Everton secured a superbly crafted 3-0 win over Crystal Palace yesterday as they achieved what might well be a breakthrough performance and result.
Saturday’s win came on the back of three consecutive defeats for Everton in which the team had played progressively worse and had raised questions about the strength of the side’s improvement from last season.
Despite previous matches where the Blues’ had looked defensively solid and kept their shape while generally competing well with their opponents, that improvement seemed to stall in losses to Manchester United, Tottenham and especially, Newcastle United away.
The biggest problem of course, was the team’s attack. After opening the scoring against Manchester United, Everton had since conceded five goals without reply and most importantly failed to register a single shot on target against Spurs or Newcastle.
Those attacking issues, which had been apparent since the start of the campaign due to the lack of forward options in the squad, were being starkly exposed.
Going into yesterday’s game then, Frank Lampard had a big task to transform