Everton last won away from Goodison Park before Christmas. Since then they've scraped together home win after home win, but have been a picture of futility on the road. It had looked like the fourth Champions League spot was all but lost a couple of weeks ago, until Arsenal faltered and opened the door a chink. That was enough motivation for a stirring display of counter attacking football as the Blues went on to beat the Magpies 3-0.
Roberto Martinez rung in the changes to get fresh legs on the pitch, with Leon Osman and Gerard Deulofeu starting for Aiden McGeady and Kevin Mirallas. John Stones continues to deputize for team captain Phil Jagielka who is edging closer to fitness. For Newcastle United, manager Alan Pardew watched the game from an offsite location while marking the last game of his touchline ban for headbutting David Meyler. Stand-in manager John Carver was missing Loic Remy among his key players out.
The final score somehow both reflected the game yet wasn't fully descriptive of it. Everton do allow plenty of chances but Newcastle spurned all of theirs. The Blues on the hand were ruthless with their limited possessions, and could have had more really. Ross Barkley opened the account with a lung-bursting break out of his own box, criss-crossing the length of the pitch before finding some space between four defenders to hammer a shot into the roof of the net. Early in the second half Gerard Deulofeu tore down the right and Romelu Lukaku buried his precise center in the net, a goal similar to his weekend goal. Both goals were things of beauty and the third in the dying minutes didn't disappoint either - once again it was Deulofeu who ran clear, before finding Lukaku who unselfishly passed for Osman to tee up another shot high past Tim Krul.
Yet, the home side had exactly three phases in the game when they controlled their own destiny. In the opening minutes when desperate defending by James McCarthy and profligate finishing by Yoan Gouffran somehow kept the game level. Then on the hour mark when Hatem Ben Arfa came on for the ineffective Luuk de Jong and immediately posed a threat down the Magpies right wing, but Everton soon smothered that out. Finally, with the score at 2-0 and under a quarter of an hour to go, Ben Arfa escaped down the left channel and sent the perfect ball across goal for Vurnon Anita, who with just Leighton Baines stretched out in front of him somehow contrived to miss the target completely.
Wrapped around those instances were some commanding performances by Evertonians young and old. Osman wore the captain's armband and was assured throughout. He displayed vision when he had the ball, ran well off it, and generally commanded the center of the pitch in a manner we have not been used this season. His constant interchanges with Deulofeu and Barkley belied the fact that he was supposed to be playing left wing. Which then brings us to the two youngsters.
Deulofeu easily had his best performance in the royal blue jersey. Playing mostly in the right wing position, he ran often at the Newcastle defence who had to resort to having two men on him whenever he had the ball. Displaying equal measures of trickery and pace, he was absolutely sizzling and fans everywhere will be hoping he doesn't get the call to return to Barcelona this offseason. Barkley, for his part, is back to the early season form that had pundits adding him to the flight to Brazil this summer. He was full of guile, keeping his head on a swivel throughout, looking for the open man or running into space when he could.
The clean sheet was timely for Tim Howard and his defence, just their third in 2014. Youngster John Stones had another good game alongside Sylvain Distin, quelling the threat of Papiss Cisse time and again, and even picking up a knock that required ten blue stitches to the eyebrow. Seamus Coleman supported Stones well, with his attacking threat largely unnecessary with Deulofeu harassing the Magpies.
Kudos also need to go to the manager. Martinez took a big risk in deciding to go in with Mirallas on the bench and only one genuine winger. However, he displayed his tactical acumen in how he deployed the squad, with the team playing a very fluid 4-2-3-1 in the first hour and then with the game in the bag at 2-0, he kept the heat on the home side by switching to a 4-3-3 with Osman dropping back to play alongside midfield stalwarts Gareth Barry and McCarthy, and Deulofeu, Lukaku and Barkley forming a quite terrifying attacking trident.
With Arsenal slipping to a draw against Swansea City, a loss for the Gunners at Manchester City and an Everton win at Fulham this weekend will set the table quite delectably for a Champions League six-pointer on 6th April at Goodison Park. Will Roberto's Blue Army be able to avenge their FA Cup quarterfinal blowout at the Emirates?