Barkley fires Blues to first home win in Premier League since November
Everton’s “diamond” shines on 100th appearance
Lennon, McCarthy & Cleverley demonstrate the value of graft as well as guile
Everton picked up their first three points of 2016 with an assured 3-0 victory over Newcastle United at Goodison Park.
Aaron Lennon opened the scoring after 23 minutes with an accurate low finish. Ross Barkley and Tom Cleverley were both denied by the heroics of keeper Rob Elliot who twice tipped efforts onto the woodwork to keep the score at 1-0.
But when Lennon was brought down in the area with two minutes of normal time to play, Barkley made safe Everton’s first Premier League win since Boxing Day, sending Elliot the wrong way from the spot.
The drama continued into injury time when Barkley bore down on goal only to be shoved to the floor by Jamaal Lascelles. The Newcastle man saw red and Barkley saw his chipped, ‘Panenka’ penalty nestle into the back of the net, putting a deserved shine on a much improved Everton performance.
Everton’s diamond shines brightest
Barkley was applauded off the pitch at Carlisle’s Brunton Park by both sets of supporters, having run the game and scored the third goal in Everton’s FA Cup 4th round win on Sunday.
On Wednesday night against the Magpies, it was just the home fans showing their appreciation for another tremendous performance which yielded Everton’s first home win in the Premier League since 21st November.
But the 22-year-old’s contribution against Newcastle will feel the more significant for Evertonians, giving their side a much needed win and just as importantly, providing a boost in morale after a season of laboured and frustrating evenings and afternoons at L4.
On Wednesday Everton’s diamond really did sparkle. The glorious ‘Panenka’ penalty was not just a manifestation of the midfielder’s skill but of his confidence and realisation of his growing influence on, and responsibility within the team. He was the driving force of this Everton side, just as he was against Carlisle, and the most likely (if not only) source of inspiration.
His pirouette-turn in the box allowed him the space to flash the ball across goal, only for Romelu Lukaku to decide not to gamble. His through ball for Arouna Kone was as pin point as they come. His second half strike was bound for the top corner but for Elliot’s intervention. And even when the option in front of him was blocked off, the control and skill exerted over the ball gave him the air of a man not just in control of his own destiny, but of his team’s.
Wednesday’s penalty double takes the England star’s goal tally to 11 so far this season and marks four goals in his last three games. It’s the kind of return Evertonians have been expecting of their ‘diamond’ since his incredible first season under Roberto Martinez. Barkley has also stepped up as one of Everton’s main creators with eight assists (Deulofeu leads the way with 11 in all competitions) and has created the most chances of any player in the side (37).
Before the season kicked off, some Evertonians were doubtful that Barkley could fill what was perceived to be a creative void in the side, but after 100 games for his boyhood club, you’ll be hard pressed to find a single fan who doesn’t think Everton’s No 20 is well and truly their No 10.
Blues reaping the reward of hard work
While Barkley will be quite rightly swigging from the man of the match champagne, he’ll no doubt modestly tell you that he couldn’t have done it all without his supporting cast.
Lennon, Tom Cleverley and James McCarthy were tireless in their attempts to win back possession, prevent Newcastle’s path to goal and disrupt play in order to earn Everton the chance to re-organise.
Everton are not a team set up to press the opposition high up the pitch, despite some sides employing such tactics to good effect (Spurs) and some sides to less effect (Liverpool). Lukaku and Barkley are not to waste their breath chasing lost causes.
But once the opposition encroaches into Everton’s final third, that’s where the hard work starts, and without McCarthy in the side to snuff out possession over the last few months, Everton have been more than easy to play though.
Not only McCarthy, but Cleverley too. Safe in possession and with a good eye for a pass, the ex Wigan and Man Utd midfielder has lungs the size of Stanley Park and is relentless in his work rate. So too is Lennon, and offers an assured antidote to the flamboyance and laissez-faire attitude of Deulofeu on the right side.
When things aren’t quite going your way on the pitch, a team can do worse than to inject a bit of hard graft to help restore order. While injuries will have played their part in the trio being thrown into the same midfield, the intensity and work ethic is a welcome sight to a fanbase who have rightly accused their team of being too easy to play through in recent months.