In a line up which seemed to flick between a 3-5-2 and a 4-1-4-1, Everton looked to break down a well disciplined Stevenage side who predictably had ten men behind the ball for most of the time and looked to hit on the counter.
Everton looked to new senior England international Ross Barkley, and Barcelona man Gerard Deulofeu for creativity in the midfield, flanked by Tony Hibbert and Bryan Oviedo down the wings, with Arouna Kone the target up top. Under 21 man John Stones partnered Phil Jagielka, and later Sylvain Distin in defence and produced a performance worthy of the champagne bottle at the end of the game, looking assured when defending and comfortable in possession.
Joel Robles took the gloves and did well, although a question has to be asked of the goalkeeper about the Stevenage opener. A seemingly harmless clearance after a solid spell of Everton pressure landed in space down the Everton left. It seemed to take substitute Oumare Tounkara an age to reach the ball and Joel simply retreated to his goal, before Tounkara crossed for Luke Freeman to burst the net with their first shot of the match.
Arouna Kone had an absolutely glorious chance to notch his first goal for Everton when, after a bit of a scramble following a Deulofeu cross, he found the ball at his feet inside the goal posts almost on the goal line. Somehow, he managed to kick the ball about three times before putting it wide.
In injury time in the first half though, the impressive Deulofeu received a Steven Naismith pass, cut inside two Stevenage defenders and placed the ball nicely into the corner, seeing the game tied at half time.
The second half started well for Everton, Barkley, Deulofeu and Osman linking up well, although the latter didn't have is best game by far in blue. Arouna Kone, looking to make amends for his first half sitter, missed another chance, and when Deulofeu drew a parry from Day in the Stevenage goal, the rebound split Kone, Osman and Naismith who were all waiting to put it in the open goal.
On the hour, Tony Hibbert was replaced by Seamus Coleman - a change always planned by the manager before the game started. However, the Irishman struggled to get into the game.
Day made a few more decent saves keeping the scores level and then right at the death, boyhood Evertonian Greg Tansey could have won it for the visitors, producing a decent save from Joel. That was the last action of note of normal time.
As extra time began, fitness levels and quality began to show. Everton had almost all of the ball. Stevenage's passing looked tired and their clearances went into touch. On 96 minutes, the ever improving and impressive Barkley was replaced by Manchester United target Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian completely changed the game and all of a sudden Everton seemed to step up a gear.
Five minutes before the end of extra time, as the fear of penalties set in, a free kick was played down the left to Oviedo who sent a cross into the box. The ball was headed away by Stevenage, only to be returned back by another defender, hitting Naismith and it was Fellaini who poked the ball home to make it 2-1 and get Everton out of jail.
This was a far from impressive display from the home side. Understood, the manager has his own philosophy and he wants patience, but would it hurt him to drop his guard for just ten minutes to avoid extra time, given there is a tough game away at Cardiff on Saturday? Sometimes, you need to play a system which suits the personnel at your disposal, and not a system you think will work despite putting a few square pegs in round holes. A number of players failed to live up to expectations; Leon Osman, Arouna Kone, Steven Naismith, and any Evertonian who thinks Bryan Oviedo is an able deputy should the board decide to cash in on Leighton Baines is seriously deluded.
On the positive side, the younger players looked the only ones capable of holding onto the football and making something happen for us. Barkley had more game time and every time he got the ball there was a sense of excitement about Goodison Park. Deulofeu showed he has serious talent going forward, can whip a great cross in but doesn't know how to defend - simply because at Barcelona he doesn't have to!
But, the outstanding performer was John Stones. The England Under 21 man made every tackle, won every header, distributed well and read the game like an experienced professional. He looked great when in possession, showing composure on numerous occasions to bring the ball out from the back, and he looked comfortable in this system.
Everton progress, and look forward to a trip to the capital to face Fulham at Craven Cottage in Round 3.