Everton march on with dwindling numbers

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Gareth BarryPA PhotosEverton's Gareth Barry scores the opening goal of the game.

Aside from the final 20 minutes, which coincided with an ill-advised switch to a back three, the 2-0 victory over Norwich was about as routine as it gets. It's now 42 points from a possible 51 at Fortress Goodison for Everton.

Once Gareth Barry ambled into the Norwich half and unleashed a thunderbolt beyond the despairing dive of John Ruddy, it seemed a case of how many. That it was only two owed much to a glaring Romelu Lukaku miss and moments of indecision from others.

As Barry capped another sterling midfield performance with the opening goal, the watching Roy Hodgson could do a lot worse than reinstate the international when selecting his next England squad. Barry simply coasted through this match, showcasing his underrated passing range on the way to dictating the pace of the game.

- Davitt: Norwich going through the motions

Always available for a pass, even when under pressure from the visiting midfield, the Manchester City loanee showed leadership and experience that can only help the younger players in close proximity, such as defender John Stones.

Stones started again and impressed for the most part, although the first signs of inexperience surfaced. Twice, once in each half, the youngster was found wanting positionally. Luckily, Norwich failed to capitalise, but the returning Phil Jagielka could be seen chastising his defensive partner.

If it was Barry who set the wheels of victory in motion, with a strong display and a fine opening goal, it was another experienced campaigner who maintained the impetus. Constantly leaving those in yellow looking sheepish thanks to a clever drop of the shoulder or a perfectly timed back heel, Steven Pienaar is well worth the admission fee on this form.

Rekindling his much vaunted partnership with Leighton Baines -- they had not quite hit their customary heights this season -- the duo threatened to run riot on occasion. One delightful first-half move resulted in Baines firing narrowly wide of the far post.

Having overcome prematch fitness worries of his own, it was a familiar lung-busting Baines surge that won the free kick for the decisive second. Kevin Mirallas duly obliged with a well-struck effort, which felt like karma after the Belgian struck the woodwork twice from distance against Stoke.

The goal crowned one of the more consistent recent Mirallas showings. Ghosting past Norwich defenders, creating openings for teammates and working well without the ball, he is a player whom supporters need to see on a regular basis.

Once Mirallas curled home the set piece, it ought to have been a stroll. Instead, Norwich enjoyed their best spell of the match. The switch to a three-man defence turned Everton from a collective force into lost individuals. The lack of protection on the flanks -- a direct result of the formation change -- led to a previously dominant midfield being overworked.

Still, the Blues managed to weather the brief storm, although not before Robert Snodgrass bounced a header off the post, and secure another vital three points in the quest for Europe.

Furthermore, they did so without the driving presence of Ross Barkley. The midfield prospect faces a spell on the sideline with a suspected broken toe. Already stretched by injuries, Everton will pray for a quick recovery, especially with Pienaar limping off before the end.

A quick glance at the substitutes bench highlights the growing need for reinforcements. Sat among the defenders, the attacking options are scarce and limited. Apostolos Vellios is rarely seen in a matchday squad, yet that is nothing compared to an actual sighting of Magaye Gueye. The prematch unveiling of new signing Aiden McGeady was most welcome.

Let's hope one or two of the walking wounded benefit from the extra two days of rest until West Brom while the extra time allows Roberto Martinez to work on further additions because, as impressive as the current form is, the squad is perilously close to the breaking point.


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