of James Beattie and Tim Cahill.
"He came in at 1pm feeling a bit light-headed and suffering a bit from 'flu," Moyes said, "but he put on his kit and said 'No, I'll play.' Now we'll send him home and wrap him up."
It was Howard's form in his first season at Old Trafford rather than his error-prone second that persuaded Moyes. "When he first came to the UK he was exceptional," the Everton manager said, "and we want to get him back to that level. My big concern when he came here was to get some match play into him. Once he got that he was up and running and he has looked more and more confident."
Whether Sheffield United's self-belief is on the up is debatable because you feared for them after this game. Everton were stricken with illness and injury, yet once Mikel Arteta put the home side ahead the impression was that it would be enough. The Sheffield United manager, Neil Warnock, counted six chances yet there was never any conviction that any would be converted. The Blades have not scored away from home this season and that, more than anything else, threatens their position in the elite.
Warnock admitted as much but was more critical of the referee than he was of his team. Dermot Gallagher, he said, had missed a push on Claude Davis in Everton's first goal and had been too eager to give a penalty, and a subsequent red card, when Davis fouled Johnson. "He couldn't wait to give a foul," the United manager said. "He should have retired last year."
Robert Earl, meanwhile, a Florida-based friend of the chairman Bill Kenwright, has bought a 23 per cent stake in the club. Earl, a Tottenham fan and co-founder of the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain, has become involved primarily to help Kenwright take a firmer grip after a two-year boardroom fight with the former director, Paul Gregg.
Goals: Arteta (13) 1-0; Beattie pen (33) 2-0.
Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Neville (Anichebe, 78), Weir, Yobo, Lescott; Arteta, Carsley, Cahill (Osman, 56), Davies; Beattie (McFadden, 56), Johnson. Substitutes not used: Turner (gk), Boyle.
Sheffield United (4-1-4-1): Kenny; Bromby, Davis, Jagielka, Armstrong; Leigertwood; Gillespie (Kabba, 63), A Quinn (Morgan, 33), Tonge, Kazim-Richards (Webber, 56); Hulse. Substitutes not used: Kozluk, Nade.
Referee: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).
Booked: Sheffield United: Tonge.
Sent off: Sheffield United: Davis.
Man of the match: Arteta.
Attendance: 37,900.Reuse content