Arteta masterminds Toffees win

 

Everton 2 Middlesbrough 0:Mikel Arteta proved just how crucial he is to the Everton cause by returning to inspire a victory over Middlesbrough. As well as having a hand in goals from free-scoring defender Joleon Lescott and a first in English football for the on-loan Steven Pienaar, the Spanish midfielder was outstanding throughout on his comeback from injury.

He was sorely missed in last weekend's defeat at Aston Villa and the Uefa Cup first round first leg draw against Metalist Kharkiv and was simply too cute for Boro today.

The visitors lacked such a figure, but of more concern would have been their impotence in attack, with Mido and Lee Dong-Gook failing to impress.

Arteta was one of five changes to the Everton side beaten 2-0 at Villa Park, with Ayegbeni Yakubu given the nod to start against his former side after scoring in the midweek Carling Cup victory at Sheffield Wednesday.

Tim Howard reclaimed his place in goal and James McFadden and Alan Stubbs were also retained from Wednesday's Hillsborough success.

Boro made two changes from their last league outing, recalling skipper George Boateng and Dong-Gook Lee for the injured Julio Arca and Tuncay Sanli.

Without a home win since the opening-day victory against Wigan and deprived of the misfiring Andrew Johnson (groin), Everton were looking to bounce back from two straight league defeats.

Boro were also struggling for form, having not won in their last three in all competitions.

It was not a fixture which traditionally promised a glut of goals, yet the sides boasted just one Barclays Premier League clean sheet between them this term.

It did not take long for the scoring to begin either, Arteta proving his worth with a testing eighth-minute corner which Yakubu glanced goalward. Jonathan Woodgate headed off the line but Lescott was first to react, nodding the rebound into the opposite corner of the net.

Five minutes later and Boro wasted a glorious opportunity to level. Mido headed a cross down to the unmarked Gary O'Neil, who had time to steady himself but still scuffed his finish straight at Tim Howard.

Both sides were then guilty of glaring headed misses, Yakubu first when he somehow sent over a pinpoint Leighton Baines cross following a clever corner routine.  Lee followed when his effort from O'Neil's centre cannoned off the crossbar.

Yakubu's volleyed snapshot was straight down Mark Schwarzer's throat and the Nigerian's next contribution was a dive on the edge of the area for which he escaped a booking.

Schwarzer had to be more alert to clasp a deflected drive by the excellent Arteta.

It was meant to be Ladies Day at Goodison Park but there was nothing ladylike about O'Neil's ankle-crunching challenge on Pienaar for which the midfielder was rightly cautioned. Pienaar almost exacted revenge in the correct manner but he too failed to send a header on target, after Tony Hibbert supplied the cross.

McFadden finally did test the goalkeeper from Baines' centre but his aerial effort lacked any power.

It sparked Everton's most dominant spell of first half but their finishing continued to leave something to be desired.

Boateng added his name to the growing list of poor headers after the break when he mistimed his jump for Stewart Downing's corner.

Lee again demonstrated why he had failed to find the net in 14 previous Premier League appearances by volleying well wide.

And the South Korean betrayed his frustration with a crude challenge on Lescott, earning him a yellow card.

Moments later, his side controversially fell two behind. Pienaar injured Boateng winning the ball 30 yards from goal, and the Boro skipper was still hobbling when Arteta broke into the box before squaring for the South African to slide a low finish across Schwarzer and into the net.

A raft of substitutions followed, Boro boss Gareth Southgate perhaps sending a message to both Mido and Lee by withdrawing both and deploying David Wheater as a makeshift centre-forward.

It had little effect, with opposite number David Moyes afforded the luxury in stoppage-time of bringing off Arteta to a richly-deserved standing ovation.