Everton 2-0 Norwich City

The trials of the mid-season grind continue to add wrinkles to Roberto Martinez's plans but his Everton side rolled past Norwich City today to jump back into the Premier League top four. Yet more setbacks on the injury front, most notably to Ross Barkley, enforced more changes to the manager's starting line-up but two superb strikes effectively sealed the game before an hour had elapsed and added another three crucial home points in quest for Champions League qualification.

A suspected broken toe for Barkley and the continued absence of Sylvain Distin was compounded by an apparent injury to Antolin Alcaraz that ruled him out before kick off, and Steven Pienaar added to the list of concerns when he was substituted with a suspected knock with 20 minutes to go. Everton shrugged off the disruption, though, and the margin of their lead even afforded Martinez the luxury of some experimentation with three at the back in what was a forgettable last quarter of an hour.

Aided by the return of Phil Jagielka, who moved to the left side of central defence to partner young John Stones, the Blues established their now customary grip on the game early in the first half. Seamus Coleman and Romelu Lukaku had similar left-foot efforts comfortably saved by John Ruddy in the Canaries' goal in the early going but the Belgian striker had the first real chance in the 12th minute.

His compatriot, Kevin Mirallas, whipped an excellent ball to the back post where Lukaku looked odds-on to score but a moment's hesitation, perhaps for fear of colliding with the upright, saw him head wide from a couple of yards out.

Norwich, who came into the match on a run of five games without a win, were ceding much of the possession to the home side but they carved out a gilt-edged chance for Gary Hooper with 15 minutes gone when he latched onto Whitaker's ball over the top but a poor first touch allowed Tim Howard to smother it at his feet and keep matters goalless.

Everton were enjoying plenty of room in which to operate in front of the visitors' back four and, after Mirallas had hammered a deflected shot over the bar from 25 yards and Baines had raked a left-footer wide from the edge of the box, great hold-up play by Lukaku help set up the opening goal.

Jagielka went into a meaty challenge in his own half that sent a high ball forward that Lukaku pulled down and held until Gareth Barry was able to join the attack from deep. The veteran midfielder collected the striker's pass, advanced into space ahead of him as the defence backed off before unleashing a laser-like effort that flew past Ruddy's despairing glove and inside the far post.

Everton were in the driving seat and looking comfortable but a 1-0 lead is a slender one in the modern-day top flight, as evidenced five minutes later when Norwich counter-attacked quickly and Ricky van Wolsvinkel, a scorer in the reverse fixture at Carrow Road on the opening day, forced a flying, one-handed save from Howard as he tried a curler from 20 yards.

The Blues always looked the more dangerous side, though, and they racked up a host of chances before half time on the back of some lovely football at times as they sought to extend their lead. Osman skied a good chance after Lukaku had seized on a loose ball by Van Wolsvinkel and Coleman also lashed the ball over from close range at the end of a sustained period of Everton pressure 10 minutes before the interval.

It was Norwich who might have scored on the stroke of half time, though. Stones had again been exhibiting composure beyond his years for much of the first half but he was booked in the 44th minute for a heavy challenge through Bradley Johnson and his mis-judgement of another lofted ball into the area almost let Hooper in a minute later. Howard came off his line quickly to close out the danger, although there was momentary chaos in the Everton defence with the American well out of his six-yard box but they got away with it.

The pattern of the first period continued in the second and James McCarthy's chance to notch his first goal for Everton looked to have arrived eight minutes after the restart but his shot was deflected over the bar and Mirallas wasted the resulting corner.

After Van Wolsvinkel had held off Stones and ballooned a shot over the bar, Everton doubled their advantage in the 58th minute when Baines was chopped down 25 yards from goal by Robert Snodgrass and Mirallas whipped the resulting free kick past Ruddy with precision.

2-0 looked to have become 3-0 seven minutes later when Lukaku raced onto a wonderful through-ball by Coleman, clipped the ball over the advancing Ruddy and slid the ball home as it skidded towards the byline but his "goal" was ruled out by the linesman's flag.

With Everton in clear control of the game, Martinez took the opportunity to withdraw Osman in favour of John Heitinga with 68 minutes gone and transition to a back three before Pienaar gingerly left the fray a couple of minutes later to be replaced by Steven Naismith. The result of the Blues' change in formation and Canaries boss Chris Hughton's own switch that introduced Nathan Redmond had a marked effect on the pattern of the game. Everton visibly lost their shape for a good 10 to 15 minutes and Redmond gave Coleman a couple of scares, not least when he skinned the Irishman and cut inside where Howard had to save the winger's shot with his feet.

Johnson then tried his luck with two decent long-range efforts as untidiness started to creep into Everton's play, Snodgrass came closest to setting up a nervy finale when he rose highest to meet a bouncing ball in the home area but his header bounced off the post, and Heitinga had to be alert to block a cross from the same player after he looked to have twisted his way past the Dutchman.

