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Everton stayed in the hunt for a place in next season's UEFA Champions League with an ultimately convincing win over struggling Reading at Goodison Park.
Marouane Fellaini headed the Toffees ahead with his 12th goal of the season late in an evenly fought first half, in which Reading hit the woodwork, and the Merseysiders eased to victory after the break. Steven Pienaar, with a stunning long-range strike, and Kevin Mirallas made sure of the three Barclays Premier League points before Hal Robson-Kanu grabbed a late consolation.
Defeat left Reading in the bottom three and in the thick of a battle for survival while Everton, after last week's defeat at Norwich City, are in sixth place, six points behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
There was an element of the unknown about both sides as goalkeepers Tim Howard and Adam Federici were each ruled out through injury. Jan Mucha came in for Everton, ending Howard's run of 210 consecutive Barclays Premier League appearances, while Stuart Taylor made his Reading debut and played his first top flight outing for five years.
Nikica Jelavic spurned an opportunity to test Taylor when he headed wide inside the first minute but it signalled the start of an entertaining opening period in which both sides had good spells. Everton were forced to make an early change however after Phil Jagielka failed to run off the effects of a bad second minute challenge from Adam Le Fondre, for which he was booked. John Heitinga replaced the centre-back in a straight swap in only the fifth minute and after the match Everton manager David Moyes confirmed that Jagielka will have surgery on his ankle.
The hosts had the better early openings as Pienaar had a shot blocked by Stephen Kelly and Fellaini shot wide. Jelavic headed straight at Taylor from a Mirallas cross but Reading began to threaten on the counter-attack. Jimmy Kebe stole possession from Leon Osman and charged upfield only to shoot wide and Le Fondre won a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area. Ian Harte hit the target from the set-piece but Mucha saved well. Kebe went through on goal but was unable to get round Mucha and pulled up injured seconds later. He failed to run off the blow on the sidelines and Reading brought on Wales winger Robson-Kanu as a 19th-minute replacement.
Reading kept up the pressure and Everton were relieved when an unmarked Le Fondre hit a shot against the top of a post from a corner. Leighton Baines broke down the left as the Toffees responded but Adrian Mariappa blocked Pienaar's shot.
Taylor then proved his worth with good saves in quick succession from Jelavic and Mirallas but Everton went ahead three minutes before the interval. Seamus Coleman found space on the right and delivered a perfect cross for Fellaini to rise and head home with trademark power from six yards. Fellaini ended the half by attempting to score a second from an outrageous angle but Taylor was alert and palmed over.
Taylor was in action again early in the second period as he came out to block an attempt by Mirallas. Reading then survived a goalmouth scramble in which Jelavic and Fellaini both had opportunities at close range. Jelavic also went down under a challenge from Kelly but the referee was unimpressed. The Royals had their own penalty appeal moments later as they claimed handball against Sylvain Distin but again nothing was given.
Everton doubled their advantage just before the hour when Pienaar took a pass from Fellaini and set off on a run towards goal. The South African cut inside two defenders on the edge of the area and unleashed a ferocious strike into the top corner which gave Taylor no chance. Everton were not finished there and Fellaini almost turned in a Mirallas drive at the far post.
The third goal was not long in coming and Mirallas showed great composure to clip past Taylor after exchanging passes with Pienaar to race through on goal. The hosts refused to ease off as Darron Gibson flashed a long-range effort narrowly wide and Taylor produced a good save to deny Mirallas.
To their credit, Reading battled on and Mucha made a good save from Jobi McAnuff before they pulled one back six minutes from time. Harte crossed from the left and an unmarked Robson-Kanu headed home with conviction.
Everton substitute Victor Anichebe went close to restoring a three-goal advantage when he chipped Taylor but Harte volleyed clear off the line.
Evertion manager David Moyes: “We deservedly got our goal and made a few chances. Reading were always a threat - they hit the bar and were always a danger because that's the way the Premier League is. Whoever you play in the Premier League, the games are tight.
“Seamus Coleman put over a brilliant cross for the first goal. He'd actually put in a couple of good crosses prior to that, but that one was a peach and gave [Marouane Fellaini] a really good chance of getting above the defender and heading home.”
“It was a great goal [by Steven Pienaar]. I'm pleased because he's an important player and one of the things which sometimes can be labelled at him, is that maybe he doesn't quite score enough to go with it. He's beginning to get us a few goals and today's was right out of the sweet spot. It was good to see.”
Reading manager Brian McDermott: "We have come to a top side. They are good quality and if we could have got that first goal, then maybe it is a different game. It was an uphill task. We dug in and kept going and that will be good for us in the weeks ahead. That result won't affect us next Saturday [against Aston Villa].
"The most important part of a footballer's body is the brain, and we need to make sure we are mentally right - and we will be. Last year we had to make up 15 or 16 points [to gain promotion]. I have just said to the players, 'Can we make up one or two?' and they said we might just do it. You never know.”
|16 Mar 2013||v Man City (H)|
|30 Mar 2013||v Stoke (H)|
|07 Apr 2013||v Tottenham (A)|
|13 Apr 2013||v QPR (H)|
|16 Apr 2013||v Arsenal (A)|
|20 Apr 2013||v Sunderland (A)|