Boy it's been awhile. It was almost ironic that today was 'retro day' at Everton, it felt like it had been forever since we last saw the Blues play, albeit in a forgettable game away to Manchester City. They started the game like they'd never been away, passing fluently and Kevin Mirallas drifting left to pick up a rebound which he slotted in beyond Allan McGregor's despairing gaze. Now Gareth Barry might have had something to say about that, though he wouldn't claim it too loudly either. He had been in an offside position when he deftly stuck out a foot to (slightly) deflect the ball just inside the left post.
Hull City manager Steve Bruce looked even more exasperated than his usual gameday poker face, his face contorting as he first protested Barry's uncalled offside, then as the midfielder accidentally sent Danny Graham to the hospital and almost dispatched Sone Aluko there too in the same ambulance after his studs skidded over the wet ball and crashed into Aluko's ankle.
Everton led after just eight minutes, but as the half went on Hull got stronger, passing up chance after chance from setpieces as they worked harder to get to the ball than the home side. Their industry got them the equalizer too, Aluko centering neatly for Graham's replacement Yannick Sagbo to hammer home past Tim Howard's beard. The last fifteen minutes of the half passed without any further drama.
Despite a 2:1 ratio of possession for the Toffees, they looked quite uninspired and posed no real threat to the Tigers. With the game petering into a dull draw under the rain, Roberto Martinez threw on Steven Pienaar. The midfielder hadn't played since August with injuries to blame and was not expected to make an appearance today. But with Ross Barkley being more petulant than patient, another source of creativity was required and the South African provided it. 27 seconds after he had come on for a patently ineffective Leon Osman, Pienaar was the beneficiary of a cross from Mirallas after Romelu Lukaku had headed down a clearance from Howard. Interesting how Lukaku has taken over the role that Marouane Fellaini had in corralling long balls from defence.
Suddenly Everton were awake again, dominating possession and creating chances again. Lukaku had looked tired after his international exploits, and he was not the only one. Phil Jagielka had a poor game and seemed out of it. Interestingly, Leighton Baines perked up towards the end of the game after Pienaar's entry, giving weight to the theories that he is at his best only when paired with the South African. Arouna Kone came on for Lukaku and immediately was in the thick of the action. First he dallied too long on the ball shimmying past a challenge only to curve the ball onto the post, and then he shot straight at the goalie when put through one-on-one.
Hull would try half-heartedly to try to get back into the game, but the weather and a few niggling challenges ensured there was no more coherent football before the final whistle. The visitors' captain Curtis Davies was probably man-of-the-match, doing an excellent job man-marking Lukaku out of the game, and providing excellent direction all game long. Tottenham loanee Tom Huddlestone made a general nuisance of himself disrupting action in the middle while ex-Spurs prospect Jake Livermore was more composed in possession. The Blues held on for their third home win of the campaign, and a spot in the top six.
Everton: Howard 6.5, Coleman 7, Jagielka 5.5, Distin 7, Baines 6.5, Barry 7, Osman 5 (Pienaar 7), McCarthy 7.5, Barkley 6.5 (Naismith N/A), Lukaku 6 (Kone 6), Mirallas 7.5
Hull City: McGregor 6, Rosenior 5 (Boyd 5.5), Davies 7.5, Faye 6.5, Figueroa 6, Aluko 7 (Quinn N/A), Huddlestone 6, Livermore 7, Brady 6, Graham 5.5 (Sagbo 7), Elmohamady 6