Goals from Marouane Fellaini, Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas gave Everton a 3-1 Premier League win at home to Reading.
An open first half saw both teams lose men to injury, while Reading hit the woodwork and Everton forced some excellent stops from third-choice keeper Stuart Taylor before Fellaini headed home his 11th league goal of the season.
Everton were very much in control and they added a second through Pienaar’s brilliant solo goal just before the hour mark to end any hopes of a comeback.
Brian McDermott’s side had a penalty appeal rejected when Adam Le Fondre’s cross hit the outstretched arm of Sylvain Distin, before Mirallas made it 3-0 following a defence-splitting Pienaar pass.
Hal Robson-Kanu headed a consolation for the Royals, but they were well short of Everton, who could have added a late fourth.
Everton's first win in four matches keeps them sixth, although they open a five-point gap on West Brom and close the deficit on Arsenal to two points; Reading stay second bottom with table-proppers QPR cutting the gap to three points.
It was not all good news for David Moyes as defender Phil Jagielka was taken off injured after four minutes following a late tackle from Le Fondre. Reading also lost Jimmy Kebe, who pulled his groin.
Both sides had made late goalkeeping changes as Tim Howard’s 210-game run – the second longest in Premier League history – was ended through injury and Jan Mucha played; Reading fielded Taylor for his first competitive start in three years after Adam Federici picked up a problem in the warm-up.
The stand-in keepers impressed, particularly Taylor, who made a series of saves to deny the misfiring Nikica Jelavic and the bounding Mirallas twice apiece, also making a good stop from Fellaini. Mucha dominated his box for the most part and, when called into a reflex stop, did well to deny Jobi McAnuff’s cross-shot.
Reading started well as Everton tried to adjust to the loss of Jagielka, but the closest they came was when Le Fondre’s rasping drive cannoned off the crossbar.
After that it was all Everton, with a Leighton Baines cross seeing Pienaar denied by Adrian Mariappa’s fine block.
Taylor saved from denied Jelavic and Mirallas but an Everton opener seemed inevitable and it came through a predictable source when – after releasing Seamus Coleman with a fine pass down the right – Fellaini continued his run to meet the Irishman’s cross with a towering header into the top left.
Fellaini had sparked into life and almost scored an audacious attempt from the right wing, his flashing half-volley tipped over again by Taylor.
The second half saw the yellow-clad Royals take the fight to their hosts, as a Harte set-piece and some towering flick-ons from the 5’8” Noel Hunt saw Mucha show some nerves.
Everton snapped back into action though as a Mirallas half-volley was kept out by a Mariappa and Taylor, while Jelavic failed to finish after a combination of Taylor and team-mate Fellaini got in his way.
Fellaini then headed a Darron Gibson cross over the bar as the second beckoned. And what a strike it was when, after Fellaini released him down the right, Pienaar ran at the Reading defence, cut inside and fired a fantastic drive into the top-left.
Everton wanted more and Mirallas was inches away from finding the bottom right with a cross-shot that just evaded Fellaini.
Reading had a genuine grievance when Distain handled Le Fondre’s cross in the box, and any hopes they had to earning a point ended soon afterwards when Mirallas raced on to a fantastic Pienaar pass before rifling a low finish across Taylor and inside the right-hand post.
The visitors still worked hard to pull a goal back, with Mucha flying low to deny McAnuff before Robson-Kanu evaded his marker to nod home Harte’s curling cross.
It was merely a consolation, and Everton should have added a fourth but for another stop from Taylor on Mirallas, while Harte cleared Victor Anichebe’s finish off the line after his keeper was beaten.
Everton now have 45 points from 28 matches as they chase a European place, while Reading – despite defeat – are just a point short of safety, although Wigan and Aston Villa are yet to play.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Steven Pienaar (Everton) – A fantastic goal and an equally classy assist for the South African, who pulled the strings in midfield.
EVERTON: Mucha 6, Coleman 7, Baines 6, Jagielka N/A, Distin 6, Mirallas 8, Pienaar 8, Gibson 7, Osman 7, Fellaini 8, Jelavic 5; Subs: Heitinga 7, Hitzlsperger N/A, Anichebe 7
READING: Taylor 7, Kelly 6, Harte 7, Mariappa 6, Pearce 5, Leigertwood 5, Akpan 5, McAnuff 7, Kebe N/A, Hunt 6, Le Fondre 6; Subs: Robson-Kanu 7, Blackman N/A