Everton moved to fifth in the Premier League with a 3-2 win over Swansea City despite a below-par performance.
Instinctive: Ross Barkley celebrates scoring Everton’s crucial third goal
A comfortable win looked on the cards when Leighton Baines slotted in from the penalty spot after 20 minutes.
But Swansea took control and their first half pressure paid out when Wilfried Bony finished off a sweeping move involving Angel Rangel.
Everton raced into a two-goal lead shortly after the break when Romelu Lukaku tapped in from Kevin Mirallas’ cross and Barkley stooped to head in unmarked from a corner five minutes later.
But Everton looked vulnerable for the remaining half an hour and were pegged back in injury time when Ashley Williams headed in from a corner.
Roberto Martinez made two changes to the side that beat Cardiff City last weekend, with Aiden McGeady’s goal-assisting cameo earning him a spot ahead of goalscorer in that game Gerard Duelofeu. Barkley also did enough to impress from the bench in that game as he was preferred to Leon Osman.
Swansea certainly put their case forward as one of the most attractive sides to watch in the league with some early possession. But it was Everton who looked to open the Swans up on the right side with Seamus Coleman almost getting the better of Ben Davies and Mirallas failing to beat the first man on two occasions.
It was from a spell of Swansea pressure in Everton’s penalty area from which the opening goal came. Anywhere would have done for John Stones when he hoofed the ball clear but Barkley collected the clearance and committed Chico Flores into the foul.
Conversion: Leighton Baines gives Everton the lead at Goodison Park
There was a moment of contention as to whether it was inside the box or not, but Baines was sure of himself from 12-yards and his 100% record in the Premier League from the spot remains intact.
Instead of blossoming with confidence after the goal Everton shrivelled deeper into their own half and Swansea sought the equaliser by controlling proceedings. Despite being overrun in midfield the Blues looked to be doing enough but it took just one defence splitting ball before the Swans were level.
Wayne Routledge threaded a diagonal ball for Rangel who made it easy for Bony to convert from four yards. The warning signs had been there for Everton since taking the lead and they were emphatically ignored.
Swansea continued to exert their dominance while Everton seemed sapped of any confidence. They have been used to completely dominating possession at Goodison Park under Martinez, but the Swans have been instilled with the Catalan’s insistence on total control of the game and their movement and sharp passing troubled Everton.
But the Blues woke up somewhat in the second half and Lukaku and Barkley found themselves in promising positions. But too often the pair either ran into trouble when a simple pass was on or made the pass just a fraction too late.
It’s exciting that we have young players willing to drive at opponents and be creative, but it will take time for the likes of Barkley and Lukaku to learn when to release the ball early and when to produce something spectacular.
This balancing act was summed up in the lead up to Everton’s second when Lukaku was driving forward looking to get his shot away despite the help of Mirallas to his right. The Belgian momentarily lost control of the ball but did enough to release Mirallas. Just when it looked like the opportunity had passed, the wingers cross was turned in by the burly Belgian.
Predator: Romelu Lukaku stabs in from close range after Kevin Mirallas’ cross
Five minutes later the lead was doubled and it came from the most unlikely of sources. It was no surprise to see Barkley add his name to the score-sheet; the shock came from witnessing Everton score only their second goal from a corner kick all season.
With a sudden two-goal lead it would have been sensible of Everton to retreat their 11 men into their own third and protect what they have. But as we’ve seen under Martinez this season, that’s not our style any more.
The boss wanted more and was gambling on leaving the likes of Lukaku, Barkley and Mirallas further forward when defending in the hope of catching Swansea on the break. Unfortunately Everton never really looked like adding a fourth while Swansea continued to commit players forward.
In a similar fashion to the first half Everton afforded the visitors the space in which to play and were lucky to reach the 90 minute mark without conceding.
Stoop: Barkley reacts first to score Everton’s decisive third
In a dominant spell of possession for the visitors, Howard saved well from a Bony header and did superbly to deny Pablo Hernandez from point blank when the Spaniard escaped the attentions of Everton’s defence.
Steven Naismith and Osman came on in place of Barkley and McGeady- who was Everton’s best player- to help the Blues over the line but there was time for Williams to head home unmarked in added-time to make it a nervy finish.
It was a far cry from what Evertonians have come to expect as they struggled to control the game in the manner that Martinez is so insistent on. But it was an Everton team who took their chances when they came along and ultimately did enough to repel Swansea during difficult periods.
The three points guides Everton into fifth place, one point ahead of Tottenham with a game in hand and a 14+ goal difference. There’s certainly much to play for but the Toffees will have to improve all over the pitch if they are to achieve European qualification.