Goodison Park has been waiting for an Everton team to throw off the shackles and put a bagful past some hapless visiting Premier League team for a while now. 19 months – give or take – and while this wasn't the rugby score that the Blues threatened to rack up at times in the second half, a handsome 4-0 hammering of Stoke City was a fine way to relieve some of the pent-up energy and frustration from three consecutive draws, including last weekend's aborted climax against Liverpool.
What looked by the 44-minute mark of the first half as though it could be "one of those days" as Roberto Martinez's team dominated the attacking dimension of this contest without breaking the deadlock gave way to a highly satisfying result that lifts the Blues back into the top four, however temporary ahead of the Sunday fixtures.
More than that, though, it was a win underpinned by some wonderful football, four excellent goals, and what might prove to be a "coming-out party" for Gerard Deulofeu. The Barcelona teenager had been forced to bide his time for his first League start in Everton colours as Martinez wisely opted for a gradual introduction to the rigours of the English game but he grabbed the opportunity of his selection ahead of Kevin Mirallas with both hands.
Granted, both manager and 19 year-old alike will feel as though he should have delivered a more emphatic scoreline by scoring at least one more than the goal he delivered to open the scoring on the stroke of half time and perhaps serving up more than the two assists he weighed in with as Everton put Stoke City to the sword. But his evolution from raw Continental talent to battle-hardened Premier League campaigner took a big step forward today, adding another potent weapon to Martinez's arsenal.
Deployed wide on the right as Mirallas dropped back to the bench, Deulofeu was one of three changes made by Martinez in light of injury to Leighton Baines and the midweek trip to Manchester United. Bryan Oviedo got the nod as the deputy at left back and, in his first apparent act of squad rotation in the League, the manager also started Ross Barkley, sitting in four yellow cards, on the bench in favour of Leon Osman.
Pleasingly, the reshuffle caused little disruption to Everton's forward momentum and, led by Deulofeu, they set about creating the best moments of the first half. The Barca winger forced the first save of many from Azomir Begovic as early as the fourth minute when he drive a free kick through the wall that the 'keeper pushed away to safety. Then, after executing a number of his familiar step-overs, Deulofeu prompted another parried stop from Begovic from the angle.
Oviedo, a livewire down the left flank throughout, drifted a left-footed effort wide and James McCarthy just missed with a crisp, placed effort after playing a neat one-two with Romelu Lukaku and Osman was denied superbly by the Stoke goalkeeper as more scintillating, one-touch football served up another opportunity for the home side.
Mark Hughes' Potters, meanwhile, belied their recent three-match unbeaten run, with an inept first-half display that yielded just one shot on goal, that from Jonathan Walters after 42 minutes which he planted straight into Tim Howard's grateful arms.
Had he made more of the chance, it would have been a travesty of justice on Everton, who collected dividends on their greater attacking enterprise just two minutes later with another brilliant move down the left. Deulofeu played a one-two with Steven Pienaar in the Stoke area, received a helping hand from Barry with a touch on as he surged towards goal and then lashed the ball high into the goal from close range to make it 1-0 at the break.
Less than four minutes after half time it was two. Deulofeu was again the architect as he raced onto McCarthy's perfectly-weighted pass into the channel and then held things up long enough for the cavalry to meet his cross from the left side of the area. Barry mis-controlled but Seamus Coleman arrived at the perfect moment to guide the ball inside the far post with his weaker foot.
An outlet of pure pace was an ingredient missing from Everton's makeup under David Moyes ever since the departure of Andy Johnson and with Mirallas and Deulofeu, Martinez now boasts two such weapons on the counter. What the latter now needs is the final, killer touch to go with his impressive speed and precocious self-confidence. As against Liverpool, Deulofeu was put clean through on the goalkeeper with 53 minutes gone but, having stayed on his feet despite being clipped by Whelan (who very well could have walked for a second bookable offence had the forward gone down under his challenge), he could only fire too close to the goalkeeper and Begovic saved his shot. Lukaku was similarly denied on the rebound and the chance evaporated but the kiler third goal would come just five minutes later.
Yet more sumptuous play down the left wing forced a corner that Deulofeu took short to Oviedo 25 yards from goal and the Costa Rican took one touch to move the ball onto his supposedly weaker foot before whipping a superb low shot in off the upright. Though not seriously challeged defensively – arguably the area that will concern Blues fans the most about him deputising for Baines – Oviedo was another player grabbing his chance impressively and he grew into an increasingly dangerous outlet for the Blues down the left as the match wore on.
