None of the official talk before the game, but lots of it afterwards, said that this was a ‘must win’ game, but in truth it was, and we did. Next? One has to wonder why it could be classified that way given we are only a handful of games in to the season, but as Evertonians we knew it had to be.
The reality of being just one place above the relegation places, an exit from one competition already, a worrying set of injuries so far this season, and one or two players decidedly off form, we all knew that a team like Villa who had managed to get 10 points from a ridiculously low shots-on-target count, were there for the taking – if the right Everton team turned up.
Thankfully, Barkley, McCarthy and Coleman indeed turned up, Alcaraz did his bit, and Lukaku got the piece of luck that perhaps he needs to get his confidence high, and his feet moving a bit more. The lad is a special talent, and he will be brilliant again this season, as he was last.
In truth, the whole team played their part. Jags continued his goalscoring feats with another screamer from, well, about 1ft; Baines did his Fantasy League followers a mighty favour with two assists as well as a clean sheet; and Naismith probably just about shaded MotM with his tireless work ethic, tracking back, and playing out wide on the left, a position he doesn’t favour over off the striker – he might just have checked to see if he’d gone back in time and Moyes was back in the dugout – but the lad typified why he is now a bit of a Goodison legend in his own lunchtime, by playing the part his gaffer asked him to play, and did so without complaint and with a zest and energy that inspired the others.
What about the returnees? Of course, everyone focuses on Ross Barkley, a true talent in England at the moment, so of course we’d want him back fit and firing on all cylinders. I was worried that Roberto might have been pressured to bring him back too early given our limp midfield displays at times this season, but he was not only in the squad, but on the pitch from the start. His positivity and drive is just the Plan B that we need when the usual Plan A down the flanks is being crowded out. The more options we have the better of course, and not only does Ross provide an option with his attacking sense, but his love of a shot adds another dimension, as well as his ability to thread a pass for the strikers. His shot beaten away by Guzan that led to the first goal, was immense, he had no right to strike it from there, and he hit it with such venom that once more the words “not from there Ross” were barely 20% out of my mouth before he’d proved what a crap football manager I’d ever make – as if he needed to prove that of course.
Coleman adds a lot, not just his running and tackling, but also his scoring instincts which were exemplified with his goal, which, without decrying the lad, I don’t think Hibbert would have thought to be there, even if he is finding this season that he’s no stranger to the penalty area at both ends!
And McCarthy was back to his best, and we’ve missed that a bit from him this season. His dispossession of the Villa man that led to the second goal was smart thinking, but not anywhere near as smart as the tackle that denied Cleverley getting a shot away, let alone one that was blocked. McCarthy almost took off from the edge of the penalty area, and he took the ball as clean as a whistle. Outstanding play.
A final word on a man that doesn’t get that much attention, except when he’s feeling a bit tired. Step forward our own Raheem Sterling, Mr. Antolin Alcaraz. Actually, the reason he gets a mention is that I thought he played really well. But he also deserves praise for the way he has held himself at our football club. He was brought in to the Club because RM knew him, and knew he played the type of football that RM wants to play from the back, and perhaps Jags and Sylvan are not quite up to that. He gets the odd chance to play, and never inspires you with the greatest optimism, but you couldn’t fault his attitude. Falling down the pecking order to a lad like Stones who still looks like he should be at school, must be a bit galling for an international with 24 caps and over 70 games in the Premier League. But unlike some one could mention, he hasn’t thrown his dummy out (not publicly anyway) and he’s now going to get a few games whilst The Young John Stones (his full name) has a few months off, and whilst Distin tries to find the dummy that he allegedly has thrown out, to re-insert it and get back in the squad, let alone on the pitch. So good luck to our own Paraguayan, a man that looks more like a swarthy Latin film star than a gnarled old centre back (step forward Alan Stubbs), set the fine example to those not able to play as much as they’d like (step forward Christian Atsu), and play the brand of football that will once more get us flying high in the table.
That’s assuming we win our next ‘must win’ game away at Burnley.