A managerless Everton signed off the 2015/16 Premier League season with a comfortable 3-0 win over Norwich City.
Just days after dismissing Roberto Martinez after three years at Goodison Park, the Toffees produced an encouraging display to breeze past relegated Norwich.
James McCarthy’s superbly-taken opener set Everton on their way before Leighton Baines converted from the penalty spot.
And Kevin Mirallas’ close range tap-in wrapped the game up moments after half-time to give Everton only their sixth home win of an ultimately disappointing campaign.
Smiles return to Goodison
It was only three days ago, after the appalling performance at the Stadium of Light, that I wrote how unhappy Everton players looked out on the pitch. What a difference a sacking makes; something that should have happened weeks ago.
It’s hard to know for sure whether Martinez ‘lost’ the dressing room, as so many have suggested. But it was obvious players weren’t enjoying playing football, looking weighed down by fan unrest and poor results. With that weight lifted, Evertonians witnessed a rejuvenated first XI who looked like they didn’t want the season to end.
And it wasn’t just the academy graduates’ over-enthusiasm. Kevin Mirallas -someone whose career was turbulent at best under Martinez- and Romelu Lukaku were fired up alongside McCarthy and Gareth Barry, the latter demonstrating another midfield masterclass.
The terraces too played their part in brightening the place up. Bathed in sunshine, County Road was alive with the buzz and excitement usually reserved for the opening day of the season. With the weight of the world lifted from the entire club, the players performed and reaped their rewards.
Future’s bright with young Toffees
With Norwich doomed to the Championship and Everton unable to finish in the top half of the table, this fixture could have brought a whole new meaning to the word ‘dead-rubber’. But Everton ensured it was anything but.
Caretaker managers David Unsworth and Joe Royle made use of the opportunity to blood some of the club’s finest academy graduates and the trio who featured gave a solid account of themselves. 18 year-old Kieran Dowell lined up on the right side of midfield behind Matthew Pennington, deputising at right-back having started the last three games at centre-half.
Meanwhile Tom Davies belied his 17 years with a promising display in the No 10 role usually reserved for Ross Barkley. While Davies undoubtedly has some strides to make before he becomes a first team regular with the international caps Barkley has, he showed as much guile and class, while also demonstrating a combative and tireless approach to winning back possession.
While Pennington’s afternoon ended prematurely, Jonjoe Kenny, 19, took his chance at right back with assurance. Steady in his defensive duties, the graduate didn’t offer as much past the half-way line as Seamus Coleman, but his cross from the byline demonstrated tremendous desire before Mirallas tucked away the third.
While Davies was busy all over the park, making tackles, winning headers, keeping possession and running forward with the ball, Dowell and Kenny both contributed to Everton’s goals from open play. A promising sign of things to come from the club’s brightest young talents.
Record breaker Tim get’s first class farewell
The past two seasons haven’t exactly been Howard’s finest. An inspiring World Cup campaign in 2014 (which gave the stopper internet meme fame after making a record 16 saves against Belgium and even led to a congratulatory phone call from President Obama ) seemed to suggest the ageing keeper still had plenty to offer at the very highest level.
But an error-ridden 2014/15 season led to calls from fans for the American to be dropped and hostility towards the number 24 only worsened in this campaign. Martinez’s stubbornness made way long enough for Joel Robles to deservedly take number 1 spot, saving Howard further embarrassment in a season which ultimately spelled the end.
But it was encouraging to see Evertonians come together to appreciate Howard’s overall contribution over 10 seasons for the Blues. In his 414th appearance for the Toffees the 37 year-old was rarely troubled and his 126th clean sheet never really in doubt.
In an emotional farewell letter to Everton fans ahead of his move to Colorado Rapids, the American reminded us just how much the club has come to mean to him:
“After a decade in blue, this is my home. I love all of you…you have become a part of my soul. You’ll forever be in my heart. COYB!”
His 352 league games rank him 13th in the club’s all-time league appearances charts, while he tops that same table for the Premier League. In light of the past two years, it’s easy to forget what a fantastic and loyal servant Howard has been for the club, one whose tally of 210 consecutive league games for one club between September 2007-March 2013 broke a Premier League record, and was only two shy of Neville Southall’s for overall league appearances for the club.
I think I speak for all Evertonians in wishing him all the very best back in the US where he undoubtedly has many more years ahead of him, and many more records to break.