Everton 3 Reading 1 match report: Everton keep pressure on courtesy of Marouane Fellaini but Royals face fight
When all is said and done in May – the last ball kicked, the last referee derided and the final variation of "Sloop John B" butchered – David Moyes will sit down with a pad of paper to reflect on a season which at this stage could still go either way. In the negatives column will be the amount of points lost from winning positions, the number of headed goals conceded and a misfiring Nikica Jelavic. Under positives there will be a name right at the top – boldly underlined twice and probably accompanied by an exclamation mark or two: Marouane Fellaini.
The summer fight to keep hold of their coveted performer is certain to be labour-intensive and chairman Bill Kenwright will find it tricky not to accept offers upwards of £25million from Europe's elite. For now, though, Fellaini is an Everton player and a pleasure to watch. Scoring one and making another, he rarely seemed to break sweat and oozed the confidence to drive the hosts on.
With 11 League goals and four assists this season, Fellaini is invaluable. Without his consistency, Arsenal would certainly not be under the amount of pressure they are in today's London derby against Tottenham. The Merseysiders are just two points behind in the Champions' League scramble.
"He has got a lot of really good attributes. He can get better but he has an awful lot going for him and on his day is a real handful," said Moyes, who was without Tim Howard for the first time since 2007 and lost Phil Jagielka early to an ugly Adam Le Fondre tackle. The lunge incensed the manager, with Jagielka suffering an ankle injury which will keep him out for at "least a few weeks".
"He's going to need surgery," Moyes said. "I'm not happy with the challenge. I don't mind robust challenges but it's one that puts out one of my best players."
Reading played their part and were unfortunate not to stay in the game longer. Seamus Coleman was given plenty of time to attack the space by Jobi McAnuff in the 42nd minute, floating a wonderful ball across to Fellaini whose header was watched in by Stuart Taylor, deputising for Adam Federici who injured himself in training on Friday.
Fellaini in the hole behind Jelavic is a Moyes masterstroke. Above all else, he gives the side an increased physical presence higher up the pitch. That's especially crucial when the Toffees are behind the eight ball. See the last home match, a 3-3 draw with Aston Villa, for reference.
Le Fondre shuddered a post and Alex Pearce scooped over the bar, but it was over as a contest in the 59th minute. Leon Osman won a header in midfield and set Fellaini away. He found Steven Pienaar cutting in from the right and with Ian Harte inexplicably backing off, the South African rifled home the sort of fabulous 25-yard strike that he has available in his locker but is not seen nearly enough.
Reading are the only team in the Premier League not to have kept an away clean sheet. Manager Brian McDermott knows if they are to escape the clutches of relegation the sort of goals Everton scored need to be eradicated. The visitors lacked a depth in midfield when the ball broke and Pienaar was afforded ample opportunity to pick out the onrushing Kevin Mirallas, who wasn't being tracked, to coolly send Taylor the wrong way for number three.
"A clean sheet would be good," McDermott smiled. "We have to make up one or two points. Can we do that? We think we can. We've finished the last three seasons really strongly. If we do that again that will give us a real chance."
Hal Robson-Kanu headed in a late consolation – remarkably the 14th header conceded by Everton this season – but the points were already safe by then. Over to you, Arsenal.
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