Positive Signs As Everton Pick Up First Win

A clean sheet, a first goal for Romelu Lukaku and a return to better form of the McCarthy-Barry axis in this 2-0 win at the Hawthorns augurs well for the immediate future.

Lyndon Lloyd 13/09/2014 16comments  |  Jump to last

A year ago, after three consecutive draws, a stirring performance against Chelsea marked the beginning of Everton's season in earnest as Roberto Martinez scored his first Premier League win as manager. If today's victory at The Hawthorns wasn't quite as impressive in terms of performance or stature, no-one will mind very much, particularly if it proves to be anything like the catalyst that triumph over Jose Mourinho at Goodison Park ended up being for the 2013-14 campaign.

Indeed, it promises to have been a significant result in more ways than a first win of the new season. Having shipped 10 goals in the opening three matches, Everton's defence albeit a slightly changed one registered a much-needed clean sheet and Romelu Lukaku notched his first goal, injecting vital confidence at both ends of the pitch as the squad begins a gruelling spell of six matches in a little over two weeks.

Questions over Lukaku's barren start to life as a full-time Everton player have been mitigated somewhat by the fact that he started the season with no pre-season to speak of and then played through a toe injury against Arsenal and Chelsea, so the pre-match focus was centred largely on the porous nature of that hitherto reliable back line.

It's not clear if Martinez's assertion in the press yesterday that Phil Jagielka's status as club captain by no means guarantees him a place in the starting line-up was a precursor to him reshuffling things up at centre-half, but he was forced into a change to the partnership that was ever-present in the first three games anyway by a dead leg for Sylvain Distin. Fresh off consecutive starts for England, John Stones was drafted in to play on the right side of central defence and would dispel any lingering fears or doubts over his readiness that may have cropped up during his uncertain displays in pre-season.

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His cause and that of the rest of the Blues rearguard was helped by the platform provided by Lukaku's early goal and a relatively toothless West Bromwich Albion attack, but there were important signs of solidity and that some of the lessons learned, particularly from the 6-3 defeat to Chelsea, have been heeded.

Perhaps getting off the mark very early was one of them because the game was barely two minutes old when Lukaku struck to give Everton the lead. A move started with a terrific first touch by Steven Naismith ended with Jonas Olsson gifting Leighton Baines's low cross straight to the Belgian and he took one touch before instinctively curling a perfectly-placed shot around Ben Foster's helpless dive. It was a world-class finish with his weaker foot no less but his celebration or lack thereof against his old club was fittingly classy as well.

The Baggies, also winless coming into this weekend but reeling from a comprehensive 3-0 defeat at Swansea at the beginning of the month, were forced to respond and did so for much of the first half, albeit without ever really getting on top of the visitors. Chris Brunt and Saido Berahino almost combined to good effect after 11 minutes but Stones's lunging block helped the latter's shot fly over the bar and Craig Gardner failed to trouble Tim Howard with successive direct free kicks in the first half hour.

Initially, it hadn't been so much a case of Everton sitting back and inviting pressure as West Brom needing to press forward but, as the half wore on, the Blues' use of the ball, particularly coming out of defence, become less effective and that brought undue pressure on the defence. Still betraying some suspect positional play, Jagielka could only head into the path of Brunt but, thankfully, he lashed his shot into the side-netting while Graham Dorrans was afforded the space he needed to swing a ball in from deep that fell to Berahino but his effort deflected behind off Seamus Coleman.

When Everton did come forward, they found their hosts difficult to break downand, with neither Baines nor Coleman able to raid consistently down their respective flanks and Aiden McGeady having one of those afternoons where nothing much went his way, the onus fell largely to Naismith, the lively Kevin Mirallas, and Lukaku to make things happen. The Belgian duo traded shots from 20-plus yards to close out the half but both efforts flew narrowly over. Pleasingly, though, Lukaku was looking much more like the player of last season than the compromised one that began this campaign.

The Blues emerged from the half-time interval in more purposeful mood and really should have been 2-0 up within six minutes when Naismith was presented with the kind of opportunity you'd bet he would bury on current form. His quick first-time pass had found Lukaku in a pocket in front of the Baggies' defence and a neat step-over meant he evaded Olsson before firing hard and low to Foster's left. The goalkeeper's one-handed save fell right into Naismith's path but the Scot scooped the rebound over from seven yards out.

Despite their greater vigour after the restart, Everton still found many of their attacks slowing down into pretty but largely ineffective triangles outside the West Brom box. They were more threatening breaking with pace or attacking the spaces in the home side's half as they did twice midway through the second half.

