Monday morning; the time of the week when you are usually downbeat, a bit frustrated, tired and fatigued – yet today was different for Evertonians, today there was a spring in our steps as we set off for work, still beaming from what was an excellent Sunday afternoon at Goodison Park.
I could feel the excitement down on County Road a couple of hours before the game yesterday, as groups of supporters to sup a pre-game beer in the sunshine. There was a buzz about the place – a buzz that has not been felt for ages – and it was nice to actually ‘be up’ for a game for once as we made our way to our seats for the 1.30pm kick off against the Mancs.
United have done well this season, and a win for Van Gaal’s side would have seen them rise to second in the League table, but it was to be Everton’s day as Roberto Martinez’ Toffees dispatched the Red Devils 3-0 and in all fairness – did not have to do anything brilliant in the process. United’s form this side of Christmas has seen them remain there or there about at the business end of the table, but in all honesty the quality of the top four, five or six this season has hardly been of a high standard – apart from Chelsea really. United are hopeful of achieving Champions League qualification, but judging by their performance yesterday at Goodison Park, they have a long way to go before they look like they will be any sort of rival again for the top teams in Europe.
Before kick-off, Goodison Park fell silent in memory of Sir Philip Carter who sadly passed away in midweek. The Club’s Life President and former Chairman died at the age of 87 after a short illness and how befitting of his memory that the Blues put in such a memorable performance, of which Carter would have undoubtedly been proud of.
Martinez welcomed back Romelu Lukaku to the fold and Leon Osman also returned from injury as the Blues looked to make it six games unbeaten and potentially move into the top half of the table (steady on). From the off the atmosphere was electric – not often we’ve said that this season – and it only took five minutes to have our noses in front. In our last three home fixtures we have scored first inside the half hour mark, and the theme continued with a James McCarthy strike at the Park End which gave the hosts a lead.
McCarthy’s goal epitomized his efforts since arriving at the Club, bursting from one half to another in the blink of an eye and finding Coleman with an inviting pass on the counter attack. But instead of Coleman’s attempted assist falling to Lukaku, the ball fell kindly to McCarthy – who had continued his run – and the Irishman dinked the ball between Blind and McNair to finish neatly past De Gea between the United sticks. A great start for the Blues and proof of how fast the tempo of the game was. The visitors could not deal with our pace and energy going forward, and McCarthy added a goal to his tally – a part of his game which is vastly improving. For all of his defensive work, cutting up the play and covering every inch of grass, McCarthy has now been given license to roam forward, adding offensive works, goals and assists to his game. He assisted against Burnley, as he did against Swansea, and his goal yesterday follows a goal last month against Newcastle, in which he scored the opener on that day too.
United looked to get back level shortly after with Everton shooting themselves in the foot defensively, when Fellaini latched on to a careless passage of play but could only fire over when he should really have done much better. Daley Blind also fired an effort wide but although the warning signs were there and plenty of possession was had by the visitors, we did not feel massively threatened and the way in which Martinez set his team out stopped United from controlling anything else but the ball. Through the middle we did allow United too much space at times, with McNair and Smalling allowed to stroll out of defence unchallenged on a number of occasions, but when we had the ball we had a verve and bite about our play. We looked to get at the shaky-looking United defence when possible and the likes of Lennon, McCarthy and Barkley looked well up for the game, moving the ball rapidly between each other. There was no signs of us sitting back and clinging on to a 1-0 lead, we knew that there was more goals if we wanted them, there would be no ‘all hands on deck’ – time wasting or overly defensive approach after taking an early lead, we kept going and it was encouraging to see.
On 35 minutes, Aaron Lennon provided Coleman with an outstanding ball out wide and similarly to our opener, Coleman then attempted to provide Lukaku in the middle but this time Smalling got back to snuff out the chance and put the ball behind for a corner. Baines then proceeded to take three consecutive corners, and thankfully for us Blues it was third time lucky as his delivery met John Stones who beat Antonio Valencia to head home past De Gea for his first Everton goal and our second of the afternoon. It was a great time to score our second, and for all of United’s ball play we had been clinical in our finishing and two goals to the good.
In the first half Jagielka and Stones kept Rooney quiet whilst Fellaini had been nullified by the impressive Gareth Barry and the Belgian was beginning to look frustrated, picking up a booking along the way. We had to sacrifice our style slightly – seeing less of the ball but being effective on the counter – and Martinez deserves praise for his game plan which was implemented perfectly by his side. The way in which Goodison Park celebrated McCarthy and Stones’ goals summed up how united Goodison Park was yesterday, it felt like last season all over again. Seeing our players react the way they did to scoring those two first-half goals gives you hope for the future and gives you an assurance that there is a belief amongst this squad, even if we have seriously lacked belief and been left disappointed for the majority of this season. Even big Duncan Ferguson got in on the act, and his celebrations on the touch lines probably reflect how most Evertonians travelling to school or work this morning, sheer elation!