The Blues' defence held, though, and it was clear by around the 85th-minute mark that any fire Norwich had been extinguished, allowing Everton to resume their ascendancy and almost put the game completely to bed following excellent work by Naismith down the right touchline. He squirmed his way past Martin Olsson and into the clear but McCarthy was closed down as he met the Scot's square pass.

Three more vital points, then, on an afternoon when, again, all of Everton's rivals for the top four picked up maximum points. The result lifts Martinez's side back into fourth where they will stay if Liverpool lose at Stoke tomorrow but, importantly, it re-establishes momentum in the League following the draw at the Britannia Stadium on New Year's Day. Everton have more points now, after 21 games, than at any time in the Premier League era but the competition for places around them allows for no margin for error.

Though they should really have scored more, didn't make it through the 90 minutes without a period of untidy play and it was something of a learning experience for Stones – something that is vital for his development, particularly given the clean sheet – the standard of play was often terrific and McCarthy and Barry were relentless at times in the middle.

The nine-day break between now and the trip to West Bromwich Albion on the Monday after next will hopefully give some of those injured players time to recover but the manager will be more than happy at the seamless way in which his team has dealt with the chopping and changing of personnel in recent games and still kept putting points on the board.

It will also give Martinez time to pursue further additions to his squad than the one signing he has already completed this month; winger Aiden McGeady was paraded before the match today after signing from Spartak Moscow and, with Nikica Jelavic in talks with Hull City this weekend, striking reinforcements are set to follow.

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Phil Friedman
431 Posted 11/01/2014 at 21:57:13
Good showing today but really concerned about Barkley's injury and lack of striker cover now that Jela is gone. Stones, as pointed out, did have some rough moments but also some really excellent ones as well. The more I see him, the more I like.
Lyndon Lloyd
439 Posted 11/01/2014 at 22:15:03
Stones has incredible composure for being only 19 and, yes, he had a few rough moments but those kinds of mistakes are essential as he learns his trade. As I mentioned on Twitter, what better way to commit those errors and grow from them than not get punished for them?

He is going to be a very special player in a position that takes many, many years to full mature into but he looks like he has been playing at this level all his life. To think he was playing for Barnsley this time last year...

Full credit should go to Martinez for his faith in him, though, too. It's virtually a given that Heitinga would have played the last three games if this was last season and I just love that the new manager has the confidence to blood these youngsters. It must really help their self-belief.

Mike Gaynes
468 Posted 11/01/2014 at 23:02:01
Agreed on all that, Lyndon and Phil... I love watching him too and he's obviously hugely gifted. But weaknesses are going to show up in a young player, and I'm just pointing out that losing his man on high balls is one we had not seen before.

So if the Distin/Alcaraz injury situation is the same in eight days, would you consider it "punishment" if the kid were dropped in favor of Heitinga at West Brom? Seems to me if properly handled it wouldn't impact his confidence, and they're a much tougher challenge in attack than Norwich.

Colin Williams
494 Posted 12/01/2014 at 00:29:34
Lyndon — top comments about Stones, what a player we have. How people can complain about a young lad who has been thrown into the Premier League and has not just survived but been MotM and a top performer in all the games he has played.
Dennis Ng
495 Posted 12/01/2014 at 00:50:52
Agree with comments on Stones being top draw. Surely he'll make mistakes at this young age. Fortunate those mistakes didn't punish us as well in this game. It will be a great learning for both Stones and definitely a future top England centreback to be.
Harold Matthews
501 Posted 11/01/2014 at 23:49:53
Great win and I should be happy, but I'm not. Too many unknowns.

How long can we get away with replacing two experienced centre backs with an inexperienced youngster? Why all the silence around Alcaraz? How long will Barkley be out? Is Pienaar Injured? How many weeks before McGeady is fit to play? etc etc etc.

On the plus side, we played some lovely stuff for 70 minutes with Barry, Pienaar and Mirallis outstanding. Jags also did well after his injury and Howard remains in top form. A good all round performance from a hastily shuffled pack but the lengthening sick list is a major concern. Such a shame when you look at our lofty position and appreciate the hard graft thar got us there.

Julian Wait
503 Posted 12/01/2014 at 01:04:32
I would play Stones over Heitinga every time now, even the derby game, we've seen Heitinga commit far worse offences in a blue shirt and Stones will learn more by playing himself than watching Heitinga. Let's go with the future. Heitinga is perhaps a better fit for a foreign league these days .....
Dennis Ng
506 Posted 12/01/2014 at 01:06:51
Harold, I've the same concerns you mentioned, but less on the Stones problem. I hope they will provide more details on the injuries by Monday.

