He shoots, he scores. Without referring to the Opta stats on yards run, passes made and ground covered, this was pretty much Romelu Lukaku’s afternoon. For four-fifths of the game he did almost nothing at all and he had not found the net since a 4-0 win over Stoke City in November.
Nikica Jelavic has long been wondering where the January transfer window might take him but for most of this match he would have been asking himself when he might be coming on to replace a centre-forward who had patently lost the sharpness and anticipation that had driven Everton forward during the early months of the season.
When Gaston Ramirez drove a shot through the quivering gloves of Joel Robles to present Southampton with the equaliser they had deserved, the Croat would have mentally unzipped his tracksuit. Three minutes later, Lukaku had won Everton the game.
Robles’ error, like Tim Howard’s against Sunderland, looked likely to be the second in succession by a goalkeeper to have cost Everton points at Goodison Park. Then James McCarthy, driving down the left flank, put in a low cross that Lukaku met with all the hunger that appeared to have drained from him.
He followed it up with a series of step-overs and a shot into the Park End, followed by another that Kelvin Davis pushed away at full stretch. Jelavic would have sat deeper back into his seat.
Alan Shearer once stated that the only way to judge a striker is by the goals he scores. Roberto Martinez considered this altogether too simplistic an analysis. He pointed out that Lukaku is still only 20 and that when he arrived at Goodison his stamina began to fade after an hour. “Now he plays 90 minutes and takes responsibility for the link-up play,” said the Everton manager. “I judge him by all the other aspects. He was magnificent against Swansea without scoring the other day. He is developing into an all-round footballer.”
Martinez is developing a formidable all-round team. Southampton may have won only once in their last eight games and only once at Goodison since 1992 but they often passed the ball better than Everton. On their last visit to Merseyside, Mauricio Pochettino’s side had beaten Liverpool comfortably.
They faced what could best be described as Everton Lite; Howard and Gareth Barry were both suspended, their captain Phil Jagielka is carrying a hamstring injury that will keep him out for the next month and neither Kevin Mirallas nor Steven Pienaar started.
To have won with these limitations suggests Everton are clear candidates for the top four. Since the Champions League decided to admit those clubs who hadn’t actually won their own championship, the average number of points needed to gain admission is 65. The bar is likely to be higher this season but Everton are on course for 74.
“We had Antolin Alcaraz coming in for his first game in five or six months and Leighton Baines for his first game in six weeks,” said Martinez. “They were facing in Ramirez, Lambert and Lallana one of the best front threes in the Premier League. You are not going to see many teams making those changes and performing that well.
“We have come to the halfway point of the season with two defeats and we have suffered more unfair draws than lucky draws but there is still room for improvement. The majority of the top sides still have to come to Goodison and that is a great challenge for us.”
As David Moyes prepares for an extravagant round of January spending beginning with a £30m offer to Atletico Madrid for their midfielder, Koke, it is as well to remember that he once paid Sligo Rovers £60,000 for Seamus Coleman. There have been better deals – the bag of shirts that secured Cristiano Ronaldo’s first transfer springs to mind – but not many.
Like Martinez’s other full-backs, Baines and Bryan Oviedo, one of Coleman’s great strengths comes into play when he crosses the halfway line. A vicious shot here was his fifth goal of the season which at the time meant he had scored more than the array of his strikers Jose Mourinho has at his disposal at Chelsea.
It came at the end of a muscular run that took the Irishman past James Ward-Prowse followed by a cut inside and a shot. After the shock of a Boxing Day defeat to Sunderland, a club they are used to beating, Goodison’s nerves were calmed for a while until some excellent passing and close control, especially from Adam Lallana, gave Southampton control of the midfield that did not extend to Everton’s penalty area.
One move saw Lallana back-flicking the ball between Leon Osman and Sylvain Distin before shooting marginally wide. It was hard to disagree with Pochettino’s conclusion that “this is a team with personality and a certain attacking style.” However, only when Ramirez was introduced did Southampton’s attack carry an edge.
Perhaps because of the Sunderland defeat, the stadium itself had begun on edge, howling down Mark Clattenburg, who had not refereed at Goodison since a controversial performance in a Merseyside derby. The fact that it was in October 2007 demonstrated that on Merseyside they have a Sicilian capacity for nursing a grievance. They will, however, remember 2013 rather more fondly.
Everton: (4-2-3-1) Robles 5; Coleman 7, Alcaraz 7, Distin 6, Baines 6; McCarthy 7, Osman 5 (Mirallas 71); Naismith 6, Barkley 7, Oviedo 5 (Pienaar 60 5) Lukaku 6. Substitutes: Springthorpe (g), Hibbert, Heitinga, Jelavic, Stones. Booked: Oviedo, McCarthy
Southampton: (4-3-2-1) K.Davis 6; Chambers 6 (Clyne 89), Fonte 6, Lovren 6, Shaw 6; S.Davis 6, Cork 5 (Ramirez 65), Ward-Prowse 6 (Gallagher 82); Lallana 7, Rodriguez 7; Lambert 6. Substitutes: Gazzaniga (g), Clyne, Yoshida, Hooiveld, Reed. Booked: Cork.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (County Durham)
Man of the match: James McCarthy (Everton)
Match rating: 6/10