Pace. Goals. Killer instinct. If there are three qualities that Evertonians have been enviously seeing in the teams currently in the driving seats for Champions League qualification since the turn of the year, those three surely top the list.
Tonight, they exhibited all three in spades, with Ross Barkley embodying them perfectly in the goal that set Everton on their way to a fourth successive Premier League victory, one that lifts them back into fifth place with still one more game in hand over Tottenham Hotspur below them in fifth.
The Blues' rising 20 year-old star embarked on a scintillating 69-yard run in the 22nd minute and didn't stop until he had surged across the penalty area, dumped Fabricio Collocini on his backside and lashed the ball past the hapless Tim Krul in the Newcastle goal.
It was a piece of individual magic worthy of winning any match; as it turned out, it was the first three excellent goals on the night for an Everton side that looked strong, composed, purposeful and dangerous all evening. Worthy participants in the Champions League, you might say, an outcome that is a good deal more possible after today than it looked just a few short weeks ago with those three away defeats at Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea.
Captain Phil Jagielka had been slated for a return from a three-match layoff with a hamstring injury but Roberto Martinez elected not to risk him, continuing with John Stones alongside Sylvain Distin and the young defender repaid his manager's faith with another precociously poised and composed display.
He added commitment to his finesse as well, forced to leave the field bleeding profusely from a cut above the eyebrow having clashed heads shorly before the half-time interval but returning to the fray bandaged but unbowed to help the Blues to their first clean sheet on the road in the League since the win at Old Trafford in early December.
Stones was not alone in deserving of high praise; plenty was earned throughout the team, starting with James McCarthy who was instrumental in keeping Newcastle out during a frenetic opening by the home side. Seamus Coleman put his body in the way of a Luuk de Jong's powerful drive towards goal and from the ensuing corner, McCarthy first chested De Jong's shot off the line and then made a stunning block at point-blank range to deny Yoan Gouffran.
The game quickly settled into a fairly open affair, with both sides eager to get forward. Newcastle were finding the front two a little too easily with mid-range range passes from midfield but De Jong and Papiss Cisse were well marshalled by the Everton back four.
Martinez's side, meanwhile, forced a succession of corners and free kicks, the first of which fell to Gareth Barry at the back post but his shot was charged down by Coloccini and Distin later planted a header straight into the goalkeeper's arms.
The Blues's best moment of the contest to that point came in the 18th minute, though. Leon Osman, full value throughout for the role of stand-in captain and his starting place in midfield, played a sublime first-time pass to put Romelu Lukaku in behind the defence with just the 'keeper to beat but the Belgian was denied by Krul's outstretched leg.
At the other end, Coleman, forced to play a more defensive role while Deulofeu was given the freedom to raid forward down the right flank, sped back to get a crucial block on Cisse's shot from the angle, sending the ball behind for a corner.
From that corner, came Everton's breakthrough on the counter, Deulofeu braving a high boot as he challenged for Stones' bouncing clearance to chest it into Barkley's path. The rest was single-minded poetry on the latter's path, more Gascoigne than Maradona, as he left a trail of black-and-white jerseys in his wake to score that wonderful solo goal.
Looking to not be outdone, Deulofeu left Coloccini for dust on the right touchline with a mesmerising piece of footwork but the Spaniard just overran the ball in the area and lost the chance to carve the Barcodes' defence open himself.
There was more ebb and flow as Lukaku put Osman in for a chance on goal but his shot was blocked and Cisse's attempt to drive towards Tim Howard's near post was ended as three Blue jerseys enveloped him and one of them put the ball behind for a corner. Whether it was set pieces from the home side or, as was the case shortly before half time, a Cheike Tiote piledriver from 30 yards, an Everton head usually got in the way of anything Alan Pardew's side threw into the box.
Temporarily reduced to ten men as Stones' went off to have 10 stitches inserted in his head wound, the Blues still looked fairly impregnable and even when the 19 year-old's groggy give-away went straight to a Newcastle striker in a dangerous area immediately after he returned, the home side weren't able to capitalise.
The Blues, for their part, continued to look threatening after half time and Deulofeu was terrorising Paul Dummet down the right flank. As usual, he often over-elaborated and went for the predictable step-over routine before heading to the byline but two moments six minutes after the restart exemplified how potent he can be.
First, he skipped past his marker and hammered a low cross into the six-yard box that Krul diverted away with his foot and then, having drifted off the centre halves down the right flank, he knocked Osman's gorgeously flighted ball into the space ahead of him and sprinted back onto the ball before squaring it to Lukaku in front of goal. As he had done for Kevin Mirallas against Swansea at the weekend, the striker had made the perfect run towards the near post and lunged to stab it past Krul to double Everton's lead.
Predictably, the following phase of the game was largely about Newcastle trying to put pressure on the Blues as they searched in vain for a way back into the match. Osman allowed himself to be robbed by Tiote who unloaded again from long range trying to belt a shot past Howard but the American diverted it behind with a double-fisted save.
Gouffran then went close when he fizzed an impressive volley a couple of feet over the crossbar from Vurnon Anita's cross and Cisse again found Coleman in his way when tried a volleyed effort of his own, the shot deflecting behind for a corner which Coloccini headed well over. Finally, Cisse produced an acrobatic save by Howard who flung himself full-length across his goal to paw the striker's header away to safety.
