Everton maintained their early season grip on second place in the Premier League after a 3-1 victory over Middlesbrough.
Alvaro Negredo put the newly promoted side ahead in controversial circumstances, heading the ball via ‘keeper Maarten Stekelenburg’s arm out of his grasp and into an empty net.
Referee Lee Mason allowed the goal to stand, much to the collective outrage of Goodison Park. But out of the injustice came a devastating response from the Toffees, with Gareth Barry restoring parity just minutes later.
And two further goals in four minutes before half time was enough to put Everton in the driving seat. Seamus Coleman’s explosive one-two into the box gave him the space to place beyond Victor Valdes, while Yannick Bolasie and Romelu Lukaku will fight out Everton’s third.
The Belgian wheeled away to celebrate the goal but it looked like Bolasie’s cross found it’s way into the back of the net without the striker’s intervention. Everton’s fourth consecutive league win (five in all comps) put them two points behind leaders Man City and ensures their best start to a season since 1978.
Barry joins 600 club
For a man whose goal scoring record has become somewhat subdued over the last few years, Barry chose a special way to celebrate his 600th Premier League appearance.
Only Frank Lampard and Ryan Giggs have played more games since the league’s inception in 1992 and few would argue that the former Aston Villa midfielder is not deservedly placed among his peers in reaching the “600 club”.
Barry’s importance to the side is certainly not underestimated by Evertonians. After a disappointing second season at Goodison Park – where a Europa League campaign began to take its toll on the then 33 year old’s creaking joints- Barry returned to form in 2015/16 and was a consistent performer in a Martinez team turning sour.
Now 35, Barry doesn’t look like he’ll be hanging up his boots anytime soon, showing that age really is just a number.
Idrissa by numbers
It’s official. We’ve run out of superlatives for Gueye’s performances in a Blue shirt. The only way to grasp just how good the Senegalese has been for Everton so far is to crunch some numbers.
Tackling is one of the biggest aspects of Gueye’s game, and so far he leads the competition well and truly in his wake. In the metaphorical boat race, he’s essentially speeding his way down the Mersey with a mojito in one hand, a cigar in the other, steering the boat with his feet while throwing life rings to the competition.
Idrissa Gueye’s game by numbers vs. Middlesbrough:
73 passes completed
8 tackles won
2 interceptions pic.twitter.com/ASm5mENmSi
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 17, 2016
He leads the Premier League’s tackles chart (31), winning 10 more than second placed Sam Clucas of Hull and 14 more than Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, with whom Gueye has been heavily compared with since his move to Everton in the summer.
Football statistician Matt Cheetham adds that the Senegal midfielder’s tally is significantly more than any Everton player managed at this same stage last season. Everton only conceded two more goals after five games last season, but the frailties of Roberto Martinez’s tenure appear to have have been hardened and the gaps plugged with a more organised rearguard and a quality signing in Gueye.
31 tackles from Gueye in PL this season, 8 more than any other player. No Everton player had more than 14 tackles at this stage last season.
— Matt Cheetham (@Matt_Cheetham) September 17, 2016
Lukaku-Bolasie partnership blossoming
I’m still struggling to see the point at which Bolasie’s cross was diverted -however slightly- into the net by Lukaku. Whether the ball was intended for his striker or not, there seems to be no contact from the Belgian. Over to you, Dubious Goals Panel.
Regardless of who did or didn’t get the final touch, the partnership we’re beginning to get glimpses of between the two is very pleasing for Evertonians. We talk so much about forward partnerships, and this used to be between strikers. But with the popularity among teams to field one recognised striker, the significant relationships are coming elsewhere.
With more emphasis on Everton’s wide men under Koeman, the understanding between winger and striker has become a vital part of a successful Everton, and having already set Lukaku up for one goal, it’s pleasing to see Bolasie getting his head up in wide areas and looking for the Belgian.
Mason got it wrong, but BT’s pundits refused to get it right
Mason’s decision to award Middlesbrough a goal in the 21st minute provoked anger and dismay in equal measure among both fans and players. While I can forgive a referee for making a mistake in real-time, with no benefit of a replay, it’s impossible to understand why BT’s commentary team persisted with their view that the goal was a legitimate one.
No one in the ground except Stekelenburg and Negredo could have been sure that the goal was borne from a foul on the Dutchman, so I do have sympathy with Mason for judging that Negredo managed to marginally beat Everton’s ‘keeper to the ball.
But every replay showed quite clearly that the Spaniard headed his arm instead of the ball, and so fouled the keeper in knocking it out of his hands. Yet the commentary team, including Steve McManaman and Glenn Hoddle failed to see what was eventually quite apparent to everyone else.
Even BT’s resident referee analyst Howard Webb changed his mind once he’d seen a replay that gave him a view he’d not previously seen. They must have seen the wrongly awarded goal from every available angle within minutes of the incident, so why did the hapless trio in the gantry persist in their incorrect analysis? Sky Sports might not be perfect, but you don’t usually see this level of idiocy on Friday Night Football.
Coleman showing why picking him was easy decision
Mason Holgate has made a fantastic start to his Everton career, so much so in fact that some fans were dismayed to see Seamus Coleman start against Sunderland in his place.
But there shouldn’t really be much deliberation. Coleman is Everton’s best, and more crucially, only fit senior right back. Despite deputising superbly in the Irishman’s absence, Holgate is quite clearly a centre half and should be played as such.
And against Middlesbrough, Coleman reminded Evertonians just what he brings to the table. Slotting into a back four which kept a clean sheet up on Wearside on Monday, the rearguard conceded no shots on target to the Smoggies (their goal counting as a Stekelenburg own-goal). And his goal was a timely reminder of what he offers in attack, finishing off a superb move with a neat left-foot finish.