If Wayne Rooney resents the bits-and-pieces reputation he is developing at Everton, he is going completely the wrong way about showing it.
Having scored only once in 13 starts this season, he made another eye-opening appearance from the substitutes' bench yesterday to decide a Goodison Park clash that was dying on its feet. He struck the only goal mid-way through the second half and so further justified David Moyes's softly-softly handling.
The manager has granted the 18-year-old few 90-minute stints this winter and will be tempted to leave be while the policy is bringing such results.
Rooney's one outing from the kick-off in the last three weeks was at Manchester United on Friday - for which he will be best remembered for kicking Cristiano Ronaldo up in the air.
It was back to the bench here, for 45 minutes anyway, before he was unleashed for the run-out that finally unlocked Birmingham City's stubborn defence. There was no immediate improvement after the decision to send him on for Lee Carsley on the right side of midfield. Indeed, the quarter of an hour that followed was the most nondescript of a largely forgettable afternoon.
Then the England striker, who scored his second and third Everton goals of the season in the pre-Christmas wins over Portsmouth and Leicester, uncorked some more of the genius that the Everton faithful had thought was reserved for England. From his pull-back to Tomasz Radzinski's pass, Kevin Kilbane demanded Maik Taylor's first serious save of the game, before only a brilliant interception by Jeff Kenna denied Duncan Ferguson a tap-in from Radzinski's centre.
It nevertheless proved to be the spell of pressure that saw Everton home. Taylor mishandled Gary Naysmith's inswinging right-wing corner amid the considerable presence of Ferguson and Alan Stubbs, leaving Rooney to hook in a clean right-foot finish from six yards.
Birmingham collected their first Premiership point in this fixture early last season and their opponents are one of the many sides they can claim to have since overtaken. After an alarming run in which they suddenly started leaking goals, successive victories over Leicester and Manchester City had confirmed their generally upward mobility. They were in range of fourth place, but never looked worthy of such heights here, with even the effervescent Robbie Savage dragged down against the club who tried to buy him in the summer.
Despite containing Everton comfortably enough for long spells, Birmingham failed to show the conviction needed to make it a six-out-of-six Christmas. Their muted response to falling behind will have disappointed their manager, Steve Bruce, with the home side growing stronger as the finishing line loomed.
Rooney, flushed with new confidence after his apparent crisis of a few weeks ago, was happy to shoot on sight. One effort was pulled well wide but another, more audacious still from the right side of the penalty area, brought a flying save by Taylor. It was something at last with which to stir a subdued Merseyside - more so because of the mediocrity that had preceded it.
After an assistant's flag had gone up for offside well before Ferguson headed in Kilbane's third-minute cross, Radzinski cut in from the left, only to shoot straight at the goalkeeper. Those attempts apart, there was little to warm the soul, with Stern John heading over a cross by the acting Birmingham left-back Stan Lazaridis and Thomas Gravesen thundering a venomous shot over the bar from an angle when he followed in his own throw-in. In the absence of the injured David Dunn, it looked all over a 0-0. Thank goodness for Rooney.
Goal: Rooney (69) 1-0.
Everton (4-4-2): Martyn 5; Hibbert 6, Stubbs 6, Unsworth 5, Naysmith 6; Carsley 4 (Rooney 7, h-t), Nyarko 5 (Yobo 5, 84), Gravesen 5, Kilbane 6; Radzinski 6 (Jeffers 5, 78), Ferguson 6. Substitutes not used: Simonsen, McFadden.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Taylor 5; Kenna 6 (Kirovski, 78), Cunningham 6, Upson 6, Lazaridis 6; Johnson 5, Savage 5, Clemence 4, Hughes 4 (Cissé 5, 66); John 4 (Morrison 5, 54), Forssell 4. Substitutes not used: Bennett, Carter.
Referee: R Styles.
Man of the match: Wayne Rooney.
Attendance: 39,631.Reuse content