Samuel Eto'o scored nine times for Chelsea last season but not one of those goals came away from home. Today, he came within an inch of scoring a hat-trick on the road in only his fifth start for Everton as Roberto Martinez's side shrugged off any notions of another European hangover with a hard-fought and well-deserved win over Burnley.
If the 33 year-old looked a little ordinary in a cagey performance overall from the Blues in Lille, he rose above the fray at Turf Moor to stamp his class on proceedings with some fine footwork and terrific goals at either end of the game. Romelu Lukaku, his younger protege, also made amends for a dreadful mistake that gifted the Clarets a 20th-minute equaliser by scoring his fourth of the season to restore the lead nine minutes later.
It was an advantage they refused to surrender this time, signalling perhaps a more determined and miserly attitude than the start of the season when points were dropped by late lapses. Indeed, the Toffees had established a sure grip on the contest going into the last quarter of an hour and looked on course for victory even before Eto'o made sure with lovely curling striker four minutes from the end.
That was thanks to another relentless performance in central midfield from James McCarthy and Gareth Barry and, later, to a greater attacking impetus from Everton once Steven Pienaar had replaced Leon Osman and Leighton Baines began to bomb forward with more abandon.
Burnley were seeking their first victory since their return to the top flight but they'd barely had time to settle before Eto'o put the visitors into the lead. His powerful header in off the underside of the bar capped a wonderful, crisp passing move, the like and adventure of which was entirely absent from their display in Lille on Thursday.
Eto'o started it in his own half with a pass to Steven Naismith, was on hand in the middle of it to collect Lukaku's lay-off and hand the ball off to Barry and, by the time Osman had joined the sequence wide the left, Baines had made a trademark run on the overlap from where his crossed was met beautifully on the run by the former Cameroon captain. It was Everton at their free-flowing best and it got them off to the perfect start.
Sean Dyche's side have struggled for goals this season – indeed, before today, Naismith had scored as many on his own as their entire team – and it showed in the early going as they failed to translate their energy all over the pitch into clear-cut chances. Ex-Blue Lucas Jutkiewicz hooked a poor shot wide, McCarthy and Naismith put themselves in the way to charge down shots from distance, and Eto'o headed a corner awkwardly over his own bar as the home side tried to respond.
They were handed an equaliser on a plate by Lukaku, though, with 19 minutes on the clock. The Belgian somehow knocked a back-pass presumably intended for Phil Jagielka straight to Jutkiewicz who spotted the defence-splitting run of Danny Ings to play his strike partner in against Tim Howard. He easily side-stepped the American and slotted into the empty goal. Everton's Law – a striker enduring a goal drought will inevitably score against us – continues to hold true.
Lukaku responded the only way he could, really – by wiping out Ings' goal with one of his own at the other end. Again, he was a vital part of the build-up, chesting down Naismith's flick-on, laying the ball off to Eto'o and then collecting a second pass by the Scot before rolling his marker and shooting right-footed. His first effort was blocked by Steven Ward but he had the presence of mind to dig out a second shot from the rebound that lifted the ball over the defender near the line and goalkeeper Tom Heaton to find the far corner. His passionate reaction was laden with a sense of redemption.
Everton were back in the driving seat but, with Burnley diligently pressing and harrying, they weren't ever really allowed to dictate the game they wanted to. Antolin Alcaraz, restored to the starting XI after sitting out the Europa League game in France, looked a little less assured than he did on home turf last weekend against Aston Villa and allowed himself to be muscled off the ball by Jutkiewicz but, thankfully, the striker blazed wide. And an uncharacteristic mix-up between Jagielka and Barry almost let Ings in but Alcaraz snuffed out the danger.
At the other end, meanwhile, Naismith looped a header from Osman's cross onto the crossbar with Seamus Coleman perhaps better placed behind him as the Toffees threatened to extend their lead before half time.
The feeling that Everton could again be the architects of their own downfall at any moment carried over into the second half, with Alcaraz badly mis-judging an aerial ball in front of his own goal and Ings unable to capitalise as it bounced off the Paraguayan's knee.
