Everton climbed to sixth place in the Premier League table after battling to a 1-0 victory over Cardiff at Goodison Park.
The visitors made life difficult for the Toffees but Marco Silva’s side ultimately deserved the win given to them by Gylfi Sigurdsson’s 59th-minute goal, securing a fourth consecutive home success.
Silva stuck with the side that drew 0-0 with Chelsea two weeks ago, meaning no place for Kurt Zouma, who was ineligible to face his parent club, while Neil Warnock recalled Harry Arter following suspension.
It was no surprise to see Cardiff set out their stall to frustrate the hosts, although they offered some threat on the break and had the first opening in the 14th minute when Yerry Mina made a hash of a long kick from Neil Etheridge and Callum Paterson ran through before shooting well wide.
It was an old-fashioned scrap between Mina and Paterson for much of the afternoon, and scrappy was very much the tone of the first half.
Everton’s final ball was woeful and it was not until the 29th minute that they managed a moment of quality, Andre Gomes beating two Cardiff defenders but then shooting into the side-netting when a cross looked the better option.
The hosts finally began to exert some concerted pressure and, after Richarlison headed Sigurdsson’s free-kick straight at Etheridge, the Cardiff goalkeeper was booked for time-wasting with two minutes of the first half still remaining.
Stoppage time saw loud appeals for a penalty from Everton fans and players after Lucas Digne went down under pressure from Kadeem Harris but the Cardiff man led with his shoulder and referee Paul Tierney waved away the protests.
An open start to the second half nearly resulted in a goal for Everton as Bernard, one of the poorest performers in the first 45 minutes, carried the ball to the edge of the box and played in Sigurdsson, who beat Etheridge only for Sol Bamba to pull off an impressive block on the line.
But the hosts only had to wait another four minutes for the breakthrough. Theo Walcott broke into the box on the right and saw his shot saved by Etheridge but the rebound was a tap-in for former Swansea midfielder Sigurdsson.
Jordan Pickford was then called into action in the 71st minute as Cardiff finally managed a shot on target, and it was a good one, Victor Camarasa unleashing a well-struck effort from range that the England keeper had to push away.
It was the visitors’ turn to appeal for a penalty when Greg Cunningham went over Seamus Coleman’s leg but the Cardiff player seemed to initiate the contact and Tierney was again unmoved.
Substitute Ademola Lookman jinked his way through the Cardiff defence as Everton sought a second but Etheridge pushed away the shot, while Paterson headed Joe Ralls’ free-kick over the bar at the other end.
A frantic finish saw Everton create two great opportunities to put the game to bed as Etheridge saved from Richarlison before substitute Cenk Tosun shot very weakly when unmarked 10 yards out, while Digne produced a fine block to deny Josh Murphy.
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