Everton maintained their unbeaten start to the season with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Stoke City.
A Leighton Baines penalty made the difference at Goodison Park, finding the back of the net in fortuitous circumstances after ‘keeper Shay Given tipped the ball onto the post, only for it to rebound in off his head.
But there was nothing lucky about the way the Blues worked for their three points, surviving a brief scare towards the end in a game they dominated, and in which they showed moments of real quality.
Kevin Mirallas was in the mood early on, his effort well saved by Given while Ashley Williams would have scored on his debut but for Peter Crouch’s goal line clearance.
Romelu Lukaku’s goal-scoring drought continues though; the Belgian went close on two occasions with Ryan Shawcross intervening with another goal line block. His run without a goal now extends to 13 Premier League games, last netting in the 3-2 defeat to West Ham back in March.
Koeman hasn’t the Hart to drop top drawer Maarten
Boss Ronald Koeman said earlier this week that he had no interest in signing Joe Hart. If people thought that was a tactical negotiating bluff, he made no mistake in his post-match comments in spelling out his lack of interest in the England stopper.
In the same breath he had only praise for his current number 1 keeper and countryman Maarten Stekelenburg. The Dutchman impressed again between the sticks -with one notable save to thwart Marko Arnautovic- and Koeman acknowledged his contribution, while admitting a goalkeeper is still on his wishlist:
“If he (Stekelenburg) plays like the first couple of games there is no need to change. We are still looking for a goalkeeper. We like to have three good goalkeepers. If you have an injury the manager is not so afraid of the other two but Joe Hart is not a third goalkeeper or a second.”
While Koeman is one to keep his transfer targets close to his chest, it seems he really doesn’t want the City reject. But with Joel as the only other senior ‘keeper in the squad, it’s imperative a 2nd or 3rd choice is brought in.
Where does Holgate’s future lie?
Another Saturday, another glowing report for Mason Holgate. The teenager continues to shine under Koeman in his debut Premier League campaign, and his confidence makes him look very much the seasoned pro.
He stood up to the challenge of one of last year’s standout Premier League performers in Arnautovic, a big, powerful and skilful winger who should really have given the 19 year-old a tougher afternoon.
But as he has done in every appearance since silencing Zlatan Ibrahimovic in pre-season, Holgate met this weekend’s challenge head on with another assured display.
But such was his proficiency at right back against Stoke, it begs the question: where is his best position? Should we expect him to challenge Seamus Coleman for the position the Irishman has coveted unchallenged for the past four years? Or is he destined to join the illustrious company of Everton centre-halves?
Wherever he ends up, he executed his job today against a powerful Stoke side with maturity and confidence, prompting a cheeky compliment from his manager. “I did not see Arnautovic today”, the Dutchman quipped.
He’s the Gueye
Speaking of impressive starts to the season, Holgate is in fine company. All those selected so far this season have performed, or at the very least worked hard for the team. But new signing Idrissa Gueye is the one really getting Evertonians purring.
It says much about Blues fans’ appreciation for the game, that a player known mainly for his dogged ball-winning ability can win so much adoration on the terraces. And Blues love to make a cult hero of defensive midfielders. Messrs Reid, Parkinson and Carsley are just a few names that spring to mind.
The Senagalese international patrolled the middle of the park like a panther, ready to strike a snapping leg at anyone who dared invade his territory. He has fast become an integral part of Koeman’s Everton, displacing Roberto Martinez favourite James McCarthy with relative ease. While most Blues wouldn’t be surprised to see the Irishman leave this window, neither will they be shocked if Gueye becomes an ever-present this season.
Slice of luck, but no shame in fight to get Blues over the line
Baines’ first goal of the season and 17th penalty conversion in the Premier League was certainly fortunate. Given was at full stretch to turn the ball onto the post but Lady Luck was clearly smiling on the Blues. The ball bounced back off the post, only to rebound into the net off the stopper’s head.
Lucky? Certainly. But there was noting fortunate about the Blues’ overall performance. They created more chances, had 21 shots to Stokes eight, while the visitors only managed one on target. They outclassed their opponents without converting their chances to put the game out of sight, and when nerves began to shred in the closing stages the Toffees stuck together to see out the win.
You take a 1-0 win with a penalty own-goal, especially when you’re still putting a team together. It was the kind of game Everton would have lost last season, so frail were they from winning positions. But this season’s Everton – Koeman’s Everton – have so far discovered the knack of winning ugly.
When did Everton last take 7+ points from first 3 league games?
Amazingly, you have to go back 10 years to find an Everton side that took seven or more points from their first three Premier League games. After some indifferent starts to the new campaign under Martinez, it was his predecessor David Moyes who last enjoyed a more successful start.
That year new record signing Andy Johnson netted on his debut in a 2-1 win over Watford. The Blues followed up with a 1-1 draw away to Blackburn before an impressive 2-0 win against Tottenham at White Hart Lane, with 10 men no less.
In that same year the Blues went unbeaten in all competitions till 14th October, a 2-1 reverse away at Middlesbrough their first loss. If Koeman can lead his side through September without defeat, the Toffees could be in for a successful season ahead.
Everton’s points total from the first three games of the Premier League, for the last 10 years: