Swansea City 1 - 2 Everton

Anything short of an Arsenal victory tomorrow evening and Everton will go into Christmas just two points off the top of the Premier League table. You'd have been hard pressed to have found even the most optimistic of Evertonians predicting that at the start of the season, such has been the incredible form of Roberto Martinez's team as we approach the halfway point of the campaign.

Equally, few could have predicted just how integral Ross Barkley would become to the Blues just four months into life as a regular starter under the new manager. Not least Neil Warnock who sent him back to Finch Farm from a loan spell at Leeds United because he couldn't guarantee him first-team football. Or David Moyes whose inherent caution precluded him from allowing the youngster to make his mistakes on the big stage and grow into the player currently blossoming before the eyes of the nation.

A starring role in Everton's impressive display at Arsenal a fortnight ago turned heads and today, in front of Sky Sports live cameras again, the boyhood Blue produced a moment of dead-ball brilliance to earn three more priceless points for Martinez's men... and then casually admitted after the game that he doesn't really practice free kicks. Such is the understated demeanour of the Blues' new young hero.

Thanks to results like this and a stubborn refusal to fall away from the Champions League race, Everton are finally being regarded as a top-flight force again and they certainly possess two traits common to most top sides: the ability to win games when not playing at the top of your game; and match-winning individual quality in your ranks. In today's win over Swansea, Everton's fourth in five games against the South Wales side since they gained promotion to the Premier League, they boasted both.

Swansea manager, Michael Laudrup, bemoaned his side's misfortune in not earning a point after the match but the Blues were good value for the win despite not ever really hitting top gear. Credit went to the home side for their industry in closing the visitors down and not allowing Martinez's side to take control of possession but they were never reallly able to generate any momentum of their own until they fell behind to a stunning Seamus Coleman strike after 66 minutes.

Indeed, neither side had been able to lift proceedings above the pedestrian in a tedious first half but Everton created the clearer openings and less selfish play by Kevin Mirallas might have yielded a goal for the Blues in the opening 45 minutes. The Belgian was lively and worked hard when not in possession but he was foiled by Gerhard Tremmel in the Swansea goal with a low shot after quarter of an hour and too greedy seven minutes later when he raced towards goal having dispossed Chico-Flores but elected to shoot with Romelu Lukaku wide open to his right.

Lukaku, for his part, went another 90 minutes without a goal and is becoming the recipient of more criticism of his workrate and movement from some quarters but he was again let down by a lack of service from his teammates and was often forced to drop deep or contest aerial battles as Everton employed an unusually high percentage of long passes.

Barkley, meanwhile, was always looking to drive forward with purpose and he had strong claims for a penalty after 25 minutes when he went down in the area under a challenge by Ashley Williams. The incident's location near the byline made it a tough call for a referee of Lee Mason's dubious accuracy and there was no flag from his assistant either.

The Swans, meanwhile, had sprodically threatened to create something, particularly through Jonjoe Shelvey who gave Coleman the slip early on and teed up Wayne Routledge but the winger sliced his shot badly wide. And Wilfried Bony was similarly wayward with a shot from distance after half an hour as Tim Howard's goal remained relatively untroubled.

As expected, Everton gradually increased the tempo as the second half progressed and Coleman, in particular, was seemingly given more license to bomb down the right flank. Twice he raced onto throughballs and got around the back of Ben Davies but he couldn't pick out a Blue shirt with his cutback from the byline.

Mirallas, too, would find the 'keeper's arms rather than a teammate from a similar position a few minutes later but a rapier-like run by Barkley in the 56th minute looked to have carved open the chance for the first goal of the game. Unfortunately, he lost his footing at the crucial moment and ended up bobbling the ball into Tremmel's arms.

He would go closer after Gareth Barry's volley had dipped over the crossbar with another surging run after 64 minutes, moving the ball onto his left foot around 20 yards from goal and lashing a shot goalwards that the goalkeeper did well to push onto the crossbar. It was an effort reminiscent of his goal at Norwich on the opening day and one bettered by Coleman a minute later.

The Irishman appeared to be charging towards the opposition area in typical fashion but he surprised everyone by unloading a powerful shot from 30 yards out that arced away beautifully from Tremmel's reach and bulged the net behind him, sending the packed away end behind the goal into delirium. The infectious chorus of "Allez, allez, au..." struck up as the travelling Blues sensed victory.

