From: 23rd April 2014
Originally posted on EFCFeelinBlue.com
In what was a rare public appearance for the Grim Reaper, who lurked ominously behind Roberto Martinez’s shadowy predecessor on Sunday, a turbulent week ended on the highest of highs in what was a comfortable and celebratory affair for the Premier League’s most likeable club.
Manchester United arrived at Goodison Park, presumably already intimidated and overwhelmed by the threat the renovated Toffees posed. United’s timid performance suggested that they were more than happy to step out of the way of Roberto Martinez’s incoming bullet train, moving at the blistering speed of an in-flight Seamus Coleman (sixty grand, readers, sixty grand!!), which is heading for Europe and defying the media’s expectations.
Metaphors aside, Everton’s performance on Sunday was fantastic because it was exactly what it had to be. The first half witnessed an almost scrappy start, as the Toffees favoured to sit back and contain their opponents; and the longer this tactic was endured, despite the nervy atmosphere it conjured, the more it felt like an intentional trick from Martinez to fool his counterpart into feeling a sense of false superiority. Although the crowd grew agitated with the space many Manchester United players were allowed on the ball, they never appeared to even remotely threaten Tim Howard, who may as well have begun chatting with the nearest steward, for United were never going to shoot from outside the 18-yard box.
Everton became more confident as the game wore on, and a coolly-taken penalty from Leighton Baines (who else?) propelled the Blues ahead following an excellent counter attack broken up by the arm of Phil Jones. Mark Clattenburg, who in fairness wasn’t actually too bad, blew upon his little high-pitched whistle to signify the eruption of an elated Goodison Park. What a moment.
One goal up and gradually outplaying the opposition in every way, Everton assumed the role of a team simply accommodating Manchester United as they belittled and dismantled their opponents. A certain figure, soon to be long forgotten by Evertonians, looked on, and slowly melted into a miserable, grey background as the colourful Roberto Martinez watched his team grow in confidence; although, a second goal before half time was still vastly important, as a slightly anxious crowd yearned for a very significant victory.
Seemingly, the writing was on the wall; an inevitable second goal for the Toffees did occur, courtesy of the wonderful Kevin Mirallas whose performance was his best yet in an Everton shirt. The Belgian was confident and outclassed any member of the opposition who stood before him, as every Evertonian knows he can do so well. A neat finish, preceded by an excellent run from the Belgian that left the United defenders dumbfounded, was sparked from a typically brilliant Seamus Coleman assist.
Clattenburg’s whistle sounded for half-time, and the anticipation and celebrations spilled around Goodison Park from fan to fan, extending into the bar areas. Songs were even sung in the cramped toilets, for the 2-0 lead after 45 minutes was a dream scenario and a first double since 1969 over the Reds was just around the corner; was Martinez to be the deliverer of yet another record? Only a solid second half would assure that.
Compared to the first half, the latter period of the match allowed Everton to truly explore their own talents. Despite their inability to score a goal, it was a joy to behold Martinez’s tactical prowess and motivational personality influencing an Everton side that could not seem more eager to prevail.
Individually, there were a number of stand-out performances throughout the match that became more evident in the second half. James McCarthy was, as ever, unbelievably good: consistent, ever-present and with more energy than the Duracell Bunny, he won the ball on more occasions that he could be applauded. He was outstanding, and influenced his companion Gareth Barry to simultaneously contain the opposing attack as if it were the easiest job in the world.
John Stones, too, was beyond impressive – the 19 year-old’s commitment and sheer excellence, plus his relaxed nature on the ball and convenience to pop up anywhere in his 18-yard box to make a goal-saving block or tackle, is the basis for a world-class defender. He seems to re-enforce his sheer talent every single week. Confident when charging into the opposition’s half and providing the midfield with an excellent pass, the impact of his presence and quality upon football matches cannot be overstated – he has looked comfortable at near enough every level he has played at this season.
Tim Howard, Steven Naismith and Sylvain Distin (who was replaced by Antolin Alcaraz at half time) were all excellent when called upon, and Seamus Coleman was as outstanding as usual. His consistency and ability under Martinez has been breathtaking as he has undeniably become the greatest right-back in the Premier League; there is nothing quite similar to the spectacle of witnessing the Irishman speeding up and down the right wing, worming his way through tight spaces, around the opposition’s players and into their penalty area.
Collectively, and especially in the second half, Everton blasted Manchester United out of the water that the Reds have spent much of the season drowning in. However, one person that never escaped the shark-infested water was (and it is inevitable his name would eventually crop up) David Moyes.
Ah, Mr. Moyes. It turned out that the scythe-wielding, black-cloaked Paddy Power advert did not visit prematurely; in fact, its appearance was timed near enough to perfection. When hoarse Evertonians began singing “sacked in the morning” to the media’s number one target at the conclusion of the fixture, little did they know that their song would (give or take a day) become reality. In fact, come Tuesday morning (although it was an unfair decision), David Moyes would no longer be the manager of Manchester United, leaving Toffees fans everywhere feeling justified in a rather poetic manner. It was a perfect coincidence that Everton’s fabulous, colourful, Martinez-inspired victory over the easiest of opponents resulted in one of the most pleasing albeit baffling circular narratives in football (for Everton fans, at least).
And so, in perhaps the most satisfying game of this particular season, Martinez and his Everton side delivered when it matters, which has been rather unusual for Blues fans to witness their team doing for a long while. The victory over Manchester United simply enforced that the most exciting and ambitious of futures, guided by the inspirational Roberto Martinez, is waiting for every Evertonian on the royal blue horizon.