Everton were firmly in the driving seat now and though Stoke were briefly stirred from their torpor by the third goal and a couple of attacking substitutions, forcing a stunning one-handed save from Tim Howard after 63 minutes, the pattern of the game remained largely unchanged. Barry and McCarthy were retaining a vice grip on central midfield which allowed Osman and Pienaar to pull the strings going forward. Pienaar, in particular, was positively Pirlo-esque in his unflustered mastery of the game in the opposition half – all neat flicks, teasing lay-offs and probing passes that showed a pleasing return to his best form after a questionable start to 2013-14.
The South African was almost rewarded for his performance, first when Lukaku picked him out from the byline but he was closed down as he pulled the trigger and his shot was blocked; and then when he was cynically blocked off from collecting a one-two pass from the Belgian striker that would have given him a clear sight of goal from the edge of the box.
The Blues kept pressing, though, barely skipping a beat when Martinez withdrew McCarthy, also one yellow card away from a one-game ban, in favour of John Stones and a back three formation, and they scored a fourth through Lukaku with 11 minutes left of the 90. Oviedo did well to get to the byline and had the time he needed to deliver a perfect ball into the six-yard area where the prolific Belgian had the simple task of prodding the ball past Begovic to make it 4-0.
His afternoon's work complete, Lukaku was then substituted and Nikica Jelavic introduced into an almost ideal situation from which to end his goal drought and the chance for a first goal of the season arrived in the dying minutes, not long after Deulofue had scampered through the heart of Stoke's defence again, riding two fouls before being denied by a last-ditch tackle by Muniesa.
Jelavic's opportunity was altogether more routine, the Croatian finding himself in a gilt-edged one-on-one situation just inside the penalty area but a typical first-time effort was placed too close to the 'keeper who had come off his line to close down the options and Begovic saved.
A fifth and a goal for Jelavic would have been the icing on the cake but the home faithful no doubt left the Grand Old Lady in high spirits having seen their team comprehensively dismantle a team who had run Wednesday's opponents, Manchester United, very close in a recent game at Old Trafford that Moyes's team only just won, 3-2.
There is no doubt that if Martinez can carry this kind of unbridled attacking fervour into Wednesday's encounter, then Everton have a very good chance to breaking what is among their most painful hoodoos of the Premier League era. Certainly, the new man's positivity offers every hope that the team will travel along the M62 in midweek with a more optimistic and positive mentality than, by his predecessor's own admission, has been the case in recent seasons. Once again, the opportunity to send a statement of intent to our rivals is there and today showed that the attacking weaponry is there if it can be channeled effectively on the night.
With Barkley and Mirallas on the bench, Deulofeu, Osman and Oviedo started the game against Stoke City in a surprising squad rotation by Roberto Martinez. Baines is out injured with a broken toe.
The game started with Osman kicking off for Everton, with the early play a little scrappy, Pienaar getting fouled near the Stoke area. Free-kick played short, Pienaar fouled again, more centrally. Good execution by Deulofeu forced a stretching save by Begovic.
Coleman was beaten a little easily, then Osman was stalled by a strong challenge, with Everton eventually getting a few passes together but not making much forward progress. But Osman did pick out Deulofeu with a good long ball, the layback intercepted falling eventually to Oviedo who's shot was a little wayward, followed later by a wild shot driven off-target into a crowded area.
Deulofeu forced his way through with numerous step-overs to force another save off Begovic. A good move from Oviedo to Pienaar played in Lukaku but he was poorly offside, looking along the Stoke backline. A nice exchange between Lukaku and McCarthy saw the midfielder side-footing his shot just wide of the post.
Everton finally won a corner, but Deulofeu surprised Coleman playing it, he then crossing deep for Jagielka but it was defended behind. Pienaar then looked to play in Oviedo but overhit it behind. More magic from Deulofeu forced another corner that was swung in better, Osman then getting in a good shot that was deflected, forcing a tremendous reaction save by Begovic, with Lukaku again offside on the follow-up.
Everton were attacking in waves as they sensed an opportunity but failed to punish Stoke despite some penetrating play... a few too many stopovers from Deulofeu losing rather than passing the ball, and Stake came back into it for a while.
Barry picked out Lukaku with a great ball, but his control and then his cutback were again poor, evading Osman. Some better play from Osman down the right, releasing Deulofeu but his final cross was very poor. Oviedo did better to pick out Lukaku with his cross but the header went wide.
Another sortie into the Stoke area after N'Zonzi dragged back Pienaar looked set to break the deadlock but McCarthy's shot hit a crowd of players. Cameron got yellow for something of a lunge, but Begovic dealt well with Pienaar's deep cross. But the play went down the other end and Howard saved Walters's shot, Stoke's first attempt on goal 2 mins before the break.