The goal stirred Swansea into responding, though, and uncertainty started to settle in a little in the Everton defence as Laudrup's side started pressing. A 70th-minute cross from the left by Davies seemed innocuous enough but Pienaar had momentarily switched off to the danger posed by Dwight Tiendalli behind him and the Dutch fullback managed to get a foot to it. Unfortunately, the ball struck Bryan Oviedo, bounced past Howard and it was 1-1.

Initially, with Swansea looking the more composed and productive side following the equaliser, it seemed as though Everton might have to settle for a point. Certainly, for fans conditioned to such disappointments in games like this in recent seasons, it looked that way but there is a noticeable conviction in the players under Martinez and they would find the keys to victory inside the last 10 minutes.

McCarthy it was this time who took the ball and just charged forward with single-minded intention, only to be felled unceremoniously by Davies 25 yards from goal. The defender picked up a booking for his trouble and while referee Mason marshalled the defensive wall into position, Barkley signalled his intention to Lukaku to take the free kick. He duly stepped up and whipped a right-footer over the wall and in off the underside of the crossbar, right above Tremmel's glove. One more string to the young prodigy's bow...

Swansea tried to rally again but they would twice be denied by Howard, first when he superbly parried a ferocious effort by Pablo Hernández and then in injury time when he pushed Roland Lamah's well-struck effort over the crossbar following a clumsy foul by Barkley in a dangerous area outside the box. All that was left then was for the Blues to close out the game and secure a win that extends their unbeaten run to 10 games.

Such is the intensity of the competition among the League's top eight that, despite winning six of those 10 matches, if Chelsea avoid defeat tomorrow they will push Everton back into fifth place again. Yet, as more of the teams above and around them prepare to face each other over the Festive period, the Blues return to Merseyside for two home games that present them with another chance to gain ground and keep their own top-four aspirations well and truly alive.

Another three games in the space of a week will test Martinez's squad, though, especially if the knock sustained by Steven Pienaar and which forced his removal from the fray after 78 minutes keeps him out of contention. Pleasingly for Martinez, though, with Leighton Baines anticipated to return against Sunderland on Boxing Day, he has the option of pushing Oviedo forward to left midfield without risking too much disruption to what is an otherwise settled team.

There is sufficient depth for now and if we can make it until the New Year without any further injury problems, the manager will hopefully be able to bring in his targeted reinforcements to bolster the numbers.

One game at a time but it's wonderful being an Evertonian at the moment.

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James Stewart
167 Posted 23/12/2013 at 00:03:28
Coleman's strike was stunning and one of the best I have seen this season. Such a hard place to score from and get that kind of swerve into the near corner. Sublime
Bill Gall
184 Posted 23/12/2013 at 01:07:55
I am dreaming of a Blue Christmas instead of a white...
Chris Parkin
205 Posted 23/12/2013 at 03:31:26
A really tough game, but a vital game to win after Saturday's results, but they did it! With this team and this manager, the old feeling of "Oh shit, now we have to hang on for a point" is fading and you just get that little bit of belief that a Spanish rabbit will be pulled out of the hat!

Always a bit unfair to comment from the diaspora as you can never appreciate the full width and dynamic of the game, but it looked like McCarthy had a quiet one which reduced our dominance... And please, Roberto, get Kevin to look for a pass to a better-placed teammate just sometimes when he is in front of goal!

Tim Jones
208 Posted 23/12/2013 at 03:08:20
Well if that was the 'difficult' fixture as Roberto described it then we should have no problems with the next two home games. Keep it up, Blues — don't rest on your laurels and get sloppy.
John Gilfoyle
213 Posted 23/12/2013 at 06:35:07
Loving watching the blues at the moment, although I must say Lukaku was shocking today. His hold up play/ touch was horrific, seems to me he believes his game is about touch/movement skill and pace whereas in reality hes a 6,3ish unit who should be bullying every fucker. I know he has potential to be a world class striker but he's nowhere near that standard and needs to throw his weight around more. I've seen glimses off his power/ speed which is impressive but the guy really needs to utilise what hes got instead of trying to play like a bergkamp type of player. I think this guy could be world class if he starts to understand his game instead of being something he's not.
Derek Thomas
219 Posted 23/12/2013 at 08:32:45
John # 213. All fair points, so does that make him (tongue in cheek) a rich man's Anichebe??
Sam Hoare
225 Posted 23/12/2013 at 08:57:37
Lukakus all round game is not nearly that of a £20m+ striker as far as I can see. When he's not scoring goals (which admittedly has not been often) we could use an alternative striking option. Perhaps the Jelavic of old will return as another Everton Xmas present.
Rahman Talib
252 Posted 23/12/2013 at 11:32:17
If we keep bypassing Lukaku, then we should just return him to Chelski.

