Everton 2 Norwich City 0

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Welcome to Goodison Park.

Wipe your feet and leave the points at the door.

Chris Hughton’s Norwich were simply the latest in a long line of barbecue-coated Christians thrown to Roberto’s rampant lions in the County Road Coliseum.

And if that appears condescending towards the Canaries then it’s meant to. That’s right, every head-patting, dismissive comment goes out to the outraged denizens of that forum who were hoping to ‘stuff our words down our throats’.

Look, look, he’s talking about us!

In the unlikely event that Norwich had escaped without a routine hiding, by an Everton side that never even needed the explosive skills of the injured Ross Barkley, you could bet on the life of your seven foot sibling who you keep in the wood shed that they would have been giving it the proverbial large one in the comments here.

So, to quote Delia – oh yeah, he’s going to do it, he’s going to be THAT obvious – where are you? WHERE ARE YOU? Let’s be ‘aving you…

Not really, we’re not interested in your bumpkin banter in the slightest. Sorry to build your hopes up like that.

The game itself was kind of routine for the first 70 minutes or so. Everton firstly unveiled Aiden Bad Kecks on the pitch and then had most of the possession and did most of the attacking while the visitors sat back, tried to frustrate the Blues and hoped that they could snatch something on the break through the distinctly misfiring Ricky van Wolkswinkel or from the dangerous set-pieces of Robert Snodgrass.

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Romelu Lukaku missed a sitter when he bottled out of running into the post and glanced his header wide, but before you could say ‘we need to turn some of this possession into goals’ Gareth Barry collected a pass from the Belgian on 23 minutes, advanced unchallenged and then BA-DOOM!, let fly with a swerving shot that almost scorched the Park End net. If John Ruddy got anything on it he would have been left dancing around with his hands tucked in his armpits like someone who gets a bowl out the oven using a deceptively damp tea towel.

For all the great passing, positional interchanging and playing through, between, on, around and even despite the lines, Everton are thrashing home some old fashioned ‘FUCK OFF!’ blammers this season.

Rumour has it that it’s because David Moyes never allowed the players to shoot.

True story that.

On 59 minutes Leighton Baines, back in the side and reminding everyone just what a footballer he is, was fouled 10 yards outside the Norwich area. Just as someone was saying ‘Is there anyone apart from Wayne Rooney who takes more free-kicks and thinks he’s boss at them without scoring than Mirallas’ the scruff’s-dog-on-a-bit-of-rope-faced winger curled the ball inside Ruddy’s right-hand post to the delight of all the Evertonians but especially the lad in the hat sat behind Martinez who on Match of the Day appeared to be up completely losing his shit with furious delight before the ball even left Mirallas’s foot.

Talking of televised celebrations, you have to say ‘fair play’ to Kevin Nolan and Joe Cole for the way they went nuts when Mark Noble scored against Cardiff. They weren’t putting that on.

Back to Everton though. With 20 minutes to go Martinez withdrew Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman, replacing them with John Heitinga and Steven Naismith, switched to a three-man defence and then watched as the visitors began to pour forward.

It’s hard to know what exactly caused the change in the pattern of the game – was it Hughton introducing the tricky Nathan Redmond and his players simply taking more risks or was it down to Everton’s unfamiliar formation? There’s also the fact that the often understated and often underrated Osman and Pienaar are crucial in the way the Toffees keep the ball.

It’s as much about the passes that the pair of little schemers don’t play as the ones they do.

They are soccer jazz.

Whatever the reason, Norwich threatened the age-old Goodison ‘fingernail finale’ as Bradley bleedin’ Johnson became Lothar Mattheus and the Blues’ defence was put under more pressure than we are used to seeing at home. Tim Howard was not to be beaten though and the Blues eventually saw out the little spell of quite endearing Norwich pluck. There was even time for a quite marvelous display of tenacity and skill from Naismith as he out-fought and then skinned two hapless yellow-shirted stooges out on the touchline.

