Collective Relief as Diamond Ross Sparkles for the Blues

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Finally, some positivity at long last. Yes, you are not mistaken, you are about to read an upbeat piece on Everton FC. Make yourself comfortable, pour yourself a brew, or a bevy for the hard core amongst us, and enjoy.

Two 3-0 wins in four days, two consecutive clean sheets, two penalties in one game, a new £13 million striker and Tim Howard nowhere to be seen – when are we bringing the DVD out?

The big news ahead of the game with Newcastle was that Tim Howard and John Stones were not in the match day squad. Howard had apparently picked up a knock, but rumours have also surfaced about an apparent fall out with Martinez over a proposed move to the MLS in January. Maybe his massive ego was bruised? Believe what you will, either way I was glad he wasn’t playing. Joel started his third consecutive game between the sticks and rightly so. As for Stones, he had also apparently taken a knock in training meaning he would sit this one out, however many Blues had called for the youngster to be given a break anyway amid criticism for recent displays. Baines and Deulofeu started from the bench, Oviedo and Coleman started either side of Funes Mori and Jagielka, meanwhile McCarthy, Cleverley, Barry and Lennon backed up Barkley and Lukaku up top.

New boy Oumar Niasse was paraded in front of the Goodison faithful before kick off – the striker isn’t eligible to play until the weekend – and he might be needed sooner than we thought with Rom picking up an injury last night. Niasse bailed onto the pitch, ran round the centre circle and then took his place in the crowd donning his new royal blue shirt, which he is still probably wearing now. Hopefully he got to the sample the delights of warm Chang and meter-long hotdogs at half time.

‘Its Niasse to see you, to see you Niasse’ – I’ll get my coat.

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Anyways, to the action, Newcastle are shite so we should be beating them, but the way Everton have been this season, especially at home, nobody knows what to expect anymore. Thankfully we saw the better Everton last night as the home side took the game to the visitors.

By the way, where were all the Newcastle fans? Don’t fancy a cold midweek trip to Merseyside? Thought they were the biggest Club in the World? Gang of frauds the lot of them.

Those Geordies that did travel were in for an unpleasant night as Everton signalled their intent from the off. Cleverley was the first to test Rob Elliot in the Newcastle goal, firing a low effort following good build up between Rom and Ross. The ‘keeper was equal to it, but the home crowd would have been boosted by the early effort, even though Goodison sounded like a graveyard once again. Mind you, we haven’t had much to get excited about over the past 18 months – sometimes getting swilled whilst singing the Ross Barkley song on the concourse at half time has been the highlight of the game this season.

After quarter of an hour, Lukaku took a knee to the bag from the big-wigged Coloccini and went down in a heap. Lukaku is a big guy, the type who could bench press a double-decker 81A up Queens Drive, so the way he went down and stayed down, you could guess there was a problem. From then on in Rom couldn’t get going, it looked like he wasn’t up for it last night and that knock basically wrote him off for the remainder of the half.

The Belgian did manage to stay on the field and went on to win a free kick – which he took himself, but he flashed his effort into the Gwladys Street and harmlessly wide. Apart from the couple of half chances early doors there wasn’t much tempo to our play, it was neat, tidy and efficient but not punishing.

That was until on 22 minutes when the Blues sparked into life. Cleverley, who appears to run three marathons every time he plays for us, worked his way forward down the left and eventually found Lennon across the area, Lennon swiveled, and fired a reverse shot from the edge of the box and away from Elliot into the left-hand corner of the goal. Relief. Collective relief. Lennon was superb last night, going forward and defensively too, and if I remember rightly he terrorised Newcastle at Goodison last season at Goodison also. Great little goal by a hard-working, good little player for Everton.

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Everton had got their noses in front and Evertonians hoped we’d get a second before the break to further settle those jitters. Although we didn’t get ourselves a second before the break, Ross Barkley, who was growing more and more into the game, had a couple of opportunities to get on the score sheet. Firstly the midfielder hit a lobbed effort over the bar, when Elliot had come out of his area to head a clearance away. With a bit more composure Ross would have scored. Shortly after, Barkley fired an effort wide from a free kick after Lennon was fouled but the score remained at 1-0.

Before the half time whistle came Newcastle attempted to apply some pressure on the Everton goal. Robles hadn’t had much to do and apart from a couple of aerial balls into his box and some blocked efforts from Perez, there wasn’t too much to worry us. The visitors were forced into a change before half time with Mbemba going off injured to be replaced by Lascelles and this was to be the only other talking point before Craig Pawson drew the first 45 minutes to a close.

After the break Arouna Kone came on to replace Lukaku, who never recovered from that knee in the back, and the Ivorian would lead the line as his replacement. Newcastle also made a change, with the woeful Paul Dummett coming off for Rolando Aarons at left back. Dummett had a shocker and his half was summed up by that fall on the left hand side when attempting to cross, the lad looked half pissed playing Sunday League.

The weather worsened after the restart, and our only hope was for Everton to get a second and see the game out, no fuss. It’s never the case with Everton though is it?

To be fair we did look to get forward and create chances, but the more we did, the more Rob Elliot in the Newcastle goal performed admirably. Was it going to be ‘one of them nights’ and we’d ‘do an Everton’? Thankfully not, but a lot happened before we put the game to bed.

On 55 minutes Kone looked to create a second with Barkley, who tried a cute little pass in to Lennon inside the area, but the ball was too strong. Barkley was unlucky, but there was many groans from the watching Blues that the England man should have taken a shot for himself. Thing is, Barkley is going to try them type of things, he isn’t always one for blasting efforts at goal, he likes to cut angles, be creative, work the opportunity, we should embrace his talent.