At the break Fellaini was hauled off by Van Gaal – probably so he didn’t get sent off – and Falcao was introduced as United looked to put up a fight back. It wasn’t to be. It was Everton’s day and although United huffed and puffed you never really felt that a goal back for them would have even changed the pattern of play. Di Maria was another second half substitute by Van Gaal and Falcao had a goal ruled out for offside, but it was only a Chris Smalling header that really tested Everton and Howard, Jagielka and Stones continued to be solid with Barry and McCarthy closing the gaps in front of them. We worked as a unit, a team who were clinical in attack and organized across the pitch, our shape was spot on, as was our energy levels, and we capped a great victory with a third on 74 minutes.
Kevin Mirallas came on for the tired-looking Leon Osman and hit a stinging effort at De Gea moments later – but within five minutes of his introduction the Belgian got himself on the score sheet with a tidy finish at the Gwladys Street End. Ross Barkley – who had an excellent afternoon for the Blues – looked to supply Lukaku with a ball over the top but the striker would have been ruled offside if he had continued. As it was, Lukaku stopped and so did the United defence who allowed Mirallas to run through unmarked and put the icing on the cake for the hosts. A real moment of stupidity from United but again Everton capitalized and took their chance, putting to bed any chance of a response from the visitors.
Rooney limped off late on and Kone and Naismith were introduced for a five minute cameo as Everton sealed their fourth home victory and clean sheet on the spin and made it five wins in six to rise to 10th in the League table above West Ham. We’ve really turned things around since that depressing night at Stoke City in early March, when our league position looked perilous and there was calls for the Manager to go. Six games and sixteen points later we are now looking upwards and starting to see echoes of last season – it is just a damn shame that it will all come too late. This season has been rough for the majority of it, but thankfully Martinez and his players have reacted to those woeful results and it is refreshing to see the Manager changing his approach and being less stubborn with the way he sets his team up. There is no harm in going slightly more direct at times, and the way in which we put our game plan into action yesterday rightly deserves praise. It’s been too easy to be critical this term – I myself have been openly critical of Roberto and many of his players, but over the past month or so we’ve just found a way to pull through, begin to enjoy our football again and start to get results. The likes of Gareth Barry have been slated at times this season and he has struggled for form on numerous occasions, but recently and especially yesterday he was sheer class in that Everton midfield and he deserves plenty of plaudits. McCarthy was superb but you expect nothing else from the lad, whereas Ross Barkley has got a swagger and confidence about himself again – it is so refreshing to see. Aaron Lennon has been faultless since joining in January, we simply need to sign him permanently, and Kevin Mirallas has chipped in with two good goals in recent weeks, well done to him for his hunger and getting himself into those positions. Lukaku had a frustrating afternoon and looked slightly unfit, he also had to cope with our change in approach but Rom will get back amongst the goals before the end of the season, I am certain of that. In defence we looked solid, Coleman and Baines were expressive going forward and Jagielka and Stones continued their solidarity – a pairing that has now kept four clean sheets consecutively at Goodison Park, as has Tim Howard in goal of course.
John Stones appears to have the calm, experienced head of a seasoned 40-year old centre half even though he is just a kid, and his assurance at the back definitely breaths confidence throughout our team and on the terraces. He never fails to deliver and leaves me astounded with his attitude and performance levels, one hell of a player already and getting better too, it is scary. For just £3 million he could turn out to be one of our biggest ever bargains but I can’t help but fear the vultures will soon begin to circle and it is just a matter of time before the press begin to unsettle the defender. For now he looks happy – sheer joy on his face when we scored – he is enjoying his football at Goodison Park and certainly has a massive future ahead.
To summarise it was a fantastic result yesterday but without doing anything fantastic, if you see what I mean?! United are good but they are not great, and by doing the simple things and sticking to our game plan we overcame Van Gaal’s side who lay down with a whimper. From the fans on the terraces to the players on the pitch, to the staff on our bench, we all felt confident that we could get a result and it showed in our play and the noise around Goodison. It was nice to see a happy Goodison Park enjoying a victory over one of the better sides in the League and our noisy neighbours from the M62, we need to take it to Villa now and see if we can continue this good run of form and finish as highly as possible in the table.
As much as I’ve moaned and groaned about Everton this season, yesterday we were faultless. The Manager and his players deserve praise and we have shown real character over the past six fixtures to drag ourselves away from a worrying position, it is just a real shame we lacked any sort of fight in the 28 games previous to that because unfortunately this season is another case of ‘what might have been’. Onwards we go to the Midlands this weekend ahead of a home clash to Sunderland, a trip to West Ham before the season is out at Goodison against Spurs. All winnable games and with us in good form there is no reason why we can’t finish even higher than we are now, then go away for the summer, dust ourselves down, see this season as a learning curve, make additions and come back and have another go next season.
It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it?
Up the Toffees.