Points in the bag then, as well as the first new signing, and rumours that another big Belgian unit is in line to replace Nikica Jelavic when the Croatian is dragged kicking and screaming to Hull City.

‘Seriously, no one else? Just Hull? What sort of agent are you?’

One piece of good news for Jelavic is that he is no longer in line for the worst penalty of the season award. That’s now nailed on for Jason Puncheon thanks to his creation of rare beauty at White Hart Lane. Fancy achieving your dream of becoming a professional player and then being known only for one of the worst spot kicks ever taken and going for a Tom Tit halfway through a match.

Bravo sir, bravo.

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Everton 4 Queens Park Rangers 0

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Previously, on This Is Not Football…

Right, so after we got beat by Sunderland we had a hard game against Southampton, especially with a couple of big players suspended, but an absolute screamer from Seamus Coleman settled us down early on but then in the second half they equalised when Joel Robles looked like he was being attacked by a swarm of bees as Gaston Ramires’s shot flew through him and into the net. However, while Mark Clattenburg was upsetting and confusing flavour-of-the-month-ill-judged-move-to-Spurs-if-he’s-lucky Adam Lallana by constantly calling him ‘shit hair’, James McCarthy cleverly set up Romelu Lukaku for a winner that was taken more confidently than you would expect from someone who recently has looked dead set on a mission to prove why we wasn’t first always choice for West Brom, never mind Chelsea. Stoke City was next and it wasn’t a classic but there was a stirring climax as Leon Osman’s clever play provoked a wild challenge from Jermaine Pennant in injury time and Leighton Baines did what he does, sweeping home the penalty. Mark Hughes’s post match observation that amounted to ‘they twatted us at Goodison the other week so we’re not complaining’ summed up the high regard this Everton team are held in by the rest of the Premier League.

And then Antonin Alcaraz emerged from the showers and it was all a dream…

That pretty much brings us up to date with the story over the New Year so let’s fade in now to Goodison Park for the FA Cup third round between the Blues and QPR’s selection of well-paid water-treaders and baggage carriers.

‘Jesus, their bench looks strong….if this was 2010.’

Under Roberto Martinez we no longer suffer injuries, we uncover opportunities for other players to get first team experience, and while we all like to snicker affectionately at the eternal sunshine of the Spaniard’s mind, in the past six or weeks or so circumstance has in fact exposed Evertonians to the dervish delights of  Bryan Oviedo’s wing-back wizardry and now the quite exquisite central defensive pairing of Alacaraz and John Stones who were an absolute pleasure to watch as they cruised through this frighteningly one-sided affair.

On the rare occasion that Everton over-confidence allowed a break from the away team the danger was inevitably snuffed out by Alcaraz stepping forward like your fat uncle, holding a can of Fosters, intervening in a match at a family barbecue and chipping your service station fly-away off your toes and into the safety of the utility room. And then farting dead loud.

He looks ace, and with his hunched shoulders and smouldering South American looks he has earned the nickname (right here, now) of ‘the Straq at the back’. Or the ‘back Straq’ for short.

That’s right, and when he pairs up with our ginger midfield dynamo for a game of head tennis they call themselves ‘the back Straq and Mac’.

To be honest, none of that happened.

He is dead cool though. Considering he and Gareth Barry retired two years ago it is an unalloyed joy to watch them make much younger, fitter men look so out of their depth with such regularity.

As for Alcaraz’s rooky sidekick, Stones, well, despite all the goals and long stretches of immaculate Everton football the highlight of the match was his telescopic-legged tackle on Matt Phillips that left the one-time Everton target flat on his face while the whip-thin young defender strode forward like Paolo Maldini with a look on his face that said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what the Stones is all about, bitches, you better get used to it’.

Bear in mind as well that these two are replacing Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka, arguably the best central defensive duo in Britain this season.