On Stones, we'll have that problem soon. Distin is 36, and Alcaraz seems to be injury prone. Stones will need to step up alongside another, either a transfer or another young lad. I prefer some of the youngsters than straight out go buy another defender. Unless its another Coleman/Oviedo.

Patrick Murphy
510 Posted 12/01/2014 at 01:08:56
Harold that seems to be the over-riding sentiment of the fan-base at the moment - should be happy but we're not! I'm not quite sure why that is the case, obviously the reasons that you cite are relevant but in years gone by we would have lost ground just by the mere absence of Baines, the fact that we have so far coped with the problems we have faced speaks volumes for the staff and the players.

If BK really wants to help the team at this moment in time, he will ask Roberto who he wants and move heaven and earth to get them players. If however, Roberto feels he can get through the rest of the season with the players we have - we will have to abide by that decision, but I think it may be a bridge too far to cope for the last 17 games plus Cup-ties with the current players.

I suppose the other niggle at the back of all our minds is will someone bid for Barkley or indeed has someone already done so - Hansen and company were alluding to the fact that Man U need quality additions and being a cynical old git I wouldn't rule it out completely - but that would be a blow to the fan-base and a terrible blow for Roberto and his reputation.

Mike Gaynes
514 Posted 12/01/2014 at 01:14:59
Dennis, Jags is only 31. I would assume that when the time comes for Stones to replace Distin permanently, it'll be Jags next to him for the next 3-4 years.
Dennis Ng
516 Posted 12/01/2014 at 01:23:20
Mike, yes, that's what I implied. However, we would still need cover just in case, right? Plus if we go into UCL, I wouldn't be surprised people would want to pry Jags from us. But that's a story for another day. Our future looks bright, but will be cloudy for a few weeks due to the ridiculous amount of injuries.

On that note, does anyone remember that we have that many injuries this time last year? I somehow think its about the same...

Rahman Talib
547 Posted 12/01/2014 at 05:30:03
Stones committing three mistakes and therefore let's bench the dude?

Have we forgotten the famous backpass that cost us the FA Cup semi-final?

Mike Gaynes
548 Posted 12/01/2014 at 06:28:56
Who said "let's bench the dude"?

Stop making stuff up, Rahman.

Dennis Ng
552 Posted 12/01/2014 at 06:48:51
You guys lost me here. Unless it was implied, I never saw anyone say benching Stones. That's just mildly less ridiculous like saying bench Barkley for missing his backheels.
John Ford
556 Posted 12/01/2014 at 06:51:42
Stones obviously loves RMs emphasis on pass and move but he was caught out several times and took the wrong decision on other occasions, but was good enough to play himself out of bother. He also got caught on the wrong side of defenders a couple of times. Something Jags and Distan rarely do. I love his confidence and his footballing ability though. He has two of the best centre halves to learn from and will be a real asset for us,
Derek Thomas
558 Posted 12/01/2014 at 06:50:45
When Heitinga was warming up, 2 things; it did cross my mind that it was Stones who was coming off, so full marks to Roberto for sticking with him. And wasn't it good to see a simple short set of instructions rather than the 5 mins of clipboarditis
Dennis Ng
565 Posted 12/01/2014 at 07:10:33
John, definitely. Technique wise, Stones is awesome. It's experience he needs and hopefully we'll play some 3 back games where Jags and Distin can teach him more. I would worry that good forwards would catch him cold at the moment. No one is mistake free, but with experience, he'll correct these mental errors for sure.

Derek, yep. Things seem simpler now and players look much more relaxed playing in the current system. By no means they are fully accustomed. My ideal scenario would be to have the team create goals like the one Wilshire scored against Norwich. That would probably be the next phase of our team's growth.

Brin Williams
611 Posted 12/01/2014 at 10:28:29
Noel Early
617 Posted 12/01/2014 at 10:33:30
I couldn't help thinking when watching this game that Stones would never have the confidence or be allowed to take chances like he did yesterday had Moyes still been here. Martinez encourages bravery and doesn't want defenders giving the ball away. Yeah, he got caught out a couple of times and against better opposition he would be punished, but it is a step up from playing Under-21 games and mistakes will be made. He never once looked shaken or refused to get on the ball, the positives far outweigh the negatives for me. Will be a regular in the near future.
Harold Matthews
623 Posted 12/01/2014 at 10:46:44
Dennis. He'll also need a much stronger physique. Some of these Premier League strikers are built like tanks.
Dennis Ng
627 Posted 12/01/2014 at 10:54:06
Harold, that's true, but that's probably the easiest part to add. Plus, if he can handle Lukaku, he can handle most of the tanks.
Harold Matthews
660 Posted 12/01/2014 at 11:50:59
Yes Dennis. In 18 months from now he'll probably be 20 pounds heavier and much stronger. In the meantime I think Martinez will use him sparingly. He has already mentioned that it is actually a bit early for the lad but we are in an emergency situation and he obviously didn't fancy Heitinga or Hibbert, both of whom can play the CB role. It was a gamble which almost went astray but didn't.The returning Van Wolfsvinkel was rusty. Whatever the situation next time, I'm trusting Martinez to sort it out.
Andy Crooks
675 Posted 12/01/2014 at 13:21:29
Apparently Yeovil have a young centre half who has been a revelation this season. Maybe we could look at getting him in on loan.
Trevor Lynes
730 Posted 12/01/2014 at 16:40:41
When the bench was revealed, my heart sank; it's back to being the weakest in the league. The displays by the old stagers were the reason we won. IMO, Barry was MotM and Jagielka, Baines, Osman and Pienaar were the best of the rest.

