Everton 3 - 1 Middlesbrough
It was fleeting but reflexive; that moment of doubt born of frustrating games over the past 12 months, particularly at Goodison Park, where precious points were needlessly frittered away or Everton under the old regime would fail to capitalise on an opportunity to consolidate a strong position in the table.
Those old habitual instincts may die hard but, with each passing game under Ronald Koeman’s assured leadership, Evertonians are allowing confidence to creep back into their psyche, not least because of games like this.
1-0 down to a controversial goal, the cavalier Blues side of early last season might well have fought back but ended up throwing the game away again anyway; the more brittle version of just a few months ago might have caved altogether in the face of injustice, the size of the task and the frustration pouring out of the stands.
Confidence is a powerful thing in football, though, and Koeman is restoring it in spades at Everton, to the point where they simply brushed off an awful decision by Lee Mason to overlook Alvaro Negredo’s foul on Maarten Stekelenburg today and allow Middlesbrough to take the lead after 20 minutes, turned the match on its head and had it effectively won by half-time.
Koeman remarked after the game that his team probably benefitted from the incident as it lit a fire under his charges when they had failed to really spark into life up to that point. With the backing of an irate home crowd, who were in no doubt that Mason had egregiously erred, they were level within three minutes of Boro going ahead and it was fitting on the occasion of his 600th Premier League appearance, that it was Gareth Barry who scored the equaliser.
The two goals that followed to make it 3-1 at the break were also significant in their own way: a marauding Seamus Coleman evoked his much-missed glittering form of three seasons ago with a brilliant run and finish to put Everton ahead; Yannick Bolasie, meanwhile, poured more cold water on assertions from critics of his days at Crystal Palace that he lacks end product by providing either the assist or the goal itself that doubled the Toffees’ advantage in first-half stoppage time.
Most important, of course, was the fact that, while there were no further goals in the second period, the visitors never looked like getting back into the contest, even during their most concerted efforts late on when Everton sat back probably a little too much for the fans’ liking but preserved the scoreline by preventing Middlesbrough from having a single shot on Stekelenburg’s goal.
Much of that was down to the combination of a vastly improved defensive setup, a visibly fitter collection of players, and their consequent work-rate that started with the front players and extended to the back, where the gladiatorial duo of Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams refused to give Boro an inch.
In front of them, Barry was again supported by the imperious Idrissa Gueye who turned in another man-of-the-match display of stunning effectiveness. The Senegalese seemed to cover every blade of grass, tackled anything that moved, and again weighed in with an assist, all of which added to his burgeoning reputation as the undisputed signing of the summer.
The game was won, however, with Everton’s superior talents at the other end once they had gathered the impetus to have a real go at Aitor Karanka’s outfit. Middlesbrough had started confidently and through their discipline and organisation were making things difficult for their hosts.
The Blues, with Ross Barkley sensibly restored to the starting XI but understandably tentative in the early going, were forced to be patient but were showing signs of getting on top when Boro scored. Great work by Kevin Mirallas, who worked tirelessly for the 70 minutes he was on the field, ended with Barkley forcing a parried save from Victor Valdés before the Belgian saw a low shot of his own saved.
It was a deep cross by George Friend at the other end that led to the opening goal, however, one for which Negredo was entitled to challenge but when his head connected with Stekelenburg’s arms rather than the ball, everyone expected the referee to blow for the foul. There was disbelief and fury when he pointed to the centre-circle but Everton channeled that emotion into an almost immediate response.
The second of two successive corners was swung in from the Everton left, Williams almost connected in front of the goalkeeper and when the ball bounced through towards the back of the area, Barry had peeled away smartly to benefit from time and space and sweep it home with a nicely controlled finish.
Barkley’s twisting and turning run saw him go close to putting Everton ahead but he fired over; Bolasie dropped a header into the roof of the net; and another powerful run by Barkley that ended with his shot being charged down signalled his growing confidence as the half wore on.
Boro’s resistance melted in the face of a neat move three minutes before the break, however, as Gueye picked out Coleman’s run and he dribbled inside two defenders and drew the ‘keeper, opening up both sides of the goal to allow him to tuck the ball into the corner with aplomb.
And four minutes after that came the killer third. Bolasie engineered space for a teasing cross from the right that caught Valdés in two minds as Lukaku looked certain to get decisive contact on the ball but, whether with the aid of the merest of touches from the striker or not, it swerved into the far corner to make it 3-1 at half-time.
