Everton 3 - 1 Middlesbrough
Gaz doesn't often get the chance for a drink at the match as he is always driving, so with this being the late kick off match, Ste, Gaz and I pre-arranged a few drinks, starting with some sun drenched beers outside the Ship and Mitre on Dale Street in the city centre. We bumped it a few other friends there also and ended up tagging along with them for a couple outside The Queens Arms on County Road before walking on to Goodison Park on a warm late-summer afternoon.
Into Goodison Park and the team remained unchanged from that which won so resoundingly at the Stadium of Light on Monday as we were pitted against another North East outfit in newly-promoted Middlesbrough. I am pleased MIddlesbrough are back in the Premier League. They have some pedigree in the top flight and growing up in the 90's I'll forever remember how they dazzled, though relegated, with impressive overseas signings Juninho, Emerson and "The White Feather" Fabrizio Ravanelli, who we came close to signing ourselves if I recall correctly. They brought with them a few Merseyside links also, in Adam Foreshaw, a product of our youth system; and, Stewart Downing, an expensive flop from over the park. The packed Goodison Park looked splendid in the early evening shade as Lee Mason got proceedings under way, Everton attacking towards the Park End in the first half.
Though they failed to register a single shot on target all game, it was refreshing to see Middlesbrough try to take the game to Everton in a lively beginning to the game. They had a good verve about their play and though the second half was really men against boys, if they can take their early efforts into their games this season they won't go far wrong in their goal of avoiding relegation one would have thought.
It was this attacking effort that led to their illegal goal on 21 minutes when a cross from captain George Friend was spilled into his own net by Maarten Stekelenburg under pressure from Alvaro Negredo. At the time I felt our goalkeeper was a bit weak and should have done better, however having seen it again there was a definite foul on Stekelenburg by Negredo and we should have been awarded a free kick. The Everton players, and Stekelenburg in particular, were furious...Stekelenburg getting booked for the second time this season for kicking the ball away in his protests. I like the cut of our keeper’s jib.
Strangely this ignited Everton and we were level within three minutes when Gareth Barry finished well from a Kevin Mirallas corner kick. It was very apt that Gareth scored on his 600th league appearance. That's two goals already this season for Gareth and it felt important for Everton to react quickly. Almost immediately you felt we'd swung the momentum our way and so it proved on 42 minutes when Seamus Coleman expertly cut in from the right flank onto his left foot and finished sharply into the corner of the net. It was a magnificent finish by Seamus and it feels like quite a long time since we've seen him get forward so fearlessly.
With half time beckoning I felt that I could join a few of the fellas for a half time drink and went down just after Coleman scored. I wasn't expecting to miss another goal of course and though delighted Everton have scored, you find yourself a bit cheesed off to have missed the goal. Chants of "Yannick Bolasie runs down the wing for you" to the tone of 90's crime TV series Heartbeat could be heard from downstairs though it wasn't the Congolese' who netted, it was in fact Romelu Lukaku who got something on the ball to divert it past Victor Valdes to make it 3-1. I'm convinced Romelu scored it as the ball seemed to change direction a bit once it bounced around him. The golden rule of course is - never go downstairs early!
That buried Middlesbrough and they offered precious little after the break, with Everton seemingly quite content to professionally see the game out for the second half. Our midfield axis of Idrissa Gueye and Gareth Barry did a great job in the middle and have become increasingly difficult to penetrate.
We washed away the night with celebratory drink. It's not often we're sitting pretty in 2nd position in the table, and I'll be sure to remain seated right until the half time whistle for the remainder of the campaign!
Stekelenburg: Had very little to do and was fouled for the own goal so it's difficult to criticise him for that, but I'll try. I'm mighty impressed with our new goalkeeper. He's been a revelation in goal, particularly after last season's horrors. To micro-criticise, I would say that two of the goals we have conceded have been down to Stekelenburg trying to persuade the referee to make a decision, when he should be trying to get rid of the ball first and ask questions later.
He went down easily in the goal we conceded at the Hawthorns, and I think he might have done something a bit different with the ball for yesterdays goal than land it back into the net. That's about the only hole I can pick however. I think we've got a fantastic goalkeeper there who should be good for the next two years at least. 6
Baines: Did well. He seems to have found that consistency again which, like a lot of things throughout the team, was missing last season. 7
Jagielka: Solid. 7
Williams: Solid. A good partnership is forming there. 7
Coleman: Great to see him back to his best and hopefully he can stay amongst the goals after this well taken effort. 8
Gueye: He struggled a bit in the first 20 minutes and I was starting to think "hmmm, he's having a bit of a shocker here". He focused however and recovered brilliantly to put in a man of the match performance. Perhaps the bargain of the season. My man of the match. 8
Barry: Also fantastic and what an achievement in playing 600 Premier League games and what a way to mark it. Congratulations Gareth. Let's hope hew can keep this level of performance up for some time yet. 8
Mirallas: He wasn't up to scratch today but he at least put a heck of a shift in and you can't really ask for more than that. 6
Bolasie: Did superbly well with our third goal and also came close to scoring with an excellent header in the first half. Safe to say he's made an excellent impact so far. 7
Barkley: Good on Ross for heading some well-publicised advice from Ronald Koeman this week. He got his head down, got involved and got stuck in. He needs to do more for sure, but it was a great step in the right direction for Ross. He'll be pleased to know he's still got the backing from the supporters as well. 6
Lukaku: Just about got on the scoresheet and though he has his critics, he's certainly missed when he's not there. 6
Valencia (for Lukaku): Was given plenty of time on the pitch but I find it difficult to assess what we're going to get from him. He appears quite a confident lad though so hopefully hew can pop up with a few goals for us throughout the season. 6
Deulofeu (for MIrallas): Got involved and did OK. 6
Cleverley (for Barry): Gareth Barry was afforded a standing ovation with just a few minutes remaining and it was Tom Cleverley who benefited with a few minutes on the field. He got involved, albeit in limited time. 6
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