It’s just a bit mad at the moment, as we seem to be rhapsodising, eulogising and something else that ends in ‘ising’ about a different player every fortnight. First it was Lukaku, then Gerard Deulofeu, then Ross Barkley, James McCarthy, and now, even better than the two centre-halves, we have Coleman absolutely murdering teams week in, week out. From right-back.

As for the goals and what have you, the first came on 35 minutes. Speedo-sporting poolside muscle oiler Julio Cesar had a decent game but a change of pace from Oviedo and Barkley opened the visitors’ defence up, the England midfielder shifted the ball just inside the box and then beat the Brazilian keeper with a low curler into the bottom corner of the Park End net.

On 44 minutes, and more or less sealing the result, pressure from Barry allowed Nikica Jelavic to nick the ball from Karl Henry, steady himself and absolutely ram a shot home from 20 yards or so. Cesar barely even saw it.

The Croatian is linked with a move from Goodison, with Loftus Road a possible destination, and the goal certainly gave him a lift. On 68 minutes he scored again, this time from close range, converting a brilliant near-post cross from Oviedo.

Jelavic should have kept the match ball but after Oviedo was fouled and the Gwladys Street lit up with camera phones looking to mark what might be the popular striker’s last appearance in royal blue, the absolute plum chipped the penalty onto the crossbar.

It was about the only highlight of the afternoon for the bedraggled QPR support but before they could sit down from their ‘calm down’ gestures, and while the apparently insulted Cesar was still unbunching his drawers, Barkley powered through the centre, fed the ball into the path of Coleman on the edge of the area and he effortlessly unleashed what one observer labelled a ‘power side-foot’ across the keeper and high into the far corner.

Jelavic then had an effort cleared off the line, so never got to redeem himself for the wank penalty. Which was hilarious, quite frankly.

The FA Cup then, as it should be, a joyous break from the po-faced ‘pressure’ of the Premier League.

We like it.

We like it a lot.

Swansea and Sunderland and That

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Big wheel keep on turning.

This is being written dead late by which time you’ve read every last match report online or if you’ve not got a computer you’ve at least been to the barbers especially to read all their papers. That last bit obviously only applies to subscribers reading via the TINF semaphore service.

Anyway, given that so much time has expired, and the Arsenal game’s coming on the telly in a bit, this whole piece is going to be smooshed together with the Sunderland preview and the whole ungodly mess is going to be diced into bite-sized Parmentiers.

The term you are reaching for here is ‘phoning it in’.

Roberto Martinez warns about over-hyping Ross Barkley.

And rightly so. The midfielder scored a brilliant free kick and had another powerful run and shot, but some of the reaction in the press after the game was way over the top. By the standard Barkley set in the derby and at Old Trafford and the Emirates his overall performance here was way below par, to the extent that he looked like he was carrying an injury for most of the first half.

Anyone who writes about matches can’t help but have their report take shape while the game’s in progress and when he slipped when put in by Steven Pienaar the old faithful crutch of saying, ‘summed his afternoon up’, loomed large.

It would seem from now on though that much of the tabloid media have got their story where Everton are concerned.

Barkley doesn’t practise free kicks.

Firstly, why not? What else has he got to do that’s so pressing that he can’t have a little go now and again?

Have a word, Roberto.

Anyway, practise or not, what a timely humdinger this one was.

The top players nowadays – and we think Barkley is one, if you’ve got a bit of a titty lip about saying he wasn’t quite as divine in this game as the papers reckon – kicking these NASA footballs with their isosceles boots, seem to approach free kicks from improbable, post-modern angles. It’s almost as if they aim for an imaginary goal set at 30-odd degrees to the posts. Which is problematic for goalkeepers who are notorious for dealing almost exclusively in reality.

Anyway, whatever plane Barkley was operating in he struck the ball such that it arced viciously, like a mis-hit Swingball, but instead of striking a French exchange student in the neck it caromed off the slick underbelly of the crossbar and crossed the line in rain-sodden triumph. For a ball.