In truth, the second half was a bit of a non-event, save for an injury that forced Lukaku off to the benefit of debutant Enner Valencia and further evidence that the manager’s decision to keep Barkley in the side was being vindicated by a purposeful display from the 22-year-old. It was he who came closest to padding the scoreline but his powerful drive from the angle was denied by a low save by Valdés.
Valencia was game and matched the tenacity and endeavour of his team-mates but he wouldn’t get the chance to mark his first appearance since arriving from West Ham with a goal. Some icing on the cake would have been nice in terms of entertainment value but there can’t have been an Evertonian who wasn’t on cloud nine when the whistle went, calling time on a fourth successive victory that puts the Blues in 2nd place.
With job done in another eminently winnable game, the Koeman effect has very much taken hold at Goodison and all the Dutchman needs to ensure now is that his team remains focused, motivated and hungry as two more league matches — with the cup tie against Norwich sandwiched in between — that fit the same description loom to close out September.
Again, that nagging doubt in the Evertonian mind might not have been completely banished yet but there’s mounting confidence that the team can win matches from any position now and that this could turn out to be a very special season indeed. Long may that feeling continue!
Reader Comments (17)
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1 Posted 18/09/2016 at 07:16:57
A 2-goal lead meant nothing last year, and although we didn't play with the same gusto in the last 30 minutes, I wouldn't say we sat on the lead either and welcomed them to attack. With Gueye we are tackling higher up the pitch and, although I don't know if we are pressing as much as Koeman wants, we are definitely wining more ball in midfield and can see the opposition going backwards when in possession more often. They don't seem to have all the time in the world to fly in those crosses they could do at will last season.
I actually watched the last 20 minutes relaxed and happy. That is the best change so far!
2 Posted 18/09/2016 at 08:13:39
Lovely finish by Coleman after a great run. Kept himself composed and just rolled it into the corner with his weaker foot.
3 Posted 18/09/2016 at 09:46:33
Mirallas covers a lot more ground nowadays and tracks back properly. He still seems very wasteful in attack though. Although he's a definite starter for now I can see why Koeman was still hunting for similar players on TDD.
Negredo is only on loan to Boro - he held the ball up really well and I think he would be a good signing for us. Valencia didn't show enough composure for me...but let's give him some time, and presumably a full 90 minutes against Norwich.
Top 4 is realistic goal as long as Lukaku and Gana stay fit. I'm super excited. Can't wait for the next game.
4 Posted 18/09/2016 at 10:22:03
Many congratulations to Gareth on his 600th appearance. True professional and totally unsurprised to see him consolidate his booking record in the Premier League further – given the passion he displays.
Yes, apart from Spurs we have yet to play the more challenging teams but nevertheless let's all enjoy the excellent start. Negredo is an interesting option but perhaps we require someone who can can offer a different option to Rom while complimenting him if they both feature.
Thanks for the report.
Keep the faith.
5 Posted 18/09/2016 at 10:47:55
Can't wait for the next game!
6 Posted 18/09/2016 at 11:03:05
7 Posted 18/09/2016 at 11:52:18
Just need to make sure we get in a top quality centre forward in January. God forbid if Lukaku gets a bad injury this side of Xmas.
8 Posted 18/09/2016 at 12:08:42
The regular dispatching of these teams is the route to the top 6 come May.
9 Posted 18/09/2016 at 12:08:44
For all the confidence Ashley Williams exudes, he is a very poor header of the ball. As for the players, we do have some real gems and it won't have gone unnoticed in Manchester.
10 Posted 18/09/2016 at 12:15:09
11 Posted 18/09/2016 at 12:30:13
The more we win, the closer Goodison gets to a bear pit.
12 Posted 18/09/2016 at 13:54:22
We'll win some of the games vs the so-called top 4 or 5 regardless of the naysayers. Great start. Plus we'll probably add to the squad in the January window. Doesn't mean to say we are perfect yet. We sat back at times and left some gaping holes that a others would punish but...
13 Posted 18/09/2016 at 14:22:22
14 Posted 18/09/2016 at 17:34:20
You were not happy with me for describing Gana as "another Besic" when he arrived. I had seen enough of him beforehand to make me think he was no more than a tackiling machine, but his all-round game... who knew? I most definitely didn't.
Let's hope Besic comes back and proves me wrong too.
I love your stuff, but I get frustrated by your calls for patience sometimes, You've certainly called this one right.
15 Posted 18/09/2016 at 18:51:01
One thing which has changed dramatically, is that when we went 3-1 up, not for one second, did I think we would throw it away.
Last season we could, and usually, did!
16 Posted 19/09/2016 at 00:57:31
17 Posted 19/09/2016 at 13:46:02
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