Bilyaletdinov's emphatic finish proved enough to see Everton past AEK Athens
By Sam Lyon
Diniyar Bilyaletdinov proved the match-winner as Everton overcame a host of injury problems and a sodden pitch to reach the last 32 of the Europa League.
Heavy rain ensured awful conditions, which played their part in injuries to Dan Gosling, Sylvain Distin and Jo.
But the Toffees pressed on, aided by Bilyaletdinov's emphatic early finish after being set up by Jo's lay-off.
And that proved enough, despite Youssef Hersi clipping the post in a late AEK flurry, to see the Toffees through.
The Merseysiders now sit on nine points in Group I, one behind leaders Benfica, who beat BATE 2-1, and four ahead of third-placed BATE with one match - against the Belarussian side - left to play in the group stages.
And while Everton have had their fair share of struggles in the Premier League this season, they have certainly impressed in Europe - and their victory at the Olympic Stadium was no different.
Starved of a host of first-teamers before kick-off, manager David Moyes will surely have been further cursing his luck when Gosling and Distin limped off before the half-hour mark, while Jo was carried off with a knee problem on 73 minutes.
But 17-year-old substitutes Jose Baxter and Shane Duffy, as well as Seamus Coleman, showed experience and quality beyond their years to play their part in a clinical away performance.
And the win was the perfect way for Tony Hibbert to mark his record-equalling 19th European appearance in an Everton shirt.
The Toffees were aided by the fact that Athens kicked off with star players Ismael Blanco, Nacho Scocco and Gustavo Manduca on the bench amid rumours of a pay dispute at the Greek side.
However, conditions alone dictated it would be a tough night's work, and Everton coped admirably.
It was kick-started by Bilyaletdinov's goal, the Russian striding on to Jo's lay-off, taking a touch, and then lashing into the roof of the net on the angle.
And with Jo excellent up front and Tim Cahill, Bilyaletdinov and Steven Pienaar controlling the midfield, Everton looked more than comfortable for the opening hour.
With the ball sticking in the grass and one side of the pitch boasting puddles of surface water, quality football was always going to be at a premium, but Baxter and Jo both had half decent efforts from range, while Cahill headed over.
Tim Howard was a virtual passenger early on, though he did push a speculative 30-yarder from Panagiotis Tachtsidis wide, and only when the hosts introduced Manduca, Scocco and Blanco did they provide any consternation to the visitors.
Hersi came closest to what would have been a barely deserved equaliser, the midfielder clipping the outside of the post with a drilled effort from the edge of the box, while Baxter produced an excellent clearance off the line to prevent a Manduca shot creeping in late on.
But those came either side of a superb save from Sebastian Saja at the other end, the keeper finger-tipping Jo's snap-shot inches past the post, and few could argue Everton did not deserve to come away from Greece with victory and Europa League qualification.
Only those injuries to Gosling, Distin and Jo will take the shine off the night for Moyes, whose side host high-flying Tottenham on Sunday as they bid to replicate their European form on the domestic stage.
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