Everton won back-to-back games for the first time in the Premier League with a brilliant 3-0 win at Stoke City.
The Blues took the lead in the 11th minute through a Romelu Lukaku penalty and secured victory by half time with goals from Seamus Coleman and Aaron Lennon.
Roberto Martinez’s side were rarely threatened and equally excellent displays at both ends of the pitch were only slightly dampened (at an already rain-sodden Britannia Stadium) by some wasteful finishing in the second half.
Record-breaking Lukaku is vital in end of season run-in
The penalty from which Lukaku opened the scoring was the third awarded to the Toffees in 18 minutes of football, having gone 23 Premier League games without one all season.
Returning to penalty duties after being forced off in midweek with injury, Lukaku stepped up and strolled the ball home for his first goal in five appearances, something of a drought for the Belgian, such has been his prolific form.
It was a welcome return for both player and fans who looked on anxiously against Newcastle when their No 10 failed to come out for the second half. Lukaku now has 14 goals in 19 league games and Saturday’s penalty carried more significance than ‘just’ his 20th of the campaign.
Not since Graeme Sharpe between 1984-86 has an Everton player scored 20 goals in back-to-back seasons, but the 22-year-old’s 16th league goal ensured the 30 year wait for someone to match Sharpe’s record came to an end.
Having notched his 50th Everton goal in his 100th game, and netting in eight consecutive games earlier this season, Lukaku has already written himself into the history books. Keeping the record-breaking striker fit and firing is vital if Everton are to turn around a so far disappointing season.
Coleman’s bundle of joy delights fans
Coleman celebrated his first goal of the season with a tribute to his first child and baby daughter, born earlier on Saturday.
While the Irishman was undoubtedly overjoyed with the delivery, Evertonians were jumping with joy at Tom Cleverley’s own delivery from which Coleman headed home Everton’s second goal.
While I’m sure the travelling Blues were more ecstatic with the fact that they saw their side score a rare goal from a corner, both the Everton faithful and Coleman will be equally delighted to see the full-back score after a flurry of indifferent performances since returning from injury, as well as nearing a return to top form.
Martinez must retain the balance driving Blues forward
The final scoreline at the Britannia should have been embarrassing for the Potters, but the scoreline retained some degree of respectability thanks to a combination of wasteful finishing and excellent goalkeeping.
Jack Butland twice denied Lukaku who would otherwise have been lauded as the hat-trick hero, while Arouna Kone, Ramiro Funes Mori and Kevin Mirallas all wasted more than decent opportunities from close range.
But Everton will at least be pleased with another clean sheet and a collective defensive performance which is winning over Evertonians as much as their attacking exploits.
The balance in this settled Everton side (the same back 5 has started the last three games, yielding three clean sheets) seems to be just right and has given them the solidity and assurance in defence Blues have been craving all season.
The right wing conundrum – Lennon or Deulofeu?
While Coleman’s start to 2016 had been derailed somewhat by injury and the problems associated with a return to full fitness, his current partner on Everton’s right flank is flying.
Lennon scored his third goal in as many games -his fourth in six appearances- and has started all three of those games. But it’s not just his finishing and threat in the opposition penalty area that is getting fans on their feet; his work rate is not going unnoticed.
Goals will always make people stand up and take notice but Evertonians are just as appreciative of a player’s industriousness, especially in their defensive duties. It is the protection Lennon gives to full-back Coleman that is likely causing manager Martinez to keep giving the 28-year-old the nod ahead of Gerard Deulofeu.
While the Spanish winger has undoubtedly had supporters on their feet on more than a few occasions this season -11 assists has been enough to endear the ex-Barcelona forward even more to Evertonians- Lennon has forced his way into the starting line up on merit, and as long as he continues to impress at both ends of the pitch, Martinez must continue to select him.
Barkley simply unplayable in current form
If a consistent back five has led to a significant improvement in Everton’s defensive displays, then Barkley has been the diamond in their rock-solid foundations.
His form all season has been impressive but the step up in the maturity of his performances has yielded four goals in his last four games. Vision, poise, technique. Just some of the attributes on show in the move that led to the award of Everton’s penalty, and all with a single flicked back-heel of Barkley’s right boot.
When Barkley is in the mood, Everton have shown they have enough to strike fear into any team. A quality both club and country will be hoping to utilise in the near and distant future.