Everton 3 Aston Villa 0
The return of midfielder Ross Barkley coincided with Everton's first home Premier League win of the season, beating Aston Villa 3-0, and offered a glimpse of improvements to come from Roberto Martinez's side.
A knee injury on the eve of the season had sidelined the England international until now, but thrown straight into the action he put in a 65-minute shift against Villa which provided a reminder of just what the Toffees had been missing.
When captain Phil Jagielka opened the scoring with his second in three league matches there was a sense it was going to be Everton's day, and a much-needed goal for Romelu Lukaku, who benefited from a mistake by Brad Guzan, and Séamus Coleman also on the scoresheet on his return after a month out injured provided the confirmation.
The return of Coleman, rated the best right-back in the country by his Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, was a real boost, as was Barkley’s presence in midfield as Everton produced their sharpest passing display of the season so far.
He showed the nine-week lay-off had not dulled any of his verve as he added an injection of pace and quick-thinking in the space between Villa’s defence and midfield, which presented the visitors with a number of questions.
They struggled for an answer as Barkley, the continually excellent Steven Naismith and Leon Osman combined with full-backs Leighton Baines and Coleman to stretch play as Everton probed for gaps in their opponents' back line.
What they needed was a fully-functioning striker to take advantage but Lukaku is still well short of his best, with Martinez blaming the after-effects of the World Cup.
His Belgium team-mate in the opposing ranks, Christian Benteke, had a more legitimate excuse — on his first start since rupturing an Achilles tendon in March — for not troubling centre-back Antolin Alcaraz, who was preferred to Sylvain Distin, left out of the squad despite Martinez insisting he is fit again after a dead leg.
As is usually the case Barkley took centre-stage early on, volleying over a rebound from Osman’s shot, drilling a free-kick into the wall after he had drawn the foul and then casually side-stepping Ashley Westwood and forcing Guzan to tip over.
That ultimately led to the opening goal as from the second corner in succession the ball came back to Baines, who delivered a perfect cross with his weaker right foot for Jagielka to convert a stooping header.
After six goals in his previous 210 league appearances, the centre-back now has two in his last three after scoring a brilliant late equaliser in the Merseyside derby last month.
The loss of centre-back Nathan Baker to injury did not help Villa's cause and Alan Hutton's curling effort just wide of Tim Howard's right-hand post was the closest they came to troubling the Everton goalkeeper in the first half.
Barkley’s poise and vision then saw him pick out Coleman, who cut inside to force Guzan to palm away his left-footed shot, but the Villa goalkeeper should have done much better three minutes after half-time.
The instigator again was Barkley as he rolled a pass inside for Lukaku to collect, and while his left-footed shot was on target it was hardly the most ferocious but Guzan allowed it to squirm under his arm.
That touch of fortune may be exactly what Lukaku needs to boost his confidence levels and compensate for what is missing from his physical game.
He certainly looked rejuvenated for the remainder of the half as he showed a greater determination to chase lost causes and hold up the ball more. Benteke may take a while to regain his match fitness but he showed no lack of sharpness to volley home after his initial shot had rebounded off the crossbar, but unfortunately for him his push on Alcaraz had already been spotted by referee Anthony Taylor.
Villa will hope they are up to speed sooner rather than later after a fourth successive Premier League defeat without scoring a single goal, something they have not “achieved” since January 2001.
Coleman completed their misery when he converted Baines’s cross after Osman’s quickly-taken free-kick 13 minutes from time.