After a typically boring international break it was back to Premier League action this weekend and thankfully the return of Everton. It had felt like months since we’d seen the Blues in action, even though it was just a fortnight ago that we drew away at Spurs, but since the final whistle at White Hart Lane the game against Chelsea was one on the fixture list we were all looking forward to.
There was a hunger for this fixture amongst our fans, and after what we witnessed at Goodison Park today that hunger was matched by our players and Manager who got it completely spot on against the current Premier League Champions.
You don’t need me to explain why the Chelsea fixture was hyped up, it’s obvious, but going into the game I’m sure many of us felt confident – Chelsea are in the middle of a dip in form, Everton had made a decent start to the campaign and a full house at Goodison would be ready to roar – there was no reason why we couldn’t add to Mourinho’s woes – and that’s exactly what we did, in emphatic style.
When team news broke I’m sure I’m not the only one who was surprised to see Mo Besic get a start, plus Martinez had decided to keep Mirallas and Deulofeu on the bench which didn’t go down too well with most. The good news was that Brendan Galloway had made a quick recovery from injury and came straight back into the team. Romelu Lukaku would lead the line with Kone supporting, and of course the main man in the limelight John Stones would take his place alongside Phil Jagielka at the back. The rest of the team pretty much picked itself with Barry, Barkley and McCarthy making up the midfield numbers, Coleman taking his place at right back and Tim Howard in goal.
The game had a lively feel to it – as did Goodison for a change – but after just ten minutes Mo Besic was forced off with injury, meaning Martinez would have to shuffle his pack. It was disappointing for Besic who had been the surprise inclusion in the starting XI, but his replacement Steven Naismith ended up being the star of the day and made an instant impact.
On 16 minutes, Gareth Barry – who had a brilliant afternoon for the Blues – started an attack and drove forward from midfield. Barry fed the advancing Galloway who neatly interchanged with Naismith, the former Rangers man then eluded two Chelsea players with a clever turn and fed it back to Galloway, whose eventual delivery was perfect for Naismith to continue his run and latch on to the assist, heading home past the hapless Begovic to give us the lead.
The wind was well and truly in Everton’s sails.
Almost instantly the Toffees were at it again – Coleman, who found himself in a familiar position high up the pitch down the right, tricked the Chelsea defence by cutting back and feeding Kone in the area, with the Ivorian seeing his glancing header well saved by Begovic at the Park End.
From the resulting corner McCarthy fired an effort towards goal and again Begovic was forced into a save – Chelsea were rattled and Everton continued to press.
On 21 minutes Everton’s bright start saw ourselves rewarded with a second goal. The home side never looked like they would sit back after taking the lead, and Martinez’ side deserve praise for how they continued to go after Chelsea, get stuck into them and play with an enthusiasm and desire, the Blues looked hungry.
Everton’s and Naismith’s second of the afternoon came as a result of sheer persistence and slick play from the Toffees. Lukaku came deep after a free kick and managed to suck a couple of Chelsea players out of position on the half way, before interchanging with Kone and building the attack. Lukaku eventually worked his way into space and fed the ball to Barkley who laid it to Naismith in acres of space, the Scot sized up an effort and hit an early, left-footed drive low into the right hand corner and past the flapping Begovic. He made it look so easy. We were two the good and Naismith had a double to his name, but make no mistake – Lukaku, Kone and Barkley deserve big praise for their parts in that goal. The way we moved forward as a team, that’s what excites Evertonians, that’s why people pay good money to follow their teams. It’s goals like that which stand out. There was a fluidity, a ruthlessness and real edge to our play. Our performance for the first half an hour was summed up in that goal.
Chelsea looked shellshocked, and Everton looked too hot to handle. It was almost like Chelsea were still half asleep or suffering from some sort of hangover, but that would probably be kind to them and take credit away from the home side. Put it this way we warranted our lead and never really looked back after getting ourselves in front. You could feel it in the air that Everton wouldn’t lose today, the three points were only going to go to us.
At the back Stones and Jagielka had Costa under wraps, whereas young Brendan Galloway was doing a good job of keeping Eden Hazard, and others, quiet. Naismith was running Ivanovic ragged and the likes of Barkley and Kone were utilising the space well. McCarthy and Barry worked tirelessly in the middle and overall Everton looked like a team playing for each other, united and determined – unlike their opponents.
For all of Everton’s assurance, Chelsea could have quickly got themselves back into the game when Cesar Azpelicueta found himself through on goal on the left side angle, only for John Stones to recover well and deflect the defender’s effort wide of Howard’s goal. Stones’ block typified his display, fighting for every ball and getting himself in the way of everything, the lad is sheer class and gets better with every 90 minutes. The block on Azpelicueta was just one in a long list for Stones against Chelsea, his performance was mature, it oozed class and raw quality.
Although Everton had so far kept a clean sheet, there was nothing they could do on 35 minutes when Nemanja Matic hit a 35-yard rasper past Tim Howard to make it 2-1. Some might criticise Howard’s positioning, but I think even with 3 ‘keepers between the sticks they would have struggled to keep that one out. It was one of them efforts – as soon as he let fly you could tell it was in. Chelsea had got themselves a lifeline.
So after a confident half an hour and earning ourselves a two-goal lead, Everton found themselves conceding ten minutes before the break and after that Chelsea began to crank up the pressure. Diego Costa, Pedro and Eden Hazard all let fly but their efforts came to nothing, meanwhile John Terry headed just over from a Hazard cross just before half time. The visitors had what felt like a dozen corners but Everton stood firm; Jagielka was marshalling his players well and even the likes of Kone was back there helping out, we defended as a team and attacked as a team.
