If there was some collective disappointment among Evertonians that the team hadn't given the best account of themselves against a very ordinary looking Lille last month, that feeling was vindicated tonight under the Goodison lights as the Blues dismantled the French side with a calm efficiency and retained their position on top of Group H.
The margin of victory may have matched that against Wolfsburg in September when Everton won 4-1 but this was an altogether more complete performance, albeit against lacklustre opposition whose only real threat to Tim Howard's clean sheet came from one impressive shot by Ryan Mendes in the first half and a succession of largely harmless corners.
Indeed, with Divock Origi given short shrift by a Blues back line marshalled by Phil Jagielka and bolstered by solid displays by Tony Hibbert and Sylvain Distin, Lille were mostly toothless and that left Roberto Martinez's side to express themselves at the other end. Romelu Lukaku, in particular, took up that invitation by putting on his best personal performance of the season thus far and though he was denied the goal he deserved by a controversial offside call in the second half, he was instrumental in the margin of victory.
Lukaku's return to the starting XI in place of Samuel Eto'o was one of four changes Martinez made to the team that started against Swansea last Saturday and the Belgian was almost off the mark with just a minute gone as Naismith played him with a first-time lay-off but Victor Enyeama pulled off a superb save to divert his shot wide of the far post and behind for a corner.
The roles were reversed a couple of minutes later as Naismith raced on to Lukaku's flick-on but the Scot couldn't lift the ball over Enyeama as the 'keeper raced off his line and McGeady was unable to steer the loose ball home as it bounced awkwardly in the box.
It was a hugely encouraging start from Everton and they ensured that they followed through by taking the lead in the 27th minute. James McCarthy, who was excellent throughout, found Aiden McGeady in space down the right and the latter's cross found Leon Osman at the far post who controlled it on his chest and rammed home a bending shot from 10 yards out with the outside of his foot. The veteran had come in for Ross Barkley, had cemented a good day for him personally by marking the occasion of his contract extension with the opening goal.
Lukaku, meanwhile, was demonstrating that the training-ground sessions with Duncan Ferguson could be bearing fruit with some impressive hold-up play and distribution – two areas that have been a weak point this season – but his tutor was no doubt shaking his head in dismay in the Everton dugout when the striker was presented a gilt-edged chance to double the lead from McGeady's cross but he guided a free header well wide of the target.
The Blues did double their lead three minutes before the break, though. A terrific tackle by McCarthy halted a Lille counter-attack and allowed Osman to spring the offside trap with a slide-rule pass for Naismith. Enyeama again made an excellent stop to deny him but Jagielka broke free of Marjo Basa from the resulting corner and stooped to bury a routine header.
Importantly, Everton didn't take their foot off the pedal in the early part of the second half and remained dangerous going foward on the back of tireless industry from the likes of McCarthy, Naismith and Lukaku. The Belgian was confident enough to wave off Leighton Baines when he won a free-kick 25 yards from goal but Enyeama was on hand to foil him again with a diving, two-handed save that pushed his well-struck effort behind.
Lukaku was involved in the killer goal, though – an 18-pass move that went through every player in the team which was the Toffees' best of the match. Holding the ball up impressively, he waited for Baines to break on the overlap down the left before releasing a perfectly-weighted pass that the fullback centred to Naismith in front of goal. The Scot eschewed the kind of first-time finish with which he had scored against Leicester on the opening day of the Premier League season, choosing instead to wrong-foot Basa with a neat first touch and then rifling into the roof of the net.
It was effectively "job done" at that point and the margin of victory combined with an injury to Gareth Barry – one that was probably self-inflicted when he left plenty of both feet in a heavy challenge with Corchia – allowed Martinez to bring on Christian Atsu for McGeady and Darron Gibson for Barry to close out the game.
After having one "goal" chalked off by a correct offside decision in the first half, Lukaku would have a second harshly taken away from him when he appeared to have timed his run to perfection to latch onto another defence-splitting pass as the Blues threatened a fourth but they had to be content with 3-0.
Lille may not have given Martinez's men much to think about from a defensive point of view but you can only beat the team in front of you and Everton accomplished that with some style, putting to the sword the team that finished last season in third place in Ligue 1 and who who are in this competition by virtue of losing their Champions League qualifier. The Blues have put seven goals past the two most difficult teams in the group and now just need a draw in Wolfsburg to book their passage to the knockout phase.
Everton's Premier League form may still be patchy but their European campaign continues to go according to plan and it will hopefully provide a platform from which Martinez can start engineering consistent form on the domestic front.
Sitting atop Group H, having collected a vital home win over Wolfsburg and ground out draws in Russia and France, Everton can virtually assure their passage to the next phase of the Europa League with the visit of Lille, the first French club to play the Blues at Goodison Park in a competitive fixture.
The reverse fixture two weeks ago was a fairly dull, goalless affair on which the Blues will need to improve but there were enough signs from that game to suggest that Lille would be there for the taking by an Everton side firing on all cylinders.
Therein like the issue for Roberto Martinez's men, of course; the handsome 3-1 win at Burnley 10 days' ago was sandwiched between two uninspiring 0-0 draws and it's unsettling that the Blues have won just four times all season so far.
If the dropped points at the start of the campaign could be ascribed to a disjointed pre-season, some complacency and a general lack of fitness, it's the lack of continuity from the frequent chopping and changing of the line-up from match to match due to injury and squad rotation that many cite as a big reason why the team has been unable to string a run of results together.
They are unbeaten in four now, though, and a win this week over Lille would certainly add some momentum heading into the visit to Sunderland in the Premier League on Sunday.
The cause has, of course, been aided by the return from injury over the past few weeks of some key players, like Ross Barkley, Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy. A double-blow in central defence, though, means that Martinez is down to his last two fit senior players in that position folllowing Antolin Alcaraz's shoulder joint dislocation on Saturday.
He joins John Stones on the sidelines but his absence offers another opportunity for Sylvain Distin to reclaim his spot alongside Phil Jagielka. The 36 year-old started in Lille and will almost certainly do so again this week, with the likes of Tyias Browning and Brendan Galloway waiting in the wings as potential cover. Gareth Barry could, of course, deputise at centre half as he did against Swansea after Alcaraz went off but it's unlikely.
In midfield, Steven Pienaar and Muhamed Besic could be the beneficiary of Martinez's rotation policy seeing as both has been on the bench recently, most likely replacing Aiden McGeady and one of Barry and McCarthy, while Romelu Lukaku is apparently fully fit again after playing 20 minutes on Saturday. He could be deployed up front alongside Samuel Eto'o but the Cameroonian is vying with Steven Naismith and Barkley in the forward areas, evidence of the selection dilemma that the manager faces with all four available.
Though their early results in Group H mean that Everton have been playing with little pressure in the Europa League, another home win that would put them five points clear of Lille and, potentially, six clear of Krasnodar if the Russians lose in Wolfsburg would really take some addiitonal weight off the shoulders over the last couple of months of 2014.
|2014-15 Reports Index|
|Corchia (Rodelin 75')|
|Frey (Roux 64')|
|Mendes (Beria 64')|
|Subs not used|
- Shots on target
- Shots off target
|Group H Scores|