After the madness of previous games, Everton’s first win of the season was refreshingly comfortable.
If you’d put together a wish-list for Saturday’s game, it probably would have read ‘comfortable win, clean sheet, Lukaku getting off the mark’. All duly arrived and, just in case that was not enough, we were all then treated to Paul Lambert and his Dean Army storming Slytherin House and taking back three points. Magic.
There was just one change to the line-up which started the Chelsea game, with John Stones replacing the injured Sylvain Distin. The big Frenchman apparently has a dead leg, and it’s clear, from the way Roberto Martinez has spoken about injuries such as the ones to him and others, that the manager is taking no risks, even on slight knocks. Given the cover we now have within the squad, it’s a smart move given the heavy upcoming fixture list. On the West Brom side, neither Anichebe or Lescott made the side – all those booing slacks, ironed for nothing.
One who was a doubt for Saturday was Lukaku, but he justified his inclusion straight away. Within two minutes, Barry fed Naismith who worked the ball out to Baines. He played a slightly wayward ball inside, but, fortunately, Metallica roadie Jonas Olsson played it straight back to Lukaku. The big Belgian, 20 yards out and on his wrong foot, took one touch and bent a beautiful swerving shot into the far corner. Get in.
When Lukaku doesn’t have to think like that you get a real glimpse of his potential. There is so much talent in there, and let’s hope this is the start of a good scoring run. He looked fitter and stronger again, and gave Olsson – who got a ton of stick from the home crowd – a torrid time before being replaced by Leon Osman after the second goal.
The rest of the first half was quite bitty – Everton certainly were not at their most fluent and struggled to get players like Aiden McGeady and Steven Naismith in the game. Fortunately, though, West Brom are absolutely crap and you never really felt they would score. All eyes were on the central defence, and there were a couple of nervous moments as the home side tried to press high up the pitch and throw high balls in, but in general things were much improved. Both Jagielka and Howard had much more assured games, and Stones was his usual ultra-calm self. He made the only really important defensive intervention of the first half, blocking well when the ball dropped to Saido Berahino, as other than that Howard did not have a save to make.
Everton ended the half on the front foot again – Mirallas sent a booming shot just over the bar – but overall there was room for improvement in the second period. A bit more control and attacking zip needed.
Thankfully, Martinez clearly got the message across and the Toffees looked much more ‘at-it’ after the break. Baines and Coleman pushed forward more, Naismith and McGeady were far more involved and Kevin Mirallas in particular was excellent. The West Brom defence were terrified of the Belgian’s pace and trickery, with ex-kopite no-mark Andre Wisdom not getting near him all half. With West Brom offering nothing in attack, you felt a second was a matter of when, rather than if.
In fact it should have come earlier than it did. Lukaku again ran at and skinned Olsson before sending a powerful drive on goal. Ben Foster made a good one-handed save, and the ball dropped to Naismith, unmarked, 10 yards out. Unfortunately though, the normally clinical Scot had slightly overrun the ball, and it crashed off his shin and over the bar. Incidentally, the TV replay of it is brilliant – 3,000 travelling Evertonians, perfectly in sync, hands-on-head in disbelief.
West Brom failed to heed the warning though. Shortly after Howard’s first meaningful action – bravely blocking a Wisdom cross at the feet of the truly rubbish Brown Ideye – the second goal arrived. Mirallas and Baines worked down the left, and Mirallas cut in and hit the ball with his right foot. He scuffed it a bit, straight at Foster, who obligingly dived straight over it. 2-0 and, despite Everton’s frailties when ahead this season, game over.
The only real question from there was whether Everton would add another goal or two. After the second Martinez immediately replaced Lukaku, presumably to rest him up. His replacement, Leon Osman, produced an excellent cameo, and his deflected shot forced a good save from Foster. Aiden McGeady – much improved second half – also fizzed a drive just wide, before he was also replaced by Muhamed Besic. He also impressed – possibly as a reaction to his mistake against Chelsea, he seemed determined to get involved, keep things simple and get the ball moving. It was a promising glimpse of what the Bosnian will offer in games to come.
Besic was heavily involved in the best move of the match, almost leading to the third goal Everton deserved. A cracking passing move also involving Mirallas, Osman and Baines led to the full-back breaking down the left. His ball inside was back-heeled by Mirallas to the onrushing Osman, who cracked in a shot first time. Just as Evertonian lips mouthed the word ‘Larissa’, Foster intervened with his best save of the match. Would have been a cracker.
Everton saw out the game very comfortably with few scares – one superb recovering block from Stones and, in the last minute, a wayward McCarthy backpass led to Howard making a brilliant double save – and fully deserved their first win of the season. It’s a most welcome three points and, despite the limitations of the opposition, stands us in good stead going into Thursday’s game against Wolfsburg.
Goodison under lights for a European game after a ‘Singing the Blues’ weekend – you can’t help but be excited for that.
Everton: Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Stones, Baines, McCarthy, Barry, Mirallas, Naismith, McGeady, Lukaku.
Subs: Robles, Alcaraz, Besic (McGeady 88), Osman (Lukaku 68), Gibson, Atsu, Garbutt.
Goals – Lukaku (2), Mirallas (66)
MOM – Mirallas