At the same time, though, the longer the match went on, the greater control Martinez's men appeared to exert and a great run by Coleman set McCarthy up for a rare shot on goal but his effort hit a defender and as cleared. Two more patient passing moves yielded low shots on target from Eto'o that didn't unduly concern Heaton before Lukaku was withdrawn after 63 minutes in favour of Ross Barkley.
Both substitutes, Barkley and Pienaar, would be involved in the quick exhange of passes that would lead to Everton's third goal. The former gathered a Baines throw-in from the left, picked up a return pass from Barry, flicked it on to Pienaar and when he, in turn, fed Eto'o 25 yards from goal, the striker took one touch, looked up and then bent an unstoppable shot around the 'keeper. A wonderful strike from a player who looks like he is ready to play a more substantial role in the Blues' season now that he has bedded in and built up his match sharpness.
The hat-trick he almost claimed in stoppage time after Ings had wasted a gilt-edged chance to put Burnley back into the contest, would not have flattered him. Alive to an underhit back-pass, he nipped in to intercept it, rounded Heaton but his shot rolled agonisingly off the base of the post from a tight angle and across the goal line before the grateful 'keeper gathered it.
There have been some post-game mutterings that this wasn't an inspired display by Everton but Burnley made life very difficult for them for much of the game and, ultimately, this was a victory under-pinned by solid defensive work and secured by superior quality in the final third.
It bodes well that a potential pitfall on a ground where the club hadn't tasted victory since the 1970s was avoided and three vital points were claimed away from home. They lift the Blues back into the top half of the table for the first time since the opening day and mean they remain four points off the top four with all of the other teams that finished in the top seven last season continuing to drop points.
Everton complete a testing sequence of six away games in seven this weekend as they make the mercifully short trip to Burnley in the Premier League. Though they didn't manage to record a victory on the road – apart, perhaps, from the moral one at Anfield at the tail end of last month – the Blues did secure two important points in the Europa League that has them well positioned going into the second half of fixtures in Group H.
The performance in Lille may not have even threatened to hit any noticeable heights but Roberto Martinez was happy with the draw and he will now look to build on last weekend's handsome win over Aston Villa that has his team sitting four points off the Champions League places despite their highly disappointing points return thus far.
With Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy wisely rested given their recent returns from muscle injuries, the manager will almost certainly look to restore the bulk of the starting XI the Villa game which would also entail recalls for Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku. Though they both put in accomplished shifts across the 90 minutes, Muhamed Besic would likely make way for McCarthy and Tony Hibbert would step aside for Coleman. Further forward, Naismith woudl likely come in for Aiden McGeady and Samuel Eto'o for Lukaku.
It's in central defence where Martinez may pause for further consideration given Sylvain Distin's solid display in France on Thursday. Antolin Alcaraz was equally impressive last Saturday but the Paraguayan may get the nod purely because he'll have fresher legs having had eight days off.
Arouna Kone and Bryan Oviedo are apparently close to full fitness and may be considered for the match against Swansea City next weekend but Martinez ruled both out of the trip to Turf Moor during his pre-match press conference yesterday.
Burnley will start the day in the bottom three, having amassed just four points and two goals at thus far on their return to the top flight. Of course, Evertonian Law says that the team waiting for a first win will inevitably get it against Everton with the striker suffering a goal drought – in this case, Danny Ings (although what price ex-Blue Lukas Jutkiewicz) – scoring the winner but maybe just pointing that hoodoo out will be enough to banish it in this instance!
The Clarets have been struggling in front of goal, though, and have been susceptiple to conceding goals, so if the Blues can get their act together going forward in the manner in which they did last weekend, then they stand a good chance of recording a second victory away from Goodison Park in 2014-15.
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|2014-15 Reports Index|
|Everton fans' reports|
|Kightly (Sordell 83')|
|Jutkiewicz (Barnes 65')|
|Subs not used|
- Shots on target
- Shots off target
|Premier League Scores|
|West Brom||2-2||C Palace|
|West Ham||2-1||Man City|
|4||West Ham United||16|
|13||West Bromwich Albion||10|