Everton maintained their storming start to the season with a straightforward win over Southampton on Saturday. The Saints took the lead through Gaston Ramirez but Everton’s response was to produce three goals and some of the best football seen at Goodison Park this season.
It was in stark contrast to the way in which Everton began the game – disjointed and comfortably second best, unable to cope with Southampton’s three-pronged attack of Rickie Lambert, Jay Rodriguez and Gaston Ramirez. Southampton’s goal came via poor marking from a corner but it was well deserved on the balance of the early going.
Contrast the outcome of the match to a game from early last season, where Everton also fell behind to a newly-promoted side. Queens Park Rangers were the first visitors to Goodison of 2011-12 and went ahead after half an hour. Everton huffed and puffed with little quality and even less effect, handing the points to Neil Warnock’s side.
The difference lies in the style of play and the personnel playing it. Everton then had an attack spearheaded by Jermaine Beckford. Now it’s Nikica Jelavic. The difference between the free transfer signed who had barely played outside League One and the international centre-forward costing more than £5m is every bit as big as would be expected.
When Jelavic is on the pitch Everton are only ever seconds from scoring. The Croatian now has 14 goals in 22 appearances since January but few can have been from as dead-eye a finish as his opening goal against Southampton. The angle was bordering on ludicrously tight but he converted with the greatest of ease.
Everton a year ago were workmanlike, with Beckford supported by Cahill rather than Jelavic with Marouane Fellaini. Now, as Moyes remarked after the match, Everton are a joy to watch when they are at their best. The presence of Seamus Coleman at right-back gives Everton another potent weapon, and while the Republic of Ireland international is inconsistent in his crossing, when the delivery is right – as it was for Jelavic’s second goal – it is unstoppable.
Kevin Mirallas moved central as Everton exerted their influence, thus giving Coleman the room to rampage down the right flank, and underlining the fluidity with which Everton now play. 12 months ago they were rigid in the extreme, bereft of ideas and inspiration and knocking up some turgid stuff.
Not only has the squad improved but the manager has loosened the reins and trusted Steven Pienaar and company to do their thing. Moyes added post-match that he would pay to watch Everton play that way. If his contractual situation is not resolved soon, he may have to.
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