Everton eased into the 5th round of the FA Cup with a comfortable 3-0 victory against Carlisle United.
Arouna Kone tapped in from a yard out within 2 minutes at Brunton Park, after Aaron Lennon squared.
The winger then put Everton in control after taking Bryan Oviedo’s cross and squeezing the ball beyond keeper Mark Gillespie.
Carlisle’s only chance of note came from Derek Asamoah who fired straight at Joel Robles at 1-0, but Everton were largely untroubled and Ross Barkley added a third to cap a wonderful personal performance from long range.
In a quirk that sums up Everton’s season so far, Roberto Martinez’s side have now won more domestic cup games (7) than they have league matches, with just 6 victories in the Premier League.
The level of opposition aside, this was as good a defensive performance as we’ve seen all season, and it’s no coincidence that the full list of those occasions feature games in which Everton’s No1 kept goal.
Joel has done all that could be asked of him in each of his eight appearances, keeping three clean sheets along the way. His comfortable performances have not only given the Spaniard confidence, but those in front of him appear more at ease, especially when it comes to back passes such is Joel’s ability with the ball at his feet.
His distribution is undoubtedly one of his finest attributes, showing fans that he’s not willing to play the role of mere spectator in these sort of games against lower league opposition. Joel is demonstrably watching the game intently, looking out for free shirts after claiming a crosses, and is quick to deliver.
One particular kick in the second half found Lennon with pinpoint precision on the right side, allowing the winger to exploit the space afforded him as Carlisle’s players were still found trudging back.
That ability to get his side playing quickly in order to make use of space high up the pitch is a hugely beneficial asset to any side, and one Martinez should be more keen to employ. It adds a second dimension to Everton’s play, and offers a degree of unpredictability. Everyone knows Everton like to play out, but what if they had the ability to go more direct? Would it make teams think twice about a high press which would leave space for Joel to exploit, with the likes of Gerard Deulofeu and Barkley willing to receive?
Sadly, we’re unlikely to see such an opportunity given to the young stopper as repeat offender Tim Howard is odds on to return to action against Newcastle on Wednesday.
Barkley shines while Lennon gives Martinez something to think about
Barkley continued his fine form in the 2015/16 season with a classy display at Brunton Park. Capping his performance with his 10th goal of the season (via a crucial deflection), the Wavertree wizard could often be found driving Everton forward, throwing off challenges and committing defenders with a magnetic touch which has helped him to the top of Everton’s chances created chart (35) and just one behind Deulofeu in the assists tally (7).
This might have seemed the right time to give the 22-year-old a rest after featuring in 30 of his team’s 31 games so far this season, but with such quality and enthusiasm oozing from the midfielder, Martinez ensured Everton’s attacking intent remained in the absence of the services of Romelu Lukaku or Deulofeu.
It’s become a testament not only to Barkley’s ability, but to his mental condition that has seen him become an integral part of Martinez’s side. Even when Everton have been poor this season, Barkley has often been the only bright spark and the midfielder seems to be thriving on the responsibility of being the Blues’ attacking and creative linchpin.
But while Barkley is likely to retain his place in the starting line up for Wednesday’s visit of Newcastle, another midfielder who took centre stage in Everton’s comprehensive FA Cup victory may not.
Lennon has had to wait patiently for opportunities this season, with Deulofeu coming to prominence and Kone often preferred on the left side, despite his obvious deficiencies in that wide position. But the former Spurs man has never disgraced himself when given the chance, showing boundless enthusiasm and energy, and making a difference at the right end of pitch too.
With only eight starts to his name this season, Lennon is likely to find himself kicking his heels once more on the substitutes bench, despite scoring in his last home league start against former club Spurs and grabbing a goal and an assist against Carlisle.
His path to a starting berth on the right wing is currently blocked by the impressive Deulofeu (and rightly so considering his encouraging relationship with Lukaku, and status as top assist at the club). But he should feel aggrieved that chances on the left side have been limited, especially when you compare his pace and work rate to that of Kone’s; the two are light years apart.
The left side of midfield has become somewhat of a problem position for Everton, ever since Steven Pienaar’s career dovetailed through injury. Martinez could do worse than give Lennon a fair crack of the whip at left wing, with a view of papering over the cracks in that position till a genuine left-sided midfielder of similar quality to Barkley and Deulofeu can be found.