TWO fine goals from Andrew Johnson and James McFadden proved the difference in Everton's 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough at the Riverside which kept the Toffees' European ambitions on track.
Boro had the best of the play for much of the match but were too often let down by a lack of composure in the final third with England winger Stewart Downing particularly culpable.
Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard's inspiring stop from Gary O'Neil set the tone for the visitors' victory, with Johnson and McFadden each taking full advantage to record their fifth goals of the season.
The opening stages were scrappy with the driving rain helping neither side find a foothold.
Johnson was booked after just three minutes for an indiscreet challenge but Ayegbeni Yakubu - roundly booed with every touch on his first return to the ground since leaving to join David Moyes' side - escaped the same fate despite a reckless lunge at Luke Young.
The hosts had a fine chance after eight minutes with Dong Gook Lee breaking into the Everton box but Howard's sliding stop saw the ball drop to Downing 20 yards out but with the goalkeeper out of position he failed to get away a shot away in time and his eventual attempt was tame.
Howard produced a piece of goalkeeping after the break that was memorable for all the right reasons.
After good vision from Arca, the American charged to the near post but was beaten by the advancing Tuncay.
His shot was headed clear by Joleon Lescott but when O'Neil lined up the rebound from eight yards the goalkeeper was still some distance away and it took a brilliant, instinctive save to keep the ball out.
Johnson took full advantage after 66 minutes. Pienaar did well to bring down a curling pass into the box and release the England striker to his right.
Johnson peeled away from Robert Huth and dragged a powerful shot low across Mark Schwarzer and into the bottom-left corner.
And, sure enough, it was 2-0 soon afterwards.
With 18 minutes left McFadden and the revitalised Johnson broke at pace, sharing a measured one-two in the penalty box to free the Scotland international who stroked home with his left foot, keeping his side well on course for the UEFA Cup in the process.