James McFadden has developed a handy knack of scoring the goals which guarantee headlines at a time when clubs are seeking to strengthen their forward lines and add to their attacking options.
The unsettled Scotland international opened his Premier League account against Blackburn Rovers on 25 August, towards the end of the summer transfer window, only to miss out on a move from Everton. McFadden doubled his league tally for the season with the second of his team's goals against Middlesbrough yesterday to remind suitors that they have a month to secure his services.
"James plays for Everton and scores for us and that's all I'm talking about today," said a typically guarded David Moyes. In truth, the Everton manager is expecting bids from Celtic and at least two top-flight rivals before the month is out.
Middlesbrough could make use of McFadden's undoubted potential. Where Everton took the chances to decide this encounter Andrew Johnson breaking the deadlock in the 67th minute the hosts failed to capitalise on periods of sustained pressure. "What happens at the Riverside will decide our final position," said Boro's manager, Gareth Southgate, prior to a fifth home defeat this season. If that is the case, then the future is bleak.
"We know what needs to be done," added Southgate following a listless display. "I have stopped the players from talking about new players coming in. If it happens it will give the squad a lift. The thing for me is keeping my current players enthusiastic and together."
It is a damning indictment of a dreadful opening period that it required two awful touches from the returning Ayegbeni Yakubu to lift the subdued home support from their slumber.
The Nigerian forward did not depart Teesside on the best of terms but a series of chants, suggesting money was the motivation behind Yakubu's move to Merseyside, betrayed a deep sense of regret at the Riverside.
Given the option of the prolific African or the one-dimensional Dong Gook Lee it is unlikely any Middlesbrough supporter would favour the willing yet woeful South Korean forward.
Goal-line clearances from Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott emphasised Boro's need for a ruthless touch in the opposition area. Both defenders deserved praise, but better goalscorers than Stewart Downing and Tuncay Sanli would not have allowed their rivals the chances to clear. "Joleon's second-half interception and Tim Howard's save from the [Gary O'Neil] follow-up was the turning point for us," added Moyes. "It took us a wee while to get going but we weren't too badly affected considering all the players we were missing."
Lescott's pivotal intervention inspired his team-mates to press forward and Yakubu emerged as the unpopular architect of the opening goal. It was his ball which found Johnson, via Stephen Pienaar, and the England international finished with aplomb for a third goal in six games.
Within six minutes McFadden had doubled the advantage. An error from Fabio Rochemback enabled Everton to break forward, with Johnson the marginally offside link man. His neat exchange of passes with McFadden freed the Scot for what could be his final goal in a blue shirt.
Moyes gave greater significance to the goal from his countryman when he said both went into the game determined to pay tribute to Phil O'Donnell. "James was a Motherwell player," he said. "He knew Phil and so did I. Our thoughts are with his family."
Goals: Johnson (67) 0-1; McFadden (73) 0-2.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Young, Woodgate, Huth, Pogatetz; O'Neil (Adam Johnson, 74), Rochemback (Cattermole, 84), Arca, Downing; Lee (Hutchinson, 59), Tuncay. Substitutes not used: Turnbull, Riggott.
Everton (4-1-3-2): Howard; Hibbert, Lescott, Jagielka, Valente; Carsley; Neville, Pienaar (Anichebe, 90), McFadden (Baines, 80); Andy Johnson, Yakubu (Vaughan, 87). Substitutes not used: Wessels, Stubbs.
Referee: Mike Riley (Leeds).
Booked: Everton Carsley.
Man of the match: Carsley.
Attendance: 27, 028.Reuse content