So intense is the battle for the top four expected to be this Premier League season that on its eve the learned campaigners Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger both put forward Everton as potential gatecrashers. Not on the evidence presented at Ewood Park, however, and David Moyes acknowledged as much.

Such was their vibrancy at the end of 2009-10 – including a sumptuous and rare away victory on this very turf – that Everton would not have wanted the season to end. Unbeaten in their final 11 matches, momentum was clearly with the blue half of the Merseyside divide.

Yet despite the return of recuperated limbs, which has them at optimum strength, Everton hit a buffer upon the top-flight's resumption and the club's longest sequence without defeat for 24 years was terminated when Nikola Kalinic's predatory instinct exposed Tim Howard's clanger for the only goal.

There were still 76 minutes remaining for Everton to muster a response and failure to do so irked Moyes most. Their attacking play, awesome in April, was abject in August. Of suggestions they can mount a serious challenge akin to Tottenham's monopoly-busting campaign of last year, Moyes said: "I think we can be but not on this performance and I have let the players know. I'm setting the bar really high. It wasn't what I wanted and it wasn't enough. We didn't show enough invention going forward and our play was too sloppy.

"I don't think anyone can say we deserved to lose but the point of the matter is that we didn't do enough and I want my team to go out to win. What it reminds you of is that whoever you play in the Premier League you are going to have a hard task."

Winning at venues such as Blackburn and Stoke are, as Spurs discovered last season, what Champions League qualifications are made of. But a lack of fluency, significantly contributed to by Blackburn's robust harrying in central areas, ensured Everton began their quest with a setback.

"Expectations are good, it's what we have wanted so we can't complain about them being higher now," the captain, Phil Neville, said. "We wanted a big squad, we wanted two players for every position and now we have it we can't go into our shell and become fearful. We have to show our mettle and whether we have what it takes to get into that top four.

"There's a lot of disappointment in that dressing room – we wanted to start with a good result and this is a kick in the teeth."

Blackburn might have been in front inside two minutes when Morten Gamst Pedersen's cute ball allowed Martin Olsson to beat the offside trap, but his chip cleared the onrushing Howard and the crossbar.

In a game of few chances, the hosts also missed the best: Steven Nzonzi and Ryan Nelsen both off-target when unmarked in the second half. Sam Allardyce's team tenaciously clung to what they had, however, and although ruffled in the final quarter-hour, when Phil Jagielka's long-ranger was palmed out by Paul Robinson and substitute Diniyar Bilyaletdinov thrice flirted with the goal during a goalmouth scramble, secured three points thanks to their new-look Croat. Kalinic, 22, now cuts quite a contrasting figure to the spindly £6m striker snapped up from Hajduk Split last summer.

"Strength-wise we've done core weights with him ever since he's been here," Allardyce said. "He was like a little boy when he first came, with rolls of puppy fat on him. We've tried to turn him into a man and you can see that physical presence now."

Man of the match Phil Jones (Blackburn)

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