First of all, an apology. Last week, while musing on how Roberto Martinez would cope with the absence of Leighton Baines, we deduced that Bryan Oviedo’s absence from the derby squad meant that the Everton manager doesn’t rate him. In fact, the term ‘a bit shit’ was used.
Well, the Costa Rican started against Stoke City and was excellent. Granted, he wasn’t up against much, but he was full of running and supported the attack superbly, scoring one goal and creating another, to the extent that Baines wasn’t missed in the slightest. You really couldn’t ask for much more from an understudy getting his chance in the spotlight.
Similarly we hold our hands up to Gerard Deulofeu, who we might have labelled one of the few disappointments of the season so far in an interview with United We Stand. In his appearances before Saturday he always played with an air of ‘I know we lost 4-1, but my goal was a cracker wasn’t it’, but starting here in place of Kevin Mirallas he was, at times, absolutely electric.
Ok then while we’re at it, Martinez as well. Admit it though, you pulled your face a bit too when you heard Mirallas and Ross Barkley were being rested. It just had the feeling of something that could backfire spectacularly, but the Everton boss has the magic touch at the moment and this slightly ‘rotated’ side gave their most complete performance of the season.
Stoke, for their part, are clearly in a ‘transition period’. Mark Hughes is trying to get them to play more football, which is to be lauded as they were mostly a disgrace under Tony Pulis, but at the moment he is trying to do that with a squad of players that was assembled in order to intimidate, not entertain. As a result of that they seem caught between two stools.
Neither swish nor foul, if you like.
Everton, on the other hand, have loads of good footballers and with Steven Pienaar pulling the strings expertly they played the visitors off the park. Stoke never lacked for effort though, not while the game was goalless at least, and the game might have panned out differently had they achieved their initial aim of getting to half time level. However, Deulofeu, who had already seen Asmir Begovic make a smart save from a free-kick, capped off a dizzying move on 45 minutes, exchanging one-twos with Pienaar and then Gareth Barry before clipping the ball inside the near post.
Whatever Hughes said to his side during the break was rendered moot only four minutes after the restart when Deulofeu broke down the left and his low cross eventually came to the onrushing Seamus Coleman whose awkward volley sliced weirdly across the goal, leaving Begovic helpless as it spun into the far corner.
It was all over from that point. Stoke had come looking to frustrate Everton and take a point. They weren’t equipped to overturn a two-goal deficit but had to go through the motions and in the process simply exposed themselves to one of the best counter-attacking sides in the league.
Begovic saved from point-blank range following a, let’s just put it out there, ‘Messi-esque’ run from sly eyes Deulofeu, but was again left without a prayer on 58 minutes when Oviedo took the long way around Charlie Adam’s wide load and smashed a 20-yard shot home off the foot of the post.
Talking of old ginger-sidies, did anyone else think the extent of the lusty booing he got when substituted seemed well out of proportion to his whole Kopite career? Oh, and while we’re on the subject of that sort of thing, a quick message to Cardiff City supporters – not that there will be any reading this. What is with you absolute lickspittles, applauding Aaron Ramsey for stuffing two goals past you? Fair enough, some of you meekly argued that wearing red instead of blue is a price worth paying to be in the Premier League, but that doesn’t mean you have to abase yourselves at every opportunity, does it?
Those scenes were even worse than when the Portsmouth support famously dropped their knickers for Thierry Henry.
But back to Everton, who far from applauding the opposition, have no qualms about openly and freely criticising one of their own players – even one who looks likely to finish as their highest goalscorer since Gary Lineker. Loads of people after the game commented about how shite Romelu Lukaku played, but the big Belgian still managed to score, turning home Oviedo’s low cross on 79 minutes.
It was all the stuff we’ve mentioned before, about how flaky he looks with his back to goal and how he should be giving defenders a far tougher time. It might seem overly harsh given his goalscoring record but there will be games when we are up against it and we will need him to do the basics better and win some free-kicks. If he wants to reach his almost unlimited potential as well, and be as good or better than the player he supposedly wants to emulate, Didier Drogba, it’s that unglamorous, old-fashioned centre-forward stuff he needs to work on.
Before we get too dismissive of him though, we need to bear in mind what we’d be working with if Martinez hadn’t secured his loan at the eleventh hour of the transfer window, and substitute Nikica Jelavic served a reminder when played clean through in the dying minutes and shot apologetically straight at Begovic.
However, none of those asides should detract from a great afternoon. As one wise Park Ender remarked: ‘It’s great isn’t it, a couple of hours in the pub and then watch Everton batter someone. We don’t ask for much’.
And indeed there are few more life-affirming feelings than leaving the ground, bathing in the hazy orange glow of County Road and breathing in the coppery winter air following a proper school of science showing from those famous boys in blue.
We really don’t ask for much at all.