Ross Barkley enhanced his ever-growing reputation by producing a wonderful late free-kick to give Everton a 2-1 win at Swansea.
Roberto Martinez’s Everton side further enhanced their credentials as top four contenders with a deserved win over Swansea yesterday.
A stunning free-kick from 20-year-old Ross Barkley proved the difference between the two sides after a Bryan Oviedo own goal had cancelled out Seamus Coleman’s opener for the visitors.
The win against Martinez’s former club moved Everton above Chelsea, who play Arsenal at the Emirates today, and into fourth place.
It might not have been the eye-catching display of passing football you might have expected from two of the top flight’s most stylish sides but Martinez’s first win in five attempts against Swansea could have Everton in a Champions League spot on Christmas Day. With on-loan Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku having a rare off-day for Everton, it was Barkley who stole the show with a curling free-kick six minutes from time.
Barkley, sporting a freshly shaved head despite the freezing temperatures in South Wales, showed once again why he has been compared to the likes of Paul Gascoigne by his manager this season.
His performance will be another nudge to the England manager, Roy Hodgson, who will find it difficult to leave the midfielder at home this summer if he continues to produce these kind of displays.
“Ross is growing game by game. He is showing different aspects. He is a quite incredible diamond of English football,” said Martinez, whose record of only one defeat this season is bettered only by Bayern Munich and Roma in Europe’s top five leagues.
“The winning goal, technically, is as good as it gets. A lot has been said about Ross, but it’s always an understatement. He’s an incredible listener and a young man with a lot of potential. He always comes up with something different to show he can develop. I’m proud of seeing him grow.”
Barkley’s goal was his third of the season but his first since the win over Newcastle at the end of September.
Barkley said: “It was a relief because I had a good chance to score with 20 minutes left but I slipped over. To see that free-kick go in was a massive bonus. I don’t practise free-kicks but, with Leighton Baines not on the pitch, I thought it was my chance to have a go.”
Everton had taken 13 minutes to test the Swansea goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel, in for Michel Vorm, who had knee surgery on Thursday, and the German got down well to hold Kevin Mirallas’s near-post effort.
The Belgium international then wasted a decent opening when he robbed Chico Flores deep in the Swansea half to leave Ashley Williams against three Everton attackers.
With Lukaku free Mirallas chose to shoot himself, but his drive was blocked by Williams and the Swansea defender cleared Barkley’s follow-up.
Swansea’s best opportunity of the first half fell to striker Wilfried Bony on half-hour but his first-time shot from the edge of the box was wide after a great ball from Routledge.
It was another sign that Bony is struggling to impose himself as Swansea’s main striker this season and, with Michu facing a spell out with an ankle problem, it could persuade Laudrup to look for a forward in January.
The two sides cancelled each other out for much of the first half with Everton pressing well and Swansea doing a good job of keeping Lukaku quiet.
That continued at the beginning of the second half with both sides failing to work either goalkeeper. Steven Pienaar flashed a shot wide before Barkley made a complete mess of an excellent chance as he slipped and mishit a shot after being put through on goal. He almost made up for it on 64 minutes with a driving run through midfield and a fierce left-foot shot that was turned on to the bar by Tremmel.
Everton were finally in the ascendant and took the lead two minutes later. Swansea allowed right-back Coleman to wander forward with the ball and he rifled a superb shot in at the near post from 25 yards.
In the minutes after the goal it looked as though Everton were at last going to take hold of the game but their lead lasted just four minutes. A hopeful cross from Swansea left-back Ben Davies caught Pienaar sleeping at the back post and when he was beaten to the ball by Dwight Tiendalli his shot took a huge deflection off Oviedo and squirmed past Tim Howard for an own goal.
Swansea have now had five own goals in their favour this season, one more than second-highest scorer Bony has managed in the league since his £12m move in the summer.
But Everton were not to be denied and when Davies conceded a foul on the edge of the box it was the chance Barkley need to atone for his miss. He curled the ball up over the wall and off the underside of the bar past the helpless Tremmel.
Swansea’s manager, Michael Laudrup, said: “We are waiting for more information on Michu’s injury and should know on Monday. If he needs an operation he could be out for some time.”
Swansea: Tremmel 6/10. Tiendalli 7, Chico 5, De Guzman 6, Williams 7, Davies 7, Canas 6, De Guzman 6, Shelvey 6, Routledge 5, Hernandez 7, Bony 6
Everton: Howard 6/10, Oviedo 6, Distin 7, Coleman 8, Jagielka 7, Pienaar 6, Barry 7, McCarthy 6,Mirallas 6, Lukaku 6, Barkley 8
Booked: Swansea Davies. MOM Barkley.
Match rating 8/10.
Possession: Swansea 55% Everton 45%.
Attempts on target: Swansea 3 Everton 6.
Referee L Mason (Lancashire). Att 20,695.