Winning ugly is better than losing pretty
Everton were far from their fluid best against Stoke but the fact they still ground out the victory is the most satisfying aspect of Saturday’s game.
The side had grown far too soft under Roberto Martinez despite some of their thrilling attacking play. Last season’s corresponding fixture was a prime example of what Everton had become under the Spaniard, the team twice coming from behind before tossing away a 3-2 lead in the final ten minutes to lose 4-3
In that respect Saturday’s game couldn’t have been more different. Everton still dominated the ball but struggled to create too many clear-cut openings.
Romelu Lukaku in particular looked slightly off the pace. The Belgian was still heavily involved though and I expect him to hit the back of the net sooner rather than later.
There was more than a touch of fortune about the goal, even if it was deserved, and when the second didn’t follow Ronald Koeman chose to shut up shop by bringing on Ramiro Funes Mori and switching to a back three.
It’s so refreshing to see a manager being proactive and seeking to protect a lead after Martinez’s idealistic and ultimately reckless approach.
The crowd responded to the team’s efforts as Goodison returned to its snarling best in the closing stages.
The rear-guard effort was built on the new look centre-back pairing of Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka, with Williams looking the kind of rugged no-nonsense leader we have been craving for years.
It wasn’t easy on the eye, but perhaps that’s why the final result felt so satisfying after what we’ve been used to in recent years.
Ross is boss
He may have been snubbed by new England manager Sam Allardyce but Ross Barkley has no reason to feel downhearted.
The boyhood blue has been tremendous so far this season and appears to be thriving under Koeman’s stewardship. He was once again at the heart of all of Everton’s good play on Saturday and should have buried a decent chance in the second half to kill the game.
His fine form makes his exclusion from the England squad all the more baffling, especially when you consider Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana are selected ahead of him.
But from a selfish point of view I’d much rather have Barkley spend the next two weeks working Koeman than big Sam the footballing dinosaur.
It’s only a game
The joy and relief at Everton’s victory was quickly tempered by the terrible news that emerged shortly after the final whistle.
Everton fan Derek Acker fell ill during the game at Goodison Park while sat in the Philip Carter Park End stand.
The 51-year-old collapsed after suffering a suspected heart attack and despite the brave efforts of paramedics, police, stewards and an off-duty doctor, sadly died later in hospital.
No one should ever go the match and not come back. The tragic news quickly made us realise just how trivial our moans and groans about the game really are.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Derek’s friends and family. May he rest in peace.