After a match, fans will typically formulate a final standpoint on the game in phases. The first is immediate, formulated as the match is ongoing; the second is afterwards, catching fleeting words of conversation from passers-by on the packed streets which border Goodison Park or sharing opinions with friends in the pub; then third, reflecting on highlights, social media and other external outlets.
For some, it’s different, as we all think about football in wonderful and unique ways. But it’s tough to recount a reaction quite as varied as we were witness to in the wake of Everton’s 1-1 draw against Crystal Palace on Monday evening, both initially and the days following.
Some have been cynical. Plenty have had scathing opinions of Roberto Martinez’s in-game management, others ruthlessly castigated the defending and many lamented the naivety of a team which has dropped two more points, thus failing to capitalise on a wide open Premier League.
But some, this writer included, were invigorated by the display, regardless of the result, what had gone before it and the potential connotations in the weeks to come. It’s a feeling which still persists, days beyond those aforementioned stints of contemplation.
This was Everton at full tilt. Against a team who have made sound progress under Alan Pardew and forged a warranted reputation as away day specialists, this effervescent Toffees team took complete control of the contest and pinned back their game opponents.
A returning Tom Cleverley helped recycle possession efficiently, Arouna Kone again facilitated space for others, while Gareth Barry continue his run of fine former. And a quartet dubbed as the “Fab Four” by some outlets in the build-up—John Stones, Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu and Romelu Lukaku—all excelled yet again
Puncturing the steady control Everton had on the match was sharp interplay, intelligent movement and aesthetic exchanges, all surefire signs of a side who are confident in their craft. The attacking forays were imaginative and bristling with intensity as the Toffees knocked at the door, and the woodwork, time after time after time.
It was enjoyable. And as simple as that may sound, it’s not something Evertonians have been able to say over the past 12 months when trudging out of Goodison. In 2014-15, in particular, nervous quips quickly became invective strewn the way of the team; this young squad were inhibited as a result and it was no surprise a stagnant style of football followed.
So it was encouraging to hear supporters roar the side on again on Monday, even after Scott Dann seemed set to make it a familiar tale of woe against the South Londoners.
Things are different at the moment. Everton’s style has gone from bereft of impetus to breathless. The players move the ball quickly, scurry forward with freedom and commit to their attacking bursts.
It’s not perfect, as was evident against Palace, as some fearlessness did turn into recklessness in the latter stages, with both sides happy to indulge in a blow-for-blow contest. There’s clear progress to be made, though, which makes it a little easier to look beyond frustrating results and at the bigger picture.
Of course, we all want to see this team killing off opponents, competing for the top four and winning trophies. But this is a vibrant young side playing brilliant football and giving absolutely everything. We should be enjoying it.
Because with some understanding, patience and resolve from the top in the face of potential suitors, those qualities needed to make an extra step will inevitably be forged. This group will learn as a collective not to lose focus after a last minute equaliser like they did at Bournemouth, they will know not to get too swept up in cavalier football, as was the case against Palace.
In a league which is wide open, these missed opportunities could be costly if Everton are to challenge for the top four and that is a little frustrating. But after the depths of last season and a summer of modest transfer activity, few would have expected the Toffees to have these kinds of ambitions quite so soon.
Yet, with a win against Norwich City on Saturday, Martinez’s men would move up into sixth place; few would have turned their nose up at that at the beginning of the campaign, never mind a League Cup semi-final as an accompaniment. To say otherwise may be a reflection of the burgeoning quality in the squad, but is also a little revisionist.
What’s most comforting for those wanting to see this team enjoy immediate success is that the group is only going to get better and that process is likely to happen quickly.
Leighton Baines is on the brink of a full return, Phil Jagielka getting fit again will be a big boost and suddenly there is a lot more experience to complement this youthful exuberance. Naturally, Galloway, Stones, Barkley, Deulofeu and Lukaku are only going to keep adding to their skill set as the campaign rumbles on.
The players and the manager have revitalised a substantial portion of a fanbase who were slumped in a malaise during the past few weeks. Watching their inevitable progress in the months to come should make for thrilling viewing. I, for one, can’t wait.
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