Then some sheer magic, Deulofeu dancing through the Stoke City defense, lovely exchanges with Pienaar and Barry, to finish brilliantly into the roof of the net. Fantastic skill.
Whelan saw yellow for cynically grappling with Lukaku to deny a dangerous break. From the ensuing corner, Stoke defended the ball away. But in the next attack, a beautiful ball from McCarthy released Deulofeu down the left this time and the ball seemed to bobble across the Stoke area to Coleman who's inelegant shot curled over Begovic and into the top corner of the goal.
Deulofeu should have scored again after a great solo run off a Howard throw, he stayed up when going down would have won a penalty but he stayed on his feet, declined the obvious pass to Lukaku, and instead forced another good save from Begovic.
Everton were really starting to turn it on with some fantastic play across the front of the Stoke area, forcing a corner that was played short to Oviedo who skipped beyond his marker and lashed a fantastic daisy-cutter in off the foot of Begovic's post. A brilliant strike!
Mark Hughes responded with a double substitution as the Blues relaxed a little too much, first allowing Crouch to get one-on-one with Howard, then almost getting exposed again. Deulofeu the tried a flick-dummy and it went wrong, Stoke attacking purposefully, with Crouch crossing low and Shea somehow skipping over the lovely cross, instead of driving it into the Park End net. A lucky escape!
Lukaku seemed determined to get in on the act, but the close attention of Stoke defenders seemed to thwart him at every opportunities. Some more brilliant play by Pienaar and Osman saw two poor fouls by Stoke, Lukaku firing the first free-kick too belligerently into the Stoke wall. Stones replaced McCarthy on 74 mins, Martinez switching to three at the back.
Another beautiful move initiated by a superb ball from Osman once more set Oviedo on his way down the left, he did brilliantly to check, turn and lay on an easy tap-in for Lukaku, who was then promptly exchanged for Jelavic. Blues rampant at 4-0!
Another fantastic run by Deulofeu: he tried to skip past three defenders, and the last block looked a bit like a penalty. Pienaar then gave way to Mirallas as the Blues went looking for a fifth goal. Jelavic fed Mirallas in a good position but Begovic once again denied the Blues a full-blown rout.
At the other end Crouch kept trying for a consolation but Howard was alert to deny him, and set Everton off again, Jelavic getting in behind one-on-one with a golden opportunity but poor, poor execution by the Croat, who could not get it past Begovic. Mirallas then appeared to be fouled in the Stoke area but ref Jones gave it the other way for an elbow by the Belgian.
Mirallas was the next for shooting practice, the power taken out of it by a defender's block, as Everton played out 4 mins of added time to seal an excellent display and a fine thumping win for a brave and hugely positive Roberto Martinez.
A second-successive home game offers Everton another opportunity to press their claims for a top-four berth with a much-needed victory as Stoke City come to town this weekend.
Daniel Sturridge's frustrating late goal in last Saturday's thrilling but ultimately unsatisfying Merseyside derby forced Roberto Martinez to settle for another draw – the 3-3 tie was their sixth in 12 games and, as was the case last season, the Blues lead the Premier League in draws.
Put simply, though they are well placed just off the Champions League places after 12 games, Everton need to start winning matches if that dream of finishing in those prized top-four places is to be realised.
Unfortunately, the visit of Stoke, on a four-game unbeaten run in all competitions under new boss Mark Hughes following their spirited, narrow defeat at Manchester United a month ago, will not make for an easy task and Martinez's task is complicated by the loss of Leighton Baines.
The left back sustained a metarsal fracture in last weekend's derby and will likely be out for around a month and that will either see Bryan Oviedo handed the opportunity to impress in his natural role or force some reshuffling on the managr's part akin to that which he executed against Liverpool.
Handing Oviedo his first start or playing Gareth Barry at full back, with Leon Osman returning to central midfield, would appear to be the more likely options available to Martinez but he could also dispense with fullbacks altogether and go with a back three.
Of equally pressing concern will be tightening up on set-pieces, especially against a physical team who have made scoring from dead-ball situations something of a specialty in recent seasons, particularly under Tony Pulis' one-dimensional stewardship. Under Hughes, they have proven to be a bit more inventive and are now scoring more goals if their last few outings – a 3-3 and a 4-4 among them – are any indication.
Once again, the Blues will be reliant on the firepower of Romelu Lukaku and the assists of Kevin Mirallas while Gerard Deulofeu's promising appearance in the derby means that he could be a weapon to be deployed off the substitute's bench in the second half if, as is expected, things are still tight.
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