Stones is inexperienced and needed an old head with him but he will definitely come good. Coleman had his hands full once Redmond came on. McCarthy was about average and Mirallas blew hot and cold. Lukaku needs better service as he ran into really good positions but was rarely fed.

We played well for 60 minutes but, once Osman and Pienaar came off, we lost the midfield from an attacking sense. I thought Oviedo would have come on for Pienaar as he would have maintained the team's balance.

Jamie Sweet
927 Posted 12/01/2014 at 22:20:33
Harold... Patrick... "we should be happy but we're not".

I think this has something to do with the fact that every other fucker around us in the table just keep on winning, including them lot from across the park.

The gap to the top three is growing slightly, and Spurs and Man Utd are creeping up on us too.

So despite our greatest points haul at this stage in PL history, we still know that just a little blip could see us back in 7th. And our growing injury list make that little blip all the more possible.

This time last year, 41 points would have seen us 7 points above Arsenal and 10 points above the shite. If that was the case right now, I think we'd all feel that little bit happier.

Colin Glassar
931 Posted 12/01/2014 at 22:48:24
Jamie Sweet, are you a glass half full guy? We will drop points, so will the rest. We are at the halfway mark and there's a lot of football left to play. There will be plenty of ups and downs between now and May for everyone.
Dennis Ng
935 Posted 12/01/2014 at 23:11:39
Colin, agreed though I could do without a farce called Anthony Taylor. If rs won because they played well, so be it, but so many botched calls in favor of rs?!?!?! I sometimes wonder if the refs association is legit!

Harold, arm-eater reminded me of the tank comment you made. He looked like a cross between a boar and a wolverine when smashing that second goal...But yes, RM did mention Stones is kinda emergency inclusion. I worry that Stones would not have the experience to handle the cheatery and aggressiveness of the rs frontline. If the match is 18 months from now, I have no doubt Stones will be able to hold his own.

Just case in point, who do you consider a tank of a striker? Crouch is a stick, Aguero, probably, Dzeko, probably more, but the only guy I can really think of is Drogba and Crespo.

Also, rs never ceases to amaze me with the amount of points they get off shoddy refs and cheating.

Si Cooper
944 Posted 12/01/2014 at 23:54:22
Dennis, Dzeko is not a tank imo. I find him rather insipid and uninspiring - a decent player but not one to get passionate about. Negredo qualifies as a tank and is miles better.

RS had three goals gifted to them today by Lady Luck, terrible officiating and defensive buffoonery. They seem to get more than their fair share but I don't think there is anything truly sinister about it.

Dennis Ng
949 Posted 13/01/2014 at 00:17:39
Si, while I agree, it is deflating that Stoke actually attacked well. Goes to show how weak rs defence is and yet they manage to outscore Stoke through all these factors. I am suspicious of the last goal as well but that's done and all.

I'll need to search for replays of Man City. I agree Dzeko is not a tank, though my memory of him is very little, like, was he wider or bulkier...Anyway, not important since they are not our next opponent.

Hopefully we get bodies soon that can be plugged right into the team...

Patrick Murphy
952 Posted 13/01/2014 at 00:26:28
Si - I'm not so sure that there is nothing sinister in it - even if it's just the fact that they have supporters in all areas of the country and from all walks of life, so officials even if its a subconscious thing do appear to give them the benefit of the doubt more often than not. Take our game yesterday if that had been scored at the favourite end of the Dark Side, would the linesman have been so sure that the striker had been offside or would he have allowed play to progress - just a thought.
Rahman Talib
029 Posted 13/01/2014 at 13:11:10
Could it be that all the big clubs are forking out large payolas to these referees?

The reason why OFM went ballistic is because he refused to spend one dime on referee's cooperation?

I mean the big four would've been sardines if it wouldn't be for the referees, thus far.

The RS third goal was simply a crime. IT looked like Sterling ram his leg against the defender.

Maybe we should start paying the referees?

Harold Matthews
300 Posted 14/01/2014 at 07:27:22
Yes Rahman. I felt sorry for Newcastle and Stoke. Neither deserved to lose.

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