On the night Everton bemoaned the loss of a player they never had came a pertinent reminder to savour one they do. Leighton Baines produced another imperious display to improve David Moyes's mood, Everton's European prospects and his own claims as one of the finest left-backs in Europe as West Bromwich Albion rallied too late at Goodison Park.
Baines struck twice, emphatically from distance and then from the penalty spot, as Everton parked the disappointment of Leroy Fer's thwarted transfer earlier in the day to record a first win in three Premier League games. The England international's input was crucial as Steve Clarke's team recovered strongly from two goals down to unnerve Everton, but it was not enough to outshine Baines.
"He is playing really well and getting better," said the Everton manager, who missed out on the £8.6m signing of Fer due to complications over the Dutch midfielder's medical and Twente's refusal to renegotiate the terms of the deal. "I thought he needed another challenge recently and he has responded to that. He has worked on ways to get around teams that try to stop him. He is as good a left-back as there is, and he is carrying an ankle injury as well at the moment. He is a great player to have and to work with. The only thing I don't like about him is his hair-style, says his curly-haired, strawberry-blond manager."
Everton, with two goalless draws in their previous league outings, and Albion, without a win since Boxing Day, started like teams struggling for belief and fluidity. Moyes made several tactical switches, including moving Leon Osman from the right to the left to the centre, in the search for improvement and it eventually arrived midway through the first half as Everton took control. Marouane Fellaini struck the outside of Ben Foster's post after spinning on Sylvain Distin's header before Baines again showed his prowess is not limited to defending.
There was a role reversal as Osman, out on the left, rolled the ball inside to the advancing England defender. Baines took one touch to step away from Gareth McAuley and unleashed a vicious, swerving shot from 18 yards that beat Foster inside his near top corner. Clarke lamented: "We knew he was capable of a goal like that and thought we had covered enough in our preparation for the game to stop that type of goal. But Leighton's quality got him the goal."
Albion's cause was not helped when midfielder George Thorne was carried off with what appeared a serious knee injury. The 19-year-old, making only his third start for Clarke's team, twisted his knee under an innocuous challenge from Osman. "Fingers crossed for the player but it doesn't look good," said Clarke, who admitted he may revisit the transfer market on deadline day as a consequence. Thorne's loss had an immediate impact as his replacement, Claudio Yacob, clumsily fouled Victor Anichebe in the area within minutes of his introduction. Baines duly converted his sixth goal of the season.
Clarke admitted: "That was the key moment. At 1-0 down we had a chance but if you go 2-0 down in the Premier League it is very difficult to get a result." But it was not for the want of trying from the visitors.
Albion reappeared with greater energy and intent for the second half, particularly on-loan Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku who had been anonymous before the break. The contest was back on when Lukaku latched on to Chris Brunt's through ball and rounded Tim Howard in the Everton goal. His shot was weak, John Heitinga had it covered on the line but, to general astonishment, the Dutch defender allowed the ball to bobble off his foot and the substitute Shane Long headed into an unguarded net.
Graham Dorrans hit the bar from a 25-yard free-kick and that kicked Everton back into life. Steven Pienaar, Kevin Mirallas and Osman all could have made the finale smoother for Moyes but, thanks to Baines, Everton advance on.