Romelu Lukaku hit four goals in a breathtaking 9-goal thriller at Goodison Park, as Everton extended their unbeaten run against Bournemouth.
The Belgian put The Toffees in front after just 30 seconds after a neat exchange with James McCarthy. The Irishman scored his first goal of the season before a gift of a pass by visiting captain Simon Francis allowed Lukaku to score his second.
3-0 up at halftime, the hosts looked to be cruising to victory but a slow start to the second half and two Joshua King goals ensured a nervy final 20 minutes for Evertonians.
But with Lukaku in inspired form, the Toffees regained their three goal cushion, the Belgian combining first with Seamus Coleman and then Ross Barkley to score his third and fourth goals.
Harry Arter scrambled the ball over the line on 90 minutes but Barkley completed the rout deep into injury time, rounding the keeper and beginning the celebrations at the end of a crazy game of football.
Lukaku ‘debate’ is beyond boring now
Alan Shearer should recognise a top striker when he sees one. Tasked with analysing Lukaku’s masterclass in finishing on Match of the Day, his opening comment was a curious one: “He’s on his way to becoming a top striker”.
It’s a strange perception about the Belgian that he still has some kind of special attribute to acquire on his quest for “top striker” status, a perception peddled in no small part by some sections of Evertonians. You can pick apart individual performances if you want, but against the numbers, such nit-picking at ‘work-rate’ and ‘running’ is baffling.
Lukaku is the club’s and the Premier League’s top goalscorer so far this season with 16; Everton’s next best is Coleman on five. He’s now 22nd in Everton’s list of all-time goalscorers with 78, just one shy of Alan Ball. In the Premier League he’s closing in on Duncan Ferguson’s 60 league goals and will level it the next time he nets (credit Steve Johnson).
And before his birthday in May last year, the Belgian found himself in good company. In the list of top scorers before reaching the age of 23, only Ronaldo (the Brazilian one), Raul, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero have more than Lukaku’s 119.
But this shouldn’t be news, and the debate should have ended by now. Having scored 17 for West Brom in his first full season in the Premier League, Lukaku has gone on to score 16, 20 and 25 in his three seasons with Everton to date. His four clinical finishes yesterday should be enough to end the debate.
Oh, and where was Alan Shearer on that list of goals before turning 23? Eight places behind him on 65.
Everton, the league’s in-form team
Ronald Koeman and Seamus Coleman were nominated for January manager/player of the month awards on Friday. While both are fully deserved following a month in which the Blues took maximum points, the jinx that comes with it is usually enough to make fans write off the following game.
But there is every reason to believe that February will be as productive a month as January. Everton are the Premier League’s in-form team and are unbeaten in the league in seven games. Only Spurs have as many points (14) from the last six fixtures, but the Toffees have scored more and boast a superior goal difference.
Everton were in complete control for 45 minutes against Bournemouth and took their chances when they came along. The players are full of confidence and there is genuine competition across the park (Lukaku’s position the exception). With no cup competition to divert their focus, Evertonians have every reason to be optimistic for the rest of the season.
Lukaku’s goal after just 30 seconds set the tone for a dominant first half performance from Everton, but The Toffees started the second half on the back foot, inviting Bournemouth to attack.
By the 70th minute The Cherries had cut the deficit to one and a shell-shocked Everton looked helpless as wave after wave of Bournemouth shirts came in search of an equaliser. They had Joel to thank for two excellent saves but it was Koeman’s decision to intervene that ultimately stemmed the flow of the red and black tsunami.
Mason Holgate replaced Gareth Barry on the 80th minute, with The Blues switching to a 3-5-2. Almost immediately, Everton resumed the swagger and confidence that had put them in such a commanding lead. With their full-backs pushed high and the reassurance of a third centre-half, Everton forced Bournemouth back into their own half and began to dictate play where they could hurt them. And hurt them they did; a super period of possession and confident exchange of passes led to Everton’s fourth.
McCarthy showing why he’s still in Koeman’s plans
I’ve been quick to criticise James McCarthy over the past 12 months or so, but I won’t be the last to admit that the midfielder was at his very best on Saturday.
Playing mostly in a deeper, protective role under Roberto Martinez, McCarthy’s qualities have appeared limited to running and fouling. But the opening 45 minutes against Bournemouth bore witness to a different McCarthy, one who could contribute in the final third, netting his first of the season and teeing up Lukaku after 30 seconds (the first time he has scored and made an assist in the same game for Everton).
Instead of limiting his energy to the space between the centre circle and Everton’s 18-yard line, McCarthy was able to show the same pressing qualities and tackling ability, only this time in areas where he can directly contribute to attacking play and attempts on goal.
I had long written off McCarthy for not contributing enough in front of goal, but in a more advanced role there may well be a place for him in Koeman’s Everton after all.
Conceding is a concern for the whole team, not just the back four
Scoring six in any game should always be enough to win you the three points, and indeed it did on Saturday. We suddenly remember the joys of watching football when the goals are flying in and there’s no finer sight as an Evertonian than being entertained in this fashion.
But the way in which Everton almost crumbled under the first sign of Bournemouth pressure will concern Koeman. Last season Martinez’s Everton imploded against the same opposition on the south coast. The fact they did not buckle completely here is perhaps a small piece of comparative evidence that progress has indeed been made.
And it wasn’t just Everton’s ball-watching defenders that will need reminding of their duties in training next week. The entire XI need to take responsibility for their laissez-faire approach to the second half. Bournemouth worked their socks off all game and that application almost earned them a point. Everton need a reminder that they can’t afford to take their foot off the gas, at least not for an entire 45 minutes.