If some Blues had urged Barkley to shoot in that instance, a couple of minutes later Barkley certainly didn’t hesitate and hit a rasping effort towards goal – Elliot made a fine save onto the bar and denied the impressive youngster. From the resulting corner Funes Mori, who is actually turning out to be a decent offensive threat at set plays, headed wide at the Park End.

Everton sensed blood but for the time being Elliot and Newcastle stood firm. Tom Cleverley floated over a dangerous looking free kick that Jonjo (the gobshite) Shelvey headed against a his own bar. We hit the woodwork twice in a matter of minutes as we desperately searched for that second, killer goal. After the hour mark, Cleverley was again given the opportunity to float a free kick over from the same position and this time the energetic midfielder looked to catch Elliott off guard with a shot instead of a cross. Unfortunately for us the ‘keeper was equal to it and palmed Cleverley’s effort away, and if it wasn’t for his fine performance in goal for the visitors, the hosts would have been into double figures.

For all our pressure, we could have so easily found ourselves level when substitute Mitrovic missed a sitter at the Street End. A cross from the right hand side by Sissoko was inviting and should have ended up in the back of the net, but Mitrovic hit his effort wide of the mark, much to the relief of all Evertonians and the statuesque Jagielka and Funes Mori.

As we approached the final 20 minutes of the game Ayoze Perez got off lightly when he made a snide challenge on Jagielka. Perez’ studs were showing as he collided with Jagielka and catch the Blues Captain. Thankfully Jags was OK but Perez could so easily have been sent off for that tackle.

Moments after making that bad challenge, Perez saw an effort saved by Robles when the striker his a shot into the ground following Newcastle pressure. Everton hearts were in mouths as the game opened up.

Thankfully there was to be no Newcastle onslaught, they did push forward more but never really gambled and although it was only 1-0 I did feel Everton were in control. On 86 minutes, the Blues capitalised on Newcastle’s advances and grabbed a second. Lennon, who had been brilliant throughout, was clever when inside the area, drawing a stupid foul from the inexperienced Rolando Aarons who brought the winger down in a heap resulting in a penalty for Everton. This was our chance to seal the win – unfortunately we’d had to wait until the closing stages to do it but this was the chance – and Ross Barkley confidently stepped up to score his tenth goal of the season from the spot.

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Game over.

We expected the game to just coast towards the final whistle after that but as Newcastle heads went down, Everton kept going. Barkley was at it again moments later, seeing a shot deflect off Coloccini and wide. Barkley then laid in Kone a minute later but with the Ivorian bearing down on goal he took his eye off the ball and skied it into the Park End. Niasse must have been buzzing after seeing that, he can’t do any worse!

Into injury time and again Everton pressed, Barkley this time got goal side of Lacelles who brought him down for Everton’s second penalty award of the night. A red card followed and the visitors were down to ten. Barkley again stepped up and this time cheekily chipped down the middle for a Panenka – echoes of John Stones in that friendly against Juventus! It capped a great night for Barkley (now up to 11 goals for the campaign) and comfortable win for Everton.

Goodison Park breathed a collective sigh of relief as Everton moved up a place in the table to 11th, just two points off 7th place and seven points off the top 6 – get the ale in and the fireworks ready.

For me Barkley was the Man of the Match last night, he doesn’t shy away from his responsibility in the side and his creative spark drives this team on. Barkley is growing with every game, his influence is becoming more and more vital and he is transforming into a complete midfielder. He’s a joy to watch and although he isn’t the finished article, people have to remember he is still very young and carries a weight of expectation on his shoulders. Yes he can frustrate you, but his talent is something we should all appreciate, and what’s best of all? He’s one of our own.

Lennon was a close second behind Barkley for MOM and Cleverley not too far behind him. Those two, and McCarthy, didn’t half cover some ground last night and although the two latter aren’t the most exciting players they are both effective in what they do. Cleverley works well out left and seems to have more of a positive effect on our performance when deployed out there rather than in a central role. McCarthy has come straight back and slotted in – important because of Besic’s injury – and Barry has hardly put a foot wrong all season, he again did well last night.

At the back Robles was composed and had a quiet night, but again went about his task with no fuss. Funes Mori and Jagielka did well, Coleman was disappointing but Oviedo had a great game. Don’t get me wrong I have been critical of Oviedo, I just think that Garbutt or Galloway will be ahead of him before long, but last night he did everything right.

Lukaku had an off night and that knee in the back resulted in him coming off, hopefully he’s not out too long but I’d expect him to sit the Stoke game out. Kone came on as his replacement but seems to slow the tempo of our play down. He frustrates the life out of me.

Overall it was a positive display from Martinez’ men and it is refreshing to write about a victory for once. That was our first League win since Boxing Day – ironically against Newcastle – and our first home League win since November. It’s been a long time coming. After the City game and exit from the League Cup I felt disheartened, disinterested and wrote the season off. I didn’t think we would see a reaction but thankfully there has been a glimmer of promise – it’s only two wins but it’s a bit of hope, and I’m clinging too it. I’ve lost faith in Martinez but there is still time to turn our fortunes round this campaign and only time and results will tell whether he is the man to make this side do it.

A professional display at Carlisle at the weekend was followed by the surprise signing of Niasse on deadline day, and then came last night’s solid win over Newcastle. We were beginning to look over our shoulder in the table but that win gives us a bit of breathing space and allows us to look upwards again. We now have to take this positivity into the Stoke game at the weekend. The visit to the Potters comes before we host West Brom next weekend and these two fixtures offer Everton and Roberto Martinez a life line, a chance to attempt to turn this season around, get ourselves in the top half and kick on from here.

Up the Toffees.

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