In the first instance, Naismith was presented with the ball by Olsson (who had a 'mare, it has to be said) but dallied on the ball and was tackled before he could release Lukaku. In the second, though, Mirallas turned inside following a throw-in on the left flank, ignored Naismith's intelligent run to his right and elected to bobble a low shot towards Foster's near post. It looked like a routine save but the ball somehow squirmed under the England international's body and ended up in the net. 2-0, game over.

West Brom had had a couple of moments of their own prior to that killer second goal: first, when Howard had to scramble the ball away from the feet of Brown Ideye as he tried to connect with Andre Wisdom's low cross; and then when Jagielka had to fling himself in front of a shot from the same player. But they looked a broken outfit for a good 15 minutes after that second goal went in and, were it not for Foster, the scoreline could have been more flattering to Martinez's men.

McGeady flashed a shot wide from the edge of the box before the 'keeper twice denied Lukaku's replacement, Leon Osman, in impressive fashion first with a reaction save to palm the midfielder's deflected effort behind, and then with another one-handed stop from Everton's best move of the match in which Mirallas's sublime heel-flick had fallen perfectly for Osman to drill goalwards with a first-time shot.

Everton's clean sheet was not automatic, though, and suicidal in-field passes from first Coleman and then the unusually profligate James McCarthy threatened to spoil it in the closing stages. It was left to Howard to keep his side of the scoreline blank with a superb double-stop in injury time when he parried close-range efforts from Berahino and Georgios Samaras. There was even time for Muhamed Besic to have another late cameo, marred by a harsh booking the hope, one presumes, being that he gets all his mistakes out of the way in meaningless situations at the end of matches.

Overall, while it wasn't a thorough examination of Everton's defence, the team will and should take great satisfaction and confidence from the fact that they went away from home, kept a clean sheet and won fairly comfortably without ever really hitting the highs in an attacking sense that they did for periods in all three of the preceding fixtures.

Crucially, the McCarthy-Barry partnership looked much improved, with the former far more diligent in closing down the opposition in those important areas around the edge of the Blues penalty box and Barry looking composed and effective throughout. With that pairing so crucial to the way in which Martinez's team plays, their return to more familiar ways augurs well for the immediate future.

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Reader Comments (16)

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David Chait
1 Posted 14/09/2014 at 09:52:25
Good read having missed the game. Your closing is so important! McCarthy has been slow to pressure so far... Glad to hear normal service as it has in the past including last season, cost goals when he backs off...
Peter Bell
2 Posted 14/09/2014 at 11:44:25
Starting 11 against Wolfsburg:

Howard
Coleman
Jagielka
Stones
Baines
Besic
Barry
Atsu
Mirallas
Naismith
Lukaku

Get the game won then make the changes.

Mike Hughes
3 Posted 14/09/2014 at 12:36:26
Peter (#2),

I'd go along with that except for Besic. I'd possibly give him his first start in the Carling Cup match, sticking with McCarthy for the Wolfsburg game.
We definitely need to win our home games in the Europa and Wolfsburg are a decent side. I think Besic would be too much of a risk to start in this one.

(By the way, that Swansea away match suddenly looks pretty tough given the way they started the season. They gave Chelsea a decent game yesterday.)

David Ellis
4 Posted 14/09/2014 at 13:49:27
Very fair summary Lyndon. We did not play particularly well. Nothing like as well as the first half against Leicester for example. But we grew stronger as the game wore on as confidence began to seep back into the side. This was in important win, important for Lukaku to score (and Mirallas) and an important clean sheet.
Wayne Smyth
5 Posted 14/09/2014 at 13:46:16
Mike, I think there are possibly two potential worries about Besic. His ability to not get sent off, and his decision-making to not gift goals.

While Besic does look a bit of a hot-head, it's clear he's been able to play international football at the top level without getting continually sent off.

You also wonder if giving someone 2 or 3 minutes makes them more likely to do something risky to impress, than giving them 30 or 40 minutes. Barkley often was guilty of bad decision-making and losing the ball in bad areas. I think a lot of that was just wanting to do something amazing to try to get more game time in the next match.

Personally I'd be comfortable with Besic starting, either behind the striker, or in centre mid (perhaps with Gibson to give Barry and McCarthy a break). I think to not rotate our squad given the number of games coming up, would be inviting disaster.

David Greenwood
6 Posted 14/09/2014 at 14:03:58
With so many games coming up in the next couple of weeks, there will have to be changes and full use made of the squad.

In no particular order, it wouldn't surprise me to see Besic, Atsu, Osman, Garbutt, Alcaraz and Pienaar all starting on Thursday.

First visit of the season to Goodison on Thursday for me, and then a stadium tour on the Friday. Can't wait.

