I woke up on Saturday morning with a bit of a hangover, caused by being led astray in a cocktail establishment where a Porn Star Martini and the like were being offered alongside the delightfully named Cocker Spaniard. Given how Everton had dominated my waking hours since Chelsea and ‘that’ hat trick, I just felt I had to indulge as a tribute to our manager. A lot.
In the first half of that archetypal ‘game-of-two-halves’ at Swansea, it looked like most of the Everton team were suffering a bit like me, and frankly Swansea weren’t demonstrating that much post evening sobriety either. Luckily for Everton, frankly luckily all game, let alone the awful first half, 3 out of 4 of our defensive line are effectively too young to drink, which meant that along with our teetotal skipper, our defence was actually superb for most of the match.
Last week I eulogised about an overawed but excellent Galloway, and once again the lad purred in both his defensive work, and increasingly excitingly (too many ‘lys I think) in his link play and forward runs. But he’s had his moment in my limelight for a while, I want to switch to the other ‘kid’ at Full Back – step forward Tyias Browning (or as our favourite Cockney Scouser Graham Stuart inadvertently called him once in the commentary on Saturday, deep in to the second half, Tyias Bramble – what a nightmare scenario that would be, seeing the inaptly named Titus lining up in our back 4). Yes, Ty lad, step forward, because you very rarely took a backward step on Saturday. I mean this completely metaphorically of course, after all it’s hard to be a defender without stepping backwards at some stage, but in terms of stepping up to the plate in our hour of need, another Academy graduate has proven that we’re developing an exciting blend of new blood alongside the old gaffers that could be the core of a successful Everton future, and a very exciting future at that. But more of that shortly.
Many, like me, saw not the bald Voldemort Shelvey as the key player for Swansea, but Jefferson Montero, who has previously torn us a new one, and frankly I feared he’d do so again if Seamus wasn’t fit. I hoped Roberto would pick Browning if Coleman was on the treatment table, but actually thought the most likely would be the back 4 that finished the game against Chelsea. But true to his philosophy, and true to his mantra, RM kept Stones in the place where he should be as first choice, and simply brought in a (kind of) direct replacement for the Youngish Irishman (it’s all relative now Seamus). I thought Browning looked incredibly nervous, not just at the prospect of chasing the elusive and skilful Ecuadorian, but because he was making his first Premier League Everton start. But the lad that’s enjoyed pitch time against both Liverpool and Manchester United in his only other two senior League starts, was outstanding – an overused word by some, but I thought he was. OK, he did look a bit shaky in the first 20 minutes or so, but with his England colleagues alongside him, he quickly settled, and Montero rarely got the kind of space and opportunity afforded him by more generous defences of late.
It’s a mark of the Everton way at the moment – give youth its chance. Remember when we were bemoaning a Dad’s Army team containing Howard, Jags, even Baines, Barry, Osman, Kone, Pienaar, plus old lags like Hibbert still in the wings (not literally please God), all at 30 or more? Well, all of a sudden, we’ve still got some of those, but add Rom, Ross, Geri, Ty, Galloway, Stones (he just plays like he’s a mid 30 year old former Italian World Cup star defender), and the hardly aged McCarthy, Cleverly and Coleman, and we’ve got something really exciting here at Everton. Plus, we buy Mori (24), Leandro (22), and Holgate (looks about 12, but I’m told he’s an ancient 18). Talk of ‘golden generations’ is about as reliable a sporting prediction as “he’s the new Flintoff” or “the Ghanaian Messi”, but Roberto is on to something you know, and we have every reason to be excited about our future.
Back to the Liberty Stadium, and the other stand out performance of the day was one of the aforementioned kids, and another diamond, this one called Ross Barkley (from Wavertree apparently). There is something about Ross this season which other observers have noted, and it’s not just the swagger that’s back, it is his ability to consistently beat players, and now also his decision making is improving. We’ve seen all the great stuff we know, his strength under pressure, his dribbling, his shooting (mostly), and now he’s starting to pick out better passes. OK, his success rate might need improving a bit, but his pass selection in Wales was at the high standard it was at Southampton and last week against Chelsea. We’re seeing much more the player we thought we had on our hands, there seems to be less pressure on him (mainly less pressure from us), and something, or someone, has really boosted his confidence, and with that new found, or rediscovered, belief, he’s making much better use of it, and that just means a virtuous circle. It was a worry seeing him limp off on Saturday, especially to be replaced by what wasn’t even long enough to be called a cameo performance from the chump Mirallas, and let’s hope it’s only the build up of being kicked about the park for 90 minutes and nothing muscular or ligamenty.
As for the rest of the team, some good performances if not stand outs, and the less Naisy, Lukaku and especially Kone look at the ‘highlights’ the better.
Oh, one word for our strikers – when Deulofeu gets in the box and goes past his man on the outside, he’s going to fizz it across the 6 yard box, ok? He did it when he was with us before, and I suspect he’ll keep doing it.
And I’ll drink another Cocker Spaniard to that.