With Norwich not winning an opening game since the inaugural Premier League season and the Canaries remaining unbeaten in the previous four fixtures against Everton, a betting man might have went for a draw in this fixture and he would have been right in doing so.
Steven Whittaker opened the scoring in the 51st minute after taking on several Everton players, hitting the post with his left foot and then converting with his right when it bounced back out to him. Then in the space of five minutes Ross Barkley’s first Everton goal and a Seamus Coleman goal turned the game on its head. However the goal scoring in this game was not over. Although it was Everton who looked more likely to score Norwich equalised out of nowhere; Whittaker’s sliced shot finding the head of new signing Ricky Van Wolfswinkel who converted into the on-looking Howard’s net.
After a scrappy opening with both sides gaining and giving free kicks to each other, it wasn’t until the fifth minute that the first chance was engineered and went to Everton’s new skipper Phil Jagielka, who had his header saved by former Blues’ keeper John Ruddy after connecting with a Leighton Baines cross.
In response another Canaries’ new signing, Nathan Redmond, had his attempt blocked from outside the area five minutes later.
An open, lively and exciting first fifteen minutes showed the Toffees looking to dictate play whereas Norwich looked to attack in a more direct fashion through the pace of their wingers; Redmond and Elliot Bennett. It was a Bennett cross that found Van Wolfswinkel in the 15th minute, who climbed above Sylvain Distin to head onto the centre half and out for a corner. Distin was again called into action with a last ditch intervention two minutes later getting ahead of Wes Hoolahan who was looking to latch onto a pulled back cross across the box from Van Wolfswinkel.
Everton looked to keep the ball nicely unlike Norwich the Toffees tried to build attacks through good, patient possession whereas Norwich look to use the pace of Redmond and Bennett and the directness of Jonny Howson to compliment the cleverness and ingenuity of Hoolahan. It was with this build-up play that found the Blues making more chances to score. Kevin Mirallas and Nikica Jelavic exchanged a one-two just outside the box and the Belgian fired just wide, a Baines corner found Fellaini who struck a half volley over the bar and Russell Martin blocked Mirallas’ effort after Coleman’s cutback in a four minute window. Another Leighton Baines corner came out to Barkley who eased it to Steven Pienaar and his shot from outside the box was blocked away for a corner. At the other end Tim Howard was forced to rush out and slide tackle Van Wolfswinkel before the striker could latch onto a ball over the top. On the break Kevin Mirallas went past Javier Garrido and Russell Martin and it was the Scottish international that blocked the winger and received a yellow card. From the resulting free kick Baines struck the wall with Fellaini taking the ball down and setting up Barkley with the impressive 19 year-old striking a ferocious effort rising just over the bar.
The first half, without there being a goal, belonged to Everton in possession, in shots on target and in the best openings. The Toffees looked composed on the ball and unlike last Sunday against Real Betis passed with purpose constructing attacks through prudent and calculated possession. The formation of the Toffees was extremely fluid with Pienaar and Mirallas floating off Jelavic into good attacking positions and the trio of Barkley, Osman and Fellaini looked well-structured and coherent in attack but then solid and comfortable without the ball.
It was the Blues who had the first opening after the break with Mirallas hitting the side netting after a good exchange between Coleman and Osman to set the Irishman away down the right to cross to Mirallas. However, it was Norwich who opened the scoring after Hoolahan switched the ball to the right to former Rangers fullback Whittaker who coasted past Baines and Pienaar and bundled past Fellaini then striking a side foot shot with his left hitting the post and coming back out to the Scot, he found the composure to convert with his right into essentially an open goal.
In response to going behind Ross Barkley showed a sign of things to come with a thirty yard effort finding the hands of John Ruddy. Five minutes later, Barkley tried with his left foot and struck a vicious shot into the right of Ruddy’s goal thundering the net after a dancing run from Seamus Coleman across the box resulting from a throw-in exchange between himself and Fellaini. In the 65th minute the onrushing Coleman then became a goal scorer when he finished off what must have been a twenty pass move at least. Leighton Baines moved the ball inside to Pienaar who slid Jelavic in slightly left of the goal and the Croatian’s left foot shot was parried by Ruddy straight to Coleman who converted into an empty net.
In the end it became a tale of two right-backs after Coleman’s assist and goal, his counterpart Whittaker reversed the contribution after first scoring and then assisting Van Wolfswinkel’s first Norwich goal. Whittaker miscued a left foot half volley but found the Dutch striker’s head to equal the game.
The final ten minutes ended in a peppered and stalemate fashion with the only chances falling to Toffees players. In the 80th minute Fellaini’s cross was flicked on by Jelavic to his former Rangers partner Steven Naismith; who had his toe-poked effort saved and then Jelavic with the follow up had his shot blocked. Coleman caught a half volley sweetly eight minutes later but his shot arrowed just past John Ruddy’s right hand post. In the final minute a trademark Leighton Baines cross wrapped around the Norwich back four with Naismith just missing out.
The attending nearly 27,000 were treated to an excellent game of football, particularly in the second half. The two teams playing on the floor in different formats; the home side with pace and the away in a commanding dictating manor provided an excellent and exciting spectacle. The outstanding player for either side was young Ross Barkley; showing a performance beyond his years and evidencing that physically, mentally and technically he excels.
If we are to judge from this game how the season will pan out, I would expect Norwich to be in the top ten and Everton just above them and based on today’s performances don’t be surprised to see a senior England appearance for Redmond and Barkley before the end of the season and perhaps they could even make the grade to be in the World Cup squad come the end of the season. However it will not be England duty that Evertonians will be concerned with for Barkley; it will be completing a full season and hopefully contributing to pushing the Toffees into a top four finish.
Norwich City: John Ruddy 6, Steven Whittaker 7, Russell Martin 7, Michael Turner 6, Javier Garrido 6, Elliot Bennett 6, Jonny Howson 6, Bradley Johnson 6, Nathan Redmond 8 (Martin Olsson 86th minute), Wes Hoolahan 5 (Alexander Tettey 73rd minute) , Ricky Van Wolfswinkel 8.
Unused Substitutes: Mark Bunn, Jacob Butterfield, David Fox, Luciano Becchio, Ryan Bennett.
Everton: Tim Howard 6, Seamus Coleman 6, Phil Jagielka 7, Sylvain Distin 7, Leighton Baines 7, Kevin Mirallas 7 (Steven Naismith 70th minute), Leon Osman 6, Marouane Fellaini 6, Steven Pienaar 6, Ross Barkley 9 (VictorAnichebe 93rd minute), Nikica Jelavic 6 (Arouna Kone 81st minute).