Seamus Coleman’s goal wasn’t bad either.

In fact it was utterly sensational, and no more than his performance deserved.

Coleman has always been popular just for his sheer enthusiasm and endless energy, but he just seems to improve all the time in every aspect of his game. In interviews he always comes across as level-headed and all that, but on the pitch he is utterly fearless and respecter of no reputation. No matter who he is up against his attitude seems to be, ‘Sound, dead skilful are you? Well today I am planning on running up and down here like fuck until someone tells me to stop. Care to join me, you bad jockey? Well let’s dance.’

‘Why didn’t David Moyes buy Barkley instead of Marouane Fellaini?’

Loads of observers are saying that. And the simple answer is ‘because only one of them was for sale’.

The same applies to Arsenal fans who keep assuming that they can just have Coleman as a replacement for Bacary Sagna.

Until they all inevitably spunk it up the wall on players’ wages the bigger-than-expected telly deal has given everyone a bit of financial leeway, at least to the extent that clubs like Everton, for so long scratching around to keep paying their three points over the vig every month, no longer have to cast a desperate eye over their prettiest daughter whenever the light is blocked through the pane of glass on the front door and those heavy knuckles begin knock, knock, knocking.

In short, fuck off.

Something about Sunderland.

We nearly always batter them at Goodison but this season has shown plenty of clubs that if you take any opponents for granted then you can very well come unstuck where you least expect it. They are bottom of the league for a reason though, i.e. because they are cack.

Their manager, Gus Poyet, comes across as something of a crank – one that looks a lot like a cartoon wolf who drives a car in an old, vaguely racist Disney feature.

His suggestion last week that the FA should consider having the season running to coincide with the school terms was an absolute doozy that never really got as much attention as it deserved.

Essentially it boiled down to, ‘Yeeeeeeaaaah, you think being in football is good like, but the holidays are shite. Not like them teachers, fucking hell…’

None of the reports confirmed whether he then went on to say something about ‘lazy frigging firemen. They’ve all got second jobs doing building and that, you know’.

Or whether he whistled as an attractive lady walked past, prompting his beating heart to literally protrude a foot out of his chest and his massive tongue to loll all the way to the floor.

He probably never, in fairness.

Everton 4 Fulham 1

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As ‘wake up calls’ go, a 4-1 win that takes you up into fourth place is far from the worst sort.

Despite Roberto Martinez’s warnings about taking Fulham lightly though, Everton did struggle through the middle of this match before eventually blowing the visitors away during the last 20 minutes.

The Blues have set sky high standards for themselves, especially in the past couple of weeks, and so it was inevitable they were going to experience a dip at some point. The players definitely looked guilty of thinking that they only had to turn up to win, and in fairness history has shown that’s usually the case, and the ‘nice arrogance’ that Martinez highlighted among the club’s young players strayed into complacency as Fulham, resplendent in their Phil Stamp era Middlesbrough kit, weren’t always pressured in the way we have come to expect.

Not that the slow pace seemed to be so much of an issue when, after a flat opening, Everton scored a belter. Leon Osman, starting in place of the suspended James McCarthy, took a neat pass from Steven Pienaar, side-stepped two defenders and stroked home a left-foot curler from the edge of the box.

It was the quite frankly cool-as-fuck Everton-through-and-through midfielder marking 300 Premier League appearances with the definitive Leon Osman goal.

Him and Pienaar are great – we talked about McCarthy learning from Gareth Barry but the rest of the young Everton attackers should really study how these two play the game. Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu all have distinct physical advantages over the two little veterans but hopefully with experience they will develop the same sort of intelligence, timing and commitment to getting the basics right as those two have. Unless they leave Everton of course, in which case they can carry on overdoing the flash stuff and the lazy passing as long as they want.

