Of course, it had to be, all the talk post match is about Barkley’s impudent Panenka penalty, with the last kick of the game. In a way that’s right, the shy lad showed a bit of a brash style, an arrogance that may not harm his reputation, but may just get in to his playing head and suggest he needs to do more of the exotic, when something more prosaic is often required. But more of that later. I really want to celebrate the work last night of those players more likely to be considered artisans rather than ‘flair players’.
Aaron Lennon last night showed why we were so keen on getting him back to the Club after his successful loan spell last year, with an assured attack and defence combination that gave us excellent balance on the right. He could count himself unlucky not to be an automatic starter at the start of the season, and he ‘lost’ his place more on the prospect of Deulofeu’s abilities, rather than having ‘lost form’. Of course, Geri has been superb at times this season, and his assist return is impressive, but there were signs against Swansea and City that he was feeling the pressure of playing week in, week out, and so Lennon was given the chance and he grabbed it with both hands. I’d be surprised if the defensive side of the game doesn’t give him the nod against Stoke on Saturday, with Geri a more likely option later in the game if needs dictate. However, we all know Roberto will surprise us one way or another, and a full-bloodied, all-out attack-minded side is just as likely as a more cautious defence-first option. So, I guess he won’t surprise us. Or he might. Who knows. What am I going on about….?
Lennon was superb last night, tenacious in the tackle, taking on his man and looking for the killer pass, using his speed to win the ball back when required, as well as using it to put the fear of the you-know-what in to first Dummett and then his namesake, Aarons. They must have been pleased not to see Geri on the team sheet, only to be teased by Lennon instead. Hey ho. He put a great shift in, and thoroughly deserved his MotM award in the Everton Lounge with Uncle Darren, even if the odd and sometimes deluded Ronny Goodlass on BBC Merseyside gave it to Barkley.
There was something of the Dogs of War about last night, with more than just Lennon’s bite in the tackle being noted. Once more Funes Mori showed he liked a tackle, as did Oviedo (who I thought put himself in to more tackles and stuck closer to his winger than Baines usually does), but most bite and bile came from McCarthy and Cleverley.
The Ginger Ninja (sorry, I feel I can define McCarthy by his hair colour as I’m similarly afflicted) was back to his best last night, with probably his best game of the season, if not the last two seasons. He doesn’t do crunching tackles like a Bešić, he gets the ball by running around a player and nicking it off their toes, harrying and hounding, forcing errors by his actual presence, or from players feeling his impending arrival by the sound of his feet galloping up behind them, and then giving the ball to Barkley or his sidekicks Barry and Cleverley. We miss Bešić, of course we do, he’s a tackler, and we like those, but we also like willing runners who give their all for the Everton cause, and last night our Scottish Irishman certainly did all that and more besides.
Alongside him was the ever-willing Tom Cleverley. This lad also runs his heart out, and unlike McCarthy, I think he’s got goals and killer passes in his locker. Several times last night I wasn’t sure if he was playing left side or right side, he was all over the pitch, he’s clearly got a great engine, and if I was a United fan, I’d be wondering why on earth they ever let him go – he’s got the energy that can move a team forward, and his eye for a pass has often assisted the assister as it did again last night. Whilst he’s no left winger, he looks at home on the left, certainly more so than dear old Arouna, and I’m sure Oviedo or Baines would rather welcome Tom’s support than Wild Bill Kone’s erratic defending. And I think it’s only a matter of time before more of his shots end up in the net rather than drawing top saves from oppo keepers.
We looked altogether more solid last night, long may that continue. However, Newcastle posed less of a threat than the likes of Stoke will offer, with their game plan seemingly based on man-to-man marking all over the pitch, and who knows we may nick a goal (which they should have done). They also looked to rely heavily on Shelvey (can you believe he’s only 23?) who showed why £12m was excellent business by Swansea, as well as gifting him for that money to fellow strugglers. Since he’s gone they’ve not looked back. But despite that Newcastle defensive set up, they couldn’t really shackle Barkley who had another great game. There is very little to guarantee excitement amongst Blues when Barkley picks the ball up in the centre of midfield, and brushes off a challenge and advances at pace towards the opposition penalty area. There is also very little to get the frustration levels rising than when he gets there, as he tries the over-elaborate dribble or pass, rather than the simple ball. But. And it’s a big but. Leave him be Blues, this lad is a real talent, and those that vent their frustration so openly at Ross during a game may have to be careful about what they wish for. If he feels less loved, and someone plonks a hefty fee under BK’s nose in the summer, those hecklers will be the first to moan and groan if Ross thinks he’ll be better nurtured and appreciated elsewhere. It’s happened to us before hasn’t it? For now, let’s appreciate we have one of the best young midfielders in Europe, strong, two good feet, an eye for a dribble, 11 goals in his locker this season already, and someone who could be the foundation of this young team for years to come. Of course his decision-making could improve, but it already has over last season (when Roy Hodgson also recognised that this needed to improve), and it will again as the years mount up on his body clock. The lad is only just 22 – what was your decision-making like at 22? Ross will develop, and when you think he’s already this good and he’s barely out of short trousers, just think how good he’ll be at 25? And don’t forget he broke his leg in 3 places 5 years ago, so don’t be surprised and give him stick if he doesn’t lunge in for a few more 50:50s in open play.
And then there’s ‘that’ penalty.