League One interest ended as Everton kept alive their campaign, and prospects of a fourth Wembley appearance in five years, with a clinical display to secure a home quarter-final against Wigan Athletic on Saturday week.
Everton had not beaten Oldham in the FA Cup since 1912 but, at the sixth attempt, that unwanted slice of history was erased as David Moyes's team again reflected his determination to crown 11 years in charge – and possibly his last – with a first trophy.
The Everton manager had conceded the fifth-round replay marked the start of a two-week period that would define the club's season and a decision on whether to extend his contract when it expires this summer. Champions League qualification is slipping from their grasp but there was no mistake in the FA Cup as goals from Kevin Mirallas, Leighton Baines's 13th successful penalty in 14 attempts, and Leon Osman's 50th for the club enabled quality to tell against Tony Philliskirk's fiercely committed team. "We have got unfinished business with the FA Cup," said Baines.
Moyes did not appear for the post-match press conference but sent the assistant manager, Steve Round, to reiterate his message that the season is not at risk of collapse. "This keeps the season going along but we are not giving up on the Premier League with a quarter of the season to go," Round said. "We want to go at it two-fold and there were signs tonight of our flow coming back. We have lost a bit of that recently and I know it was lower-league opposition but with Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines on one side, Kevin Mirallas and Seamus Coleman on the other, there were signs we are getting back to some sort of form."
However, as Everton discovered in the first encounter and like Nottingham Forest and Liverpool did before them, it is never straightforward against the men from Boundary Park.
This tie could have changed completely had the unfortunate Jose Baxter not struck a post seconds after his former club opened the scoring. The impact of Smith, left on the substitutes' bench for 55 minutes, also heightened the sense of what might have been for 4,000 travelling supporters – plus Paul Scholes and his son – from Oldham.
"I knew I'd be asked that question," said Philliskirk of his decision to omit the Cup talisman. "Chris Iwelumo has been an integral part of our turnaround in recent weeks and Matt has been a fantastic impact substitute so we decided to go that way." For his part, Smith said: "I want to start every game so I was disappointed but I am not one to throw my toys out of the pram. I think I made my point when I got on."
Everton, minus the injured Marouane Fellaini, struggled to find their rhythm as Oldham pressed relentlessly but they made an early breakthrough thanks to Mirallas and a costly defensive lapse. Phil Neville, Coleman and Darron Gibson worked patiently down the right, a route exploited all night, and when the Republic of Ireland midfielder sent over a sweeping cross the unmarked Mirallas diverted an excellent first touch beyond the goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis.
The visitors were almost level before the Everton celebrations had ended. Lee Barnard won a long ball on the edge of the area that rebounded off Phil Jagielka into the path of Baxter. The midfielder from Bootle checked on to his right and curled a delightful shot over Tim Howard but with the equaliser beckoning, it struck a post and rebounded out. Oldham's misfortune increased when Jagielka's clearance struck Gibson on an arm only for the referee Michael Oliver to wave play on.
Oliver evened up the penalty frustrations when he failed to penalise Oldham's defender James Tarkowski for pulling Nikica Jelavic to the floor. He eventually pointed to the spot when Jelavic collapsed again under a Tarkowski challenge and Connor Brown, lurking behind, leaned forward to connect with an arm. Baines found the bottom of the net from the spot despite Bouzanis getting his hands to the ball.
The introduction of Smith altered the mood of the tie. Oldham suddenly had the initiative and Everton the jitters as a series of high balls dropped into their area but they added a third during the visitors' best spell, when Osman glanced Pienaar's cross through the arms of Bouzanis, clearly distracted by Jelavic's run.
Seconds later Smith brought renewed hope to Oldham with a repeat of his goal in the first meeting. Brown swung over a corner from the right and the centre-forward easily escaped Neville and Sylvain Distin to head beyond Howard. But it proved his, and Oldham's, final meaningful act.
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image: © Ben Sutherland