Everton 3 -0 Norwich City
It's always a little sad that final day of the season when you see people offering their farewell handshakes and goodbye's for three months... sometimes for longer... sometimes for good. Many lapped up the sunny weather outside the pub, ensuring it was a little quieter than usual inside whilst we watched Bradford City miss several chances in their play-off against Millwall.
Out of intrigue, we were all itching to get the team news and certainly weren't disappointed to see some of the younger players involved. Matthew Pennington beginning the game at right back with Phil Jagielka returning and Ramero Funes Mori not involved at all. The majestic Tom Davies and Kieran Dowell both began the game and Jonjoe Kenny also came into the match, replacing the unfortunate Matthew Pennington, and performed solidly. Ross Barkley, another fantastic product of our youth system of course, was dropped to the substitutes bench. Tim Howard played in goal for his Everton farewell appearance. Steven Naismith began for the already relegated visitors.
We were into Goodison Park in good time for kick off, Everton winning the toss and attacking the Park End in the first half. David Unsworth taking the place of Martinez in the dug out.
We began at a bright tempo with Romalu Lukaku forcing a save out of ex-Evertonian John Ruddy within 30 seconds. Our young lads Tom Davies and Kieran Dowell were particularly eager to get involved from the start and their effort and craft in their performance was encouraging. We survived a slight scare when Tim Howard had to be alert to push a stray clearance from Phil Jagielka around the post, but otherwise we were well in control and didn't have long to wait until we were ahead. Kieran Dowell showed great persistence as he charged forward in possession before laying the ball into the path of James McCarthy who drove at goal first time from 20 yards, bending the ball precisely into the corner of John Ruddy's net. I didn't know McCarthy was capable of such a strike! It's funny how all five of his Everton goals have come at the tail-end of every season.
With Norwich City offering little resistance, Everton took the initiative. Kevin Mirallas slotted one wide with a great opportunity having been set up by Romelu Lukaku and Leighton Baines hit a tame free kick straight into the wall, before Lukaku was dragged back in the penalty area as he went to attack a ball and Everton had a penalty. Leighton Baines stepped forward straight away and with little, if any, debate it was Baines who stroked in the penalty, sending Ruddy the wrong way with his trusty left foot. I don't know if this was a command from David Unsworth before the game (he was also a left-back penalty taker for many years of course) but it was pleasing to see Baines given this opportunity again.
That was on 44 minutes and I took the opportunity to go straight to the toilet before it got busy up there. I was glad I timed it well as half time was rather special. Firstly Tony Bellew arrived onto the pitch, getting wet from the sprinklers in doing so, to promote his Goodison Park fight next weekend. Everton Fan of the Year, Speedo Mick, also made an appearance, as too did young Everton fan George Shaw to the adulation of the crowd. "We'll win 4-1" he said when asked. "Steven Niasmith will score for Norwich!"
It was more of the same in the second half. Everton didn't let up and made it 3-0 very early on, with all three youth players involved in the goal. Tom Davies, who was a joy to watch throughout, won back possession with a great tackle. Kieran Dowell then ran the ball on and slipped it in to Kenny who's deflected cross set up Kevin Mirallas for an easy finish to put Everton out of sight.
Tim Howard was I'm sure anxious to keep a clean sheet on his final game and though it wasn't his busiest Everton game, he did have to make one smart stop from Matt Jarvis low down to his right. Otherwise he caught and punched what he had to and, along with his defenders ahead of him, contributed towards keeping Norwich City out.
Off the pitch meanwhile there was a comical moment in the Lower Gwladys. I hadn't noticed a pigeon fly up and land on the upper scaffolding on the underside of the roof of the Gwladys Street end, but Gary had. "That pigeon is about to shit on someone" he announced. I was naturally oblivious to this and just as I looked up, the pigeon poop came down, landing on some poor fella a few rows ahead of us. We spent the next few minutes nervously looking up at the pigeon to spot further danger.
Back on the pitch and despite a few threatening breaks we were unable to add further gloss to the scoreline and the game finished 3-0. Tim Howard was given good applause from the crowd as he got emotional in his farewell interview, and the players did a quick lap of the pitch to thank the supporters for their support in this dreary season.
A positive end to a poor campaign then, but the performance of the younger players certainly offers hope as we head into an intriguing summer with a new manager to arrive and surely several players both coming and going.
Onwards and upwards into the next campaign. Have a great summer Blues!
Howard: Saved what he had to and had reasonable command of his penalty area. 10 years, 414 games, 133 clean sheets and even a goal! Thanks for your service Tim. Good luck in Colorado. 7
Baines: Nice to see him score and good to see him getting forward positively. 7
Jagielka: He really makes defending look quite easy at times. John Stones also seems to perform better when alongside Jagielka. Had he have stayed fit for the season it might just have made the difference for us. 8
Stones: Performed well, as I say, plays much better alongside Jagielka. 7
Pennington: Was doing well until injury struck. Great to have another talented player within the ranks. 6
Barry: Another excellent display from our Player of the Season. Hopefully he has enough in the tank to help us along next season. 8
McCarthy: Got about the pitch well and contributed with a well-taken goal. 7
Davies: He was exquisite. A really gem of a player and completely fearless. He plays with an arrogance and if he keeps his feet on the ground has one exceptional future ahead of him. A real star in the making. My Man of the Match. 8
Dowell: If I was going to be critical I would say he perhaps needs to strengthen up a bit as he gets knocked off the ball fairly easily. That said, he is only 18. He also plays with a confidence and wasn't overawed by the occasion, playing a key role in two of our goals. 7
Mirallas: Showed what he is capable of with an industrious display and makes you wonder why he has been very much on the periphery this season. Perhaps a change of manager can offer new hope for Kevin Mirallas next season. 7
Lukaku: Will be disappointed not to have signed off the season with a goal. Will also be disappointed to not have registered a goal for over two months. His link up play was good and Norwich City didn't really have an answer to him. I hope he sticks around for next season. 7
Kenny (for Pennington): A solid debut from Kenny and great to see him get an assist also. 7
Lennon (for McCarthy): Got involved and was busy in the time he had on the field. 7
Barkley (for Dowell): Did one great surging run, though otherwise laboured through his 23 minutes somewhat. 6