I wasn’t feeling terribly ‘bright’ on Saturday morning after a 6am finish at Pacha in Ibiza. I know, at my age. My constitution was recovering, until I saw my beloved Everton clad in what my son accurately described as Baby Pooh Green. Or “Algae” as Jermaine Jenas called it on MotD, proving beyond reasonable doubt that contrary to expectations, Jermaine actually WAS paying attention in Biology at school. Wonders will never cease, I thought, and indeed they didn’t, as the wonders of Saturday afternoon played out in front of me on a screen in the wonderful Father Jack’s Bar between Ibiza Town and Playa d’en Bossa (that’s a beach, not a new transfer rumour).
Expectations were low it has to be said, in advance of a fixture that every pundit told us was one which Everton have had very little joy from since Noah was a lad. Well, expectations can either be met, or preferably exceeded in life, and sure enough that was as good a performance as you’ll see at St.Mary’s all season I suspect. Perhaps it was the distance. After last year’s impressive Europa League group format performance, perhaps it could work if we treated going to Southampton as a European away game – after all, it’s nearly Lille isn’t it? In fact, rather than resembling that rather dire 0-0 draw in France, the whole performance of the team, and one man in particular, had striking (clue…) similarities to our impressive 2-0 win in Wolfsburg, when Lukaku then, as he was on Saturday, was unplayable. The whole game centred more on our attacking mainly from deep, and after a dodgy first 20 minutes, we looked comfortable and in control for the rest of the game, and the result was rarely in doubt. We can’t afford a dodgy 20 minutes like that for the visit of City, or they’ll be out of sight before we’ve laced our boots up, but let’s build on the positivity of a clean sheet, excellent pace and movement throughout, and a striker who relished the role he’d been given and was outstanding. Anyway, enough of Kone, let’s talk about Big Rom first.
Lukaku picking the ball up deep and running past a young (23) Portuguese international in Cedric Soares at top speed and never likely to be caught, is an image I’ll replay in my mind for years. Poor old Cedric, he may well be replaying it too, but not with the same fondness. He absolutely roasted him. And that set the tone. Give Rom the ball at his feet, allow him half an hour to control it, let him turn, and you’re toast (apologies for cooking analogies, I’m peckish). As one fan famously described a similar situation, “he couldn’t trap a hedgehog with a plasticine boot”. This would be harsh. As fans, we know Rom’s first touch can sometimes let him down, but on Saturday, he was immaculate, and the way he beat player after player was a joy to watch, and the way he left Cedric and then Wanyama in his wake, will play on the minds of many an opposition coach as they plot their defences against this brute of a man. But he’s not just strong – Big Vic was strong – this striker can shield the ball, can turn with it, run with it, dribble with it, and can score you 20+goals a season. He is just as much a diamond for us as Barkley, and whilst defenders seek to crowd him out (they’ll look to nick the ball off him if his first touch does indeed let him down, by having one behind, one in front), they’ll create space for others. Barkley benefited from that on Saturday, but so too did Kone.
Let’s just dwell on Arouna Kone for one minute. Last week, I dared to applaud his performance in what was largely a cameo knock. You know how these things can come back to haunt you, but not this week at least. Arouna deserved the standing ovation he got from the away end (in truth, most were standing all match anyway), or at least the cheers and high praise heaped upon him. His first touch is arguably better than Lukaku’s, or at least it’s more consistent. He hasn’t got the same strength or as yet, or goalscoring skills, but he played his part at the weekend. He did expose one Everton flank by not tracking back or filling the space, but what he did up top was admirable, and the buzzing around of him and Rom, with Barkley behind them, was a constant problem for Southampton, who frankly looked clueless to know how to deal with them. Well done Kone, again, keep it going lad, we’re right behind you if you keep it up like this.
A man we got behind on Saturday was of course the frequently-harassed and chastised Ross Barkley. By his own fans, good grief. Many top pundits have called it right, leave the lad alone, focus on his strengths and what he does well, not what he could do better. He’s working on those, and he’s still a kid. If Bastian Schweinsteiger or Xavi, different types of players I know, had played like that on Saturday, would fans be talking about his miss, or a misplaced pass, or “too many touches”? I doubt it. They’d talk about the pace and control he’s got driving forward, the weight of his pass to Kone to set up the first goal, and the delicious slip outside to Lukaku, plus his brilliantly taken goal. The lad needs our support, you can see that – he still smiles nervously at the fans even when he’s scored, almost saying “am I doing ok?”. He’s not a big “I am”, he’s a kid as I’ve said, and kids need your encouragement more than your rage.
Every player did their bit on Saturday. Howard’s great save that then led to a goal; Coleman’s runs as well as his defending; Galloway looking better every minute he stays on the pitch (concentrate though lad!); Stones and Jags imperious; Barry back to his first season best, McCarthy allowed to run forward more and link up the play; Cleverley out of his ideal position but put in an industrious shift on the left; then the 3 I’ve talked about. And Naisy, Geri and Ty got a bit of a run out too. And Roberto got to do his trade mark goal celebration 3 times – in one game!! Who knows, maybe we could play like that every week?
City visit on Sunday, fresh from dismantling the classless and (on the day) clueless Champions. We’re up and running; they’ll be due a poor game, or at least an off par one, and we can beat them if we can play at the top of ours. Rather than bemoaning our first 10 games, I’m all for using them as the spur to greater things – I’m more worried about what happens if we’re on 20 points from 10 games, and then we cock it up at home to Sunderland. By then, and indeed much sooner, we’ll know if the 15/16 campaign is to be fought with what we’ve got plus more youth from the U21s, at least until January. Based on what we saw on Saturday, the youth ain’t doing such a bad job are they? Ok, we know at the least we need a back up to Rom and Kone, we need a back up for Jags and Stones, and we’d like a creative force in midfield too, but sometimes you can’t get everything you want.
Let’s focus on City now, revel a little more in the positives from Saturday, not let Watford dim in the memory too much as that taught us a load as well, but revel in the strengths of what we have, and how we can get one over on a team that has an uncanny look of ‘Champions-elect’ about them already.
They’ll be fearing us, and we need to be careful, but we don’t need to fear them.