Leighton Baines return vs. Brighton a boost for beleaguered Everton
Home improvements continued for Everton on Saturday as a 2-0 win against Brighton secured a third successive Goodison Park victory and offered much-needed respite after successive away defeats.
After an uneventful opening hour in which Everton bossed possession but created little and appeared to be running out of ideas, this mundane affair caught fire in a closing 30-minute spell producing two goals, a Brighton red card and another Wayne Rooney penalty miss.
A first clean sheet in 11 matches arrived with a four-man defence featuring three David Moyes signings, which is a damning indictment on the managers and recruitment following since then. In the end, their experience helped end Brighton's seven-game unbeaten run and lift Everton back into the top half.
In a season this low on cheer, even the smallest positive seems worth noting. In that context, there have been few finer sights of late than the returning Leighton Baines in full flight on the Everton left. The presence of a natural left-back, especially one as good as Baines, makes such a difference to this team.
Baines capped his first appearance since November with a delightful assist for the second goal as the left-back and striker Cenk Tosun sliced through the Brighton defence. It was comfortably the best passage of football served up by Everton in recent months.
After a string of matches defined by poor ball retention and minimal possession, it may seem boorish to complain after a match in which Everton enjoyed 59 percent possession, but the issue was how relatively little the home side did with it.
Aside from the Tosun goal, the only other attempts on target were a Phil Jagielka header from a corner and the saved Rooney penalty. Clear-cut chances were still in short supply as Tosun lacked quality service.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Sam Allardyce was able to call on both Baines and Seamus Coleman for the first time this season and this better balance on the flanks helped. Introduction of an extra centre-back late on was unnecessary and unsettled a settled defence.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Jordan Pickford, 6 -- Aside from a good late save preserving the clean sheet after a wayward Mason Holgate pass, there was precious little for the Everton goalkeeper to do.
DF Seamus Coleman, 6 -- Solid enough without reaching his marauding best as Coleman continues his recovery after 10 months out. Showed his leadership credentials with his staunch reaction and defence of Baines in the aftermath of the Brighton red card.
DF Phil Jagielka, 7 -- One awful first-half pass put his team in trouble and highlighted his erratic distribution, but the 35-year-old can defend and did so impressively, often sweeping up well behind his defence.
DF Michael Keane, 7 -- Much improved on the Burnley debacle and seemed more content in his game with the dependable club captain alongside him. Allardyce appears to have settled on Keane as first choice with this his sixth consecutive start.
DF Leighton Baines, 8 -- Back after 18 matches out injured, the 33-year-old slotted seamlessly back in at left-back, using all his experience in defence, while a fine assist at the other end recalled his much-missed attacking credentials.
MF Tom Davies, 5 -- Whether it was a heavy touch or an extra touch at the wrong moment, the young midfielder seemed slightly off the pace and lacked his usual dynamism.
MF Wayne Rooney, 6 -- Sprayed some excellent long-range passes around the pitch but is still a work in progress in a deeper midfield role. Third penalty miss of the season should put an end to his spot kick duties.
MF Theo Walcott, 6 -- Fortunately, his substitution owed to cramp and nothing more serious. Occasional flashes of quality and forced the mistake and own goal that gave the hosts the lead, but his performance never quite sparked to life.
MF Gylfi Sigurdsson, 7 -- For a £45 million player signed for his creativity and goal output, his work rate is exceptional and his recent form continued in this match. Afforded plenty of set-piece practice as Everton earned 10 corners.
MF Yannick Bolasie, 7 -- Wayward shooting and maddening inconsistency defined his first half, but the winger improved after creating the opening goal. Bolasie is a far more effective player without the superfluous tricks and flicks.
FW Cenk Tosun, 7 -- Good hold-up play, neat footwork and excellent work rate made the most of the minimal service in his direction. Following a slick one-two with Baines, the January signing showed his class with a thumping finish for his first Goodison goal and second in as many matches.
MF Dominic Calvert-Lewin, N/R -- Won the penalty late on in fortuitous fashion.
DF Mason Holgate, N/R -- An errant pass almost gifted Brighton a goal.
MF Davy Klaassen, N/R -- Late cameo marked his first Premier League outing since September.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.