Lukaku should have been ragging the back out of the Philipe Senderos – given that the Swiss centre-half is all kinds of last – but the Belgian actually spent the afternoon looking slightly frustrated, doing his woolly jazz hand thing and calling for through-balls that were never going to come. Still, he almost scored an odd goal when a corner hit him in the stomach and nearly beat Maarten Stekelenburg at the near post.

Osman then ‘flashed’ a dipping volley just wide after Barkley’s initial shot was blocked at the end of a good move.

Everton were certainly the better side during the first half, and Fulham barely troubled Tim Howard, but there was just an uneasy feeling during the interval because they had shown that they were at least competitive while the Blues’ play lacked the rhythm or, to use a good pundits’ word, ‘cohesion’, that has become their trademark.

Rene Meulensteen – who, by the way, is a ruddy great chap – seemed to feel that his new side were still capable of getting something out of the game, other than twatted, and sent them out to push up on Everton in the second half. That always represents a risk, as these Toffees are particularly adept on the counter-attack, but it initially paid dividends as Fulham started winning possession in dangerous areas and Everton struggled to really get going.

Then there were three horrible minutes in which it felt like the season was taking a sinister detour from the path of sunshine and lollipops it had been cruising merrily along.

First, on 64 minutes, Deulofeu went down holding his leg. There was a whole pantomime as the stretcher bearers stopped for a smoke halfway across the pitch, but eventually the young Spaniard was carried off and afterwards Martinez spoke about him ‘preparing himself for the final third of the season’. That’s a blow – he wasn’t enjoying his best game here, despite starting ahead of Kevin Mirallas, but he’s a brilliant option to bring off the bench, as demonstrated emphatically at Arsenal last weekend.

With Deulofeu possibly out for months a move for Aiden McGeady in January looks even more likely. Now, the mere mention of the ex-Celtic winger usually draws groans but Martinez appears to know his stuff and the internet has been wrong about enough players already that you have to think that it’s probably wise to hang fire and give any new signing the benefit of the doubt. Unless he doesn’t sign for us like, in which case he is just a wartime urchin-looking headless chicken.

It’s that simple.

Anyway, with Deulofeu barely down the tunnel Fulham equalised.

A rank touch by Lukaku on the halfway line allowed them to break and Barry’s attempt to poke the ball away from between Alexander Kaciniklic’s legs saw the Swede tumble and, after a long pause, the referee stunned everyone by pointing to the spot. It looked like an outrageous decision at the time but after seeing it on Match of the Day it probably comes under ‘seen them given’. That said, it’s easy to be philosophical when you end up scoring a load of goals and making the penalty irrelevant.

Dimitar Berbatov missing it was not an option.

‘Here we fucking go’.

Except we never.

Went, that is.

It really could have turned ugly after the equaliser – we’ve seen it plenty of times before – but instead of freezing this confident Everton rallied, put together the best move of the game and retook the lead after only six minutes.

Pienaar dummied Bryan Oviedo’s pass and made a run into the box, Lukaku did brilliantly to hold off the defender and push the ball into the South African’s path and in what is almost a signature move now, his low cross appeared to evade everyone only for the fullback, in this case the superb Seamus Coleman, to arrive late at the far post and clip the ball home.

There was a degree of relief then, but with around 20 minutes of the game remaining and Fulham still looking competent the potential remained for another demoralising equaliser. Goodison remained edgy then until the 84th minute when Barry nodded home from on the goalline after Sylvain Distin and then Lukaku headed Mirallas’s corner goalwards.

In injury time Osman picked out Mirallas’s run, he cut inside and his rather selfish shot should have been pretty comfortable for Stekelenburg but, well, it wasn’t, and ended up in the back of the Gwladys Street net.

To reiterate then, 4-1. Without playing anything like your best. Against a team whose attitude was typified by the excellent Steve Sidwell.

It’s not to be sniffed at.

Bring me sunshine indeed.