Cups give Blues New Year optimism – City win capped impressive performance
Blues ease into FA Cup 4th round with welcome run out for Jags & Pienaar
Robles puts his case forward with two fine displays – Howard must respond
Everton made an unbeaten start to 2016, taking realistic strides towards silverware with back-to-back cup wins.
Wednesday night’s 2-1 victory over Manchester City has given them a slight edge in their pursuit of Capital One Cup glory. Goals from Romiro Funes Mori and Romelu Lukaku were enough to ensure the Blues take a 1st leg lead to the Etihad Stadium, either side of a Jesus Navas strike.
And there was more cup success for the Toffees on Saturday as a second string side did enough to ease past League Two Dagenham & Redbridge. Arouna Kone opened the scoring with a fine header but it took an 85th minute penalty from Kevin Mirallas to seal victory.
Big night called for big performance, and Blues delivered
Much has been said of Everton’s struggles in the Premier League this season. While performances have in the main been very good, especially in an attacking sense, results have failed to follow and fans, players, managers and pundits have all had their say.
Gareth Barry was one notable spokesperson for his teammates following respective crowd-player altercations involving Tim Howard and John Stones. The Premier League veteran called for Goodison Park to be at its roaring-best as opposed to its toxic-worst.
And it’s just as well that the players and crowd were singing from the same hymn sheet. After a City-dominant opening 20 minutes Everton grew into the game with the confidence we’ve come to expect from this Roberto Martinez side. The back five were far more assured than in several games towards the end of 2015 while the likes of Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu and Romelu Lukaku tried to express themselves in the same manner that has reaped the glut of goals between them
A cagey first half meant both sides were more cautious than adventurous but Funes Mori’s goal before half-time ensured for a more open second 45. Navas’ equaliser came against the run of play, as Everton improved and we’re fully imposing themselves in search of a comfortable lead. But the maturity shown to respond to that disappointment with an immediate winner was enough to convince many Evertonians that this team has the character and the capability to achieve cup glory, despite the bitter disappointments of recent league results.
More important to most Blues than league form is cup success and when Goodison called for a big performance the players (and the crowd) did not disappoint.
Hardly vintage but FA Cup progress & injury returns give Blues boost
And from one cup performance to another. Everton prepared for their third game in 6 days with a few injury concerns following Wednesday’s Capital One Cup exertions. Lukaku netted his 12th goal in 12 games to give Everton the advantage but limped off shortly after sealing victory. Leighton Baines received treatment during the game and was not included in the FA Cup squad (although this may well have been planned regardless), while Seamus Coleman and Tom Cleverley were both withdrawn through injury.
While changes were expected regardless of fresh injuries, Coleman’s month long absence will test the resolve of an Everton defence who have only recently started to stop the flood of goals.
But it was a joy to see the return of captain Phil Jagielka as well as long-term and habitual absentee Steven Pienaar. Jagielka’s unwavering performance will be most pleasing to Martinez and fans, considering the 20 goals conceded at home already this season.
The England international was in fine form and his return means that even with Funes Mori’s withdrawal in the first half with a head injury, there will be no worries about Jagielka linking up with countryman Stones in the midweek (league) trip to the Etihad.
The other major injury comeback came in the form of the lovable South African. A substitute appearance in April against Swansea City was Schillo’s last competitive outing and it was great to see the midfielder back on the pitch.
The concern for Pienaar will be keeping himself fit enough to mount a serious challenge for first team inclusion. There’s no player in the Everton ranks who can bring the best out of Leighton Baines like the former Ajax man can; their partnership being key to Everton’s play for many years under David Moyes. But age and fitness have seen that relationship diminish, as has the over-reliance on Baines as a goal-scoring threat.
But the return of two experienced and much-valued players is a welcome one in a side brimming with youth, talent and subsequent inexperience.
Joel has raised the bar – time to match it, Tim
Robles hasn’t been able to put back to back displays together since this time last year when an injury to Howard threw the Spaniard into the spotlight. He performed admirably then and he’s done nothing in the last two cup games to suggest that he isn’t ready for regular football on the domestic front.
A huge presence in the penalty area, the young keeper has commanded his box well, with confidence and assurance. A top drawer save from Kevin de Bruyne did much to further endear himself to the Goodison faithful while his calmness with the ball at his feet bodes well for Martinez’s possession based brand.
With all that said, Howard will be expected to return for the Premier League clash with Man City. If he does, he has been shown exactly where the bar lies by his understudy. It’s up to the American to elevate his game to similar heights and help ensure Everton’s promising start to 2016 continues.