Tom Bowers
7 Posted 14/09/2014 at 14:04:18
Talking of Besic, who was more at sea than Fellaini when it came to disciplined tackles etc. I began to think he would never improve but eventually turned in one decent season making it easier for Everton to recoup the transfer fee.

Hopefully Besic, under the guidance of RM, will settle down quickly once he gets some games under his belt and I agree, perhaps the Carling Cup game may be the one to start him in.

Mike Hughes
8 Posted 14/09/2014 at 14:32:00
Fair points, Wayne, particularly with respect to Besic trying a little too hard with the short time he's had so far.

For me, the counter argument would be that, given we've just got off the mark in the Prem, we keep a settled side against Wolfsburg as they are decent.

At this stage, rotation is more of a priority a bit further down the line. I'd like to see how Besic fairs in a lower risk game before throwing him in to such an important match.

(Not that the Carling Cup is unimportant – I'd love us to go for it – but clubs do seem inclined to rotate more in that competition, particularly the early stages.)

Milos Milenkovic
9 Posted 14/09/2014 at 14:58:43
IMHO we played better in first three games. Very poor first half, improved after second goal, but we were gifted two goals. Most important thing was to win and we did, but generally one to forget and move on.

It's funny how people are reluctant to give Besic a chance. McCarthy has been poor in every single game this season (at fault for two Chelsea goals) including pre-season but still people are worried that Besic will repeat the same mistake that he did, by trying to impress in 4 given minutes.

Mike Hughes
10 Posted 14/09/2014 at 16:45:26
Milos – I'm not reluctant to give Besic a chance. I'd just give him that chance in the Carling Cup rather than Europa for reasons previously stated.

The above article suggests that the McCarthy-Barry partnership was improving so why not continue that improvement? They did pretty well for us last season.

(Anyway, I don't usually get involved in 'Football Manager' – RM will obviously know what to do.)

Trevor Lynes
11 Posted 14/09/2014 at 21:28:00
Barry had his best game of the season so far but McCarthy is below his best. For some reason, McCarthy’s errors are not criticised in the way errors made by either centre back. It seems he is bulletproof whereas Jagielka, who has been a stalwart for years at the backm is picked on mercilessly. It seems that the continual picking on of English players is emerging as it did with Hibbert and Osman.

Teams with decent defences defend as a team and that is why we were so good for the past ten years. Looking at the general levels in the Premier League I still rate us up with the best. I must admit that after watching the top teams performing at the weekend we are still miles away from the likes of Man City and Chelsea in terms of quality. Man Utd have bought themselves out of trouble but their defence is still suspect and will be exposed by the top opponents.

Really we cannot expect to break into the top three positions in the division as we are swamped by their squads and buying power. I am however so proud of our side for getting into Europe despite the odds against it happening and as far as I am concerned we are ’pound for pound’ the best in the league last season. Wolfsburg are going to be quite a hurdle midweek but I am optimistic once our long term injured are fit to play.

I think that Barkley, Pienaar, Kone, Oviedo, Besic and Gibson will all have an impact over the season. Osman can be a top impact sub too when required.He was unfortunate not to get on the score sheet against WBA.

With Stones continuing to improve and Garbutt in the wings I am happier about the cover in the back four. Let’s hope that Galloway and Henen prove the high hopes for them are not unfounded.

We did not play well against WBA for long periods of the game but the 3 points gained are gratefully received.

Mike Oates
12 Posted 14/09/2014 at 21:47:46
Unfortunately I have a feeling that Roberto will make too many changes against Wolfsburg, who haven't started well in the Bundesliga. I'm sure he 'll give Robles, Alcaraz, Besic, Osman, Eto'o and Atsu plenty of game time, and maybe even Browning. Remember Fulham last year in the League Cup? I believe Roberto will want to satisfy the above lads' needs, and his also, so that they can step into the first eleven in the PL if and when they are called upon.
Trevor Lynes
13 Posted 14/09/2014 at 21:55:57
Wolfsburg have played well and missed lots of chances. They are a good team and I do not think Roberto will field a weak side. He may make two or three changes but now he has Besic, Osman and Atsu available who would not weaken the team.

This is an important competition and I am sure Martinez wants a good run in it. He may well make changes in lesser competitions.

Paul Hewitt
14 Posted 14/09/2014 at 21:56:44
I don't believe there will be many changes for the Wolfsburg game; maybe Atsu and Besic in for McGeady and Barry. This is a competition I think we can win.
Richard Nelson
15 Posted 15/09/2014 at 16:15:34
Admire your confidence, Paul(14)...... I go into EVERY game thinking, "I wonder how we’ll get on today?"
Steve Carse
16 Posted 15/09/2014 at 17:13:53
Milos (9) - Lukaku's goal was 'a gift'!!!?

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