But the home side's best chance to get back into the match had already passed them by. Hatem Ben Arfa, a 57th-minute substitute, would prove to be the only player who looked capable of truly hurting Everton on the night and he proved it 13 minutes from time. Taking on Coleman and Barry on the right side of the Everton box, he shimmied his way past both players before crossing to Anita at the back post but the Dutchman somehow slid his shot the wrong side of the upright.
That left the Blues to put the icing on the cake in the final minutes. Steven Naismith, who had come on for the tiring Barkley in the 82nd minute, showed great awareness to prod a loose ball away from Coloccini to release Deulofeu for another surging run into the Newcastle area but this time he delayed, took time to put his foot on the ball before chipping back to Lukaku who had peeled off his marker to the edge of the area and he fed Osman with a neat reverse pass.
The 32 year-old skipper still had plenty to do from 16 yards but he drove a wonderful shot into the roof of the net via the crossbar before raising his arms in triumph. 3-0. Job terrifically done.
There was definitely permeating the supporters that this game and the trip to Fulham that follows would be make-or-break for those hopes of securing a surprise top-four berth or, at least, consolidating fifth place. The observation that the Blues haven't really put in a completely convincing display since December was becoming something of a laboured point but Martinez's men certainly came through when it mattered, lending weight to the manager's promise that his side would be ready to step up in the final 10 games of the campaig.
The challenge now, of course, is not to allow complacency to creep in; to go to Craven Cottage and capitalise on the plight of Felix Magath's team as they try and claw their way off the foot of the table. Play with the intensity, fluency and power with which they demolished Newcastle this evening and the Cottagers will stand no chance.
*Lee Mason was a late change to scheduled referee, Mike Jones
Now inside the final quarter of the season, Everton's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League – and, arguably, their worthiness of such a feat – will come under thorough examination with two potentially tricky but eminently win-able away fixtures, starting with a trip to Newcastle United this evening and then to Fulham on Sunday.
Largely disregarded by the media, the Blues' top-four hopes are not as fanciful as they appear given the eight point gap that exists between themselves as Arsenal, one that is likely to remain that large even if Roberto Martinez is able to engineer a win at St James' Park. (The Gunners are at home against Swansea City whose run without a win in all competitions stretched to eight games with their defeat at Goodison Park on Saturday.)
Everton's keys to putting pressure on Arsene Wenger's side are the game in hand against Crystal Palace, the fact that Arsenal have yet to visit Goodison Park – a Blues win in both matches would slash that points deficit to just two – and getting maximum points from these next two away games.
To do so would break a surprising sequence of results on the road between the turn of the year and the end of the season: as the club's official statistician, Gavin Buckland, points out, over the past four seasons Everton have won just one game away from home after the 1st of January, that coming at Swansea in a 2-0 win in March 2012.
That record demonstrates clearly an area where Martinez can improve on his predecessor's performance in the second half of the season. Three of the four sides his side have travelled to since New Year's Day this year are currently sitting above them but the remaining five on the fixture list are further down the table and for European qualification to be realistic, the Blues are going to need to win a decent percentage of those games.
Erratic Newcastle are the first obstacle. They have talent in their ranks but their fans are never sure which Barcodes team is going to show up. Since the beginning of last month, they've lost 3-0 to Sunderland and 4-0 to Tottenham at home and struggled to beat Palace and Aston Villa with last-minute goals.
They will be without the pitch-side influence of manager Alan Pardew – a blessing or a curse, depending on your opinion of the man – who is serving his five-match stadium ban and chief danger man, Loic Remy, is a major doubt with an ankle injury.
Everton, meanwhile, could welcome Phil Jagielka back to the team after a three-game absence with a hamstring strain. The Captain is believed to be ready after being given additional rest time by sitting out on Saturday and John Stones will likely be the one to make way. Steven Pienaar remains sidelined with a knee injury, however.
If there are to be any further changes, they are likely to be in midfield where Martinez has shown a willingness to rotate his more attack-minded players, although there is something to be said for continuity following key assists in the last two games from Aiden McGeady and Kevin Mirallas and the manager's reluctance to use Gerard Deulofeu in the starting XI.
It's fair to say that Everton haven't been at their convincing best for some weeks now but as the season moves into its crunch phase, they are going to need to pull out some determined and cohesive displays between now and the end of the season.
Their 4-1 win at Hull aside, Newcastle have struggled for goals recently and have shown they have a propensity to concede goals when really tested. If the Blues can pull together a dominant possession game combined with tightness at the back and incisiveness up front, then the three points will be theirs.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2013-14 Reports Index|
|Everton fans' reports|
|Yanga-Mbiwa (Marveaux 75')|
|Gouffran (Shola Ameobi (90'+1)|
|De Jong (Ben Arfa 58')|
|Subs not used|
|Barkley (82' Naismith)|
|Subs not used|
|Premier League Scores|
|Man United||0-3||Man City|
|West Ham||2-1||Hull City|
|14||West Ham United||31|
|16||West Bromwich Albion||28|