Thankfully we got ourselves to half time still with our noses in front and it was time to regroup, get our breath back and prepare for a potential Chelsea onslaught come the second 45.
That onslaught never came.
After the restart the game had a real open feel to it – Chelsea pressed but so did Everton, either side looked to pick the other off on the break. It was Everton who produced the first chance of the second period when Lukaku flashed an effort towards Begovic, who parried to John Terry and the Chelsea Captain then proceeded to pass it back to Begovic who plucked the ball from Lukaku’s reaches. It was a nailed on back pass which would have resulted in a dangerous free kick for Everton, but Andre Marriner, who didn’t have a great afternoon, waved away the home side’s appeals and spared Terry’s blushes.
As the second half wore on we never witnessed any sort of mounting fightback from Mourinho’s men, and even though substitute Kennedy flashed an effort wide and Falcao was introduced, we hardly felt threatened. We still harboured our own threat on the break and overall it felt very comfortable for Martinez’ men. Lukaku again forced Begovic into a save – this time from the right hand side – as Everton sensed Chelsea blood.
A third goal for Everton would have put any hopes of a Chelsea leveller to bed and Lukaku should have given Kone the chance to do so when his heavy cross evaded everyone and away to safety with the Ivorian waiting to pounce if the right ball was made. That would be Kone’s last involvement as he was withdrawn for the returning Aaron Lennon, and the Everton forward received a great reception from the Goodison faithful for his performance – Kone has done well so far this season, he deserves credit for this. Martinez is sticking with him and he is keeping players out of the team, if he keeps working like he has then he can play a key role this season – who would have thought we would be saying that about him a few months ago?
Shortly after Martinez made his second sub of the afternoon, he was forced to make a third when Coleman injured himself shooting on goal. As ever, Seamus was on a marauding run towards Chelsea’s goal when he cut inside and hit a harmless left-footed effort out for a goal kick but unfortunately hurt himself in doing so. Blues new-boy Funes Mori was the man to replace Coleman, and the £9.5 million signing from River Plate slotted in at the back alongside Jagielka with Stones switching to right back. In the fifteen minutes Funes Mori got at Goodison Park today, he didn’t look shy in possession and seemed to fit right in, let’s hope that continues.
The game still continued to be an open affair but we couldn’t really relax unless we got a second goal. With the quality of Costa and Hazard, and others like Willian, Kennedy and Falcao all now on the pitch, the threat was still there from Chelsea but Everton continued to look to add to their tally and never looked in fear of throwing away all three points.
On 82 minutes Everton got that all important third goal and capped a fine display with yet another fine goal. Stones started the move and he supplied Lennon, who had only come on a few minutes earlier, Lennon then played a neat one-two with Barkley, who was simply immense today, and the England man drove towards goal, slotted it through to Naismith who had intelligently found space before tucking the ball through the legs of Begovic to complete his perfect hat-trick and put the icing on the cake of a superb team display from the home side.
Barkley had once again laid it on to Naismith and got himself another assist and just like Naismith’s first and second, the build up and finish were excellent, this is the Everton that we know is in there, we just need to see that side of us more often!
Naismith and his team mates celebrated at the Street End and the image of John Stones’ sheer delight at the goal and his mannerisms towards our supporters will only further endear him to us. How glad are we that he is still an Everton player? Things could easily have been so different, but thankfully they are not and Stones put in yet another rock-solid display for the Toffees.
The game was won and but for a couple of bookings and snap shots late on there was no major incidents. The Goodison faithful was in full voice as they cheered their side on to a deserved three points.
As for individual displays I thought Ross Barkley was top drawer – a particular spin and ball to Kone in the first half caught the eye as a moment which sums up how is playing just now, he is brimming with confidence and was involved in everything positive we did. Others like Kone and Lukaku worked hard and deserve praise for their efforts, as do our defence for keeping Chelsea at bay for long periods. Jagielka and Stones were brilliant, and Brendan Galloway performed admirably for such a young lad. Well done to him. McCarthy and Coleman never did much wrong but unfortunately the latter has picked up a knock and Naismith’s influence speaks for itself, his performance changed the game. Gareth Barry was outstanding I thought – breaking things up constantly and going about his business which frustrated the hell out of Chelsea – that is what he is there for after all.
Overall it was real collective effort and you can’t fault any Everton player who was involved today, even Funes Mori did well when he came on, as did Aaron Lennon who had a hand in our third goal, which turned out to be the killer.
Martinez got his tactics spot on, our fitness levels looked sharp, we wanted the ball, we attacked with purpose, we defended with heart, we scored three fantastic goals and every single player played their respective parts. You cannot ask much more from your players and your manager, full credit to them for the way they approached the game against Chelsea from start to finish, it was a sublime team effort and it was simply a joy to watch. We didn’t even need the likes of Mirallas and Deulofeu in the end!
Isn’t it nice to be positive? This has been an absolute pleasure to write (not often I say that), and for the moment we should all enjoy reflecting on a performance and result that could really kick start our season, let’s build on it now and keep going.
We are up to fifth position in the League and face three successive away games (Swansea, Reading in the Cup, WBA) before home clashes with Liverpool and Man United – what’s not to get excited about?
Up the Toffees.