I mean we could've gone two up before half time if Mirallas had simply passed the ball to Lukaku.

Craig Walker
262 Posted 23/12/2013 at 12:13:34
Another stunning performance by the Blues. I thought Lukaku and Pienaar were not at the races yesterday but it was a great team performance. There was some lovely joined-up football from the Blues yesterday despite them taking a while to get going. Swansea away is not an easy place to go: only United and Arsenal have won there this season.

Please Bill, give our wonderful manager some resources in January and let him have a proper crack at keeping this run going. We're starting to get a few injuries and that is going to be a massive test of how we cope in the second half of the season. Last year we thought we were genuine contenders and thought that Moyes had demanded some funds. We'll never know if that was the case. With Martinez' ability to reshape the team, I don't think he would require massive funds.

The only concerns I see are strength-in-depth in the striker and midfield areas. Lukaku has been great but if he got injured then I would worry about our threat up front. Deulofeu is going to be a big loss as an impact player from the bench.

Brilliant times to be an Evertonian though and all credit should go to Roberto Martinez. I haven't felt this happy with Everton performances since 1987. This team is arguably playing more attractive football than that team did.

Norman Merrill
285 Posted 23/12/2013 at 14:08:27
It was a pleasure to get two early Xmas presents from 2 of our most promising youngsters.
The reaction of both showed the travelling Blue fans what it meant to them, & above all Everton fans that we have something to treasure.
So long may it continue, & merry BLUE XMAS.
Richard De Sousa
306 Posted 23/12/2013 at 15:44:20
Almost like a child at Christmas with the way Everton is playing. Two sick strikes to take the game. Some teams wait a whole season to see two like that. Martinez is a grand master with the talent to back his methods.

USA Everton FAN
Richard

Brent Stephens
309 Posted 23/12/2013 at 15:52:58
Richard #306, they used to play some of your dad's tunes at Goodison many years ago!
Harold Matthews
355 Posted 23/12/2013 at 18:43:33
Any neutral reading all the posts on all the threads will wonder how we sit in such a lofty position when we have not yet got things right in the final third. As Lyndon so rightly states, "match winning individual quality" is pulling us through.

This must augur well for the future. Few sides have more room for improvemrnt in and around the box and you can bet Martinez will be well on top of it. He misses nothing. From day one he has had a plan and he is gradually getting to where he wants to be. For all kinds of different reasons, we are way ahead of schedule but the added pressure will not cause him to alter course.

Looking forward to exciting times ahead and luck with injuries and suspensions.

Si Cooper
358 Posted 23/12/2013 at 20:08:41
Whilst he isn't at the top of his game I am a long way from describing Lukaku's performance as horrific.

Even when things are not falling for him he is having an impact on the opposition because of his physical presence and willingness to work.

I trust the manager to know if he needs benching and / or Jelavic is the better option. So far he hasn't been inclined to do so which means he must be doing something right.

Dennis Ng
436 Posted 24/12/2013 at 10:18:04
Harold, I definitely agree on finishing as the area with room for improvement. RM has been good with attacking football, just ask Wigan... It's mouth-watering to just think of where we would be if we finished chances better. My main fear when RM came was the defence and so far it is holding up well.

Si, agree also. I think too many are too willing to just dump on players, particularly strikers, that don't score. It is a game where Lukaku gets so much attention, other players need and were able to pick up the slack.

I like the all-rounded approach the team is having at the moment. If Lukaku gets chances, he finishes; if not, other players try to attack open avenues. And this is a young team still! What more do people expect with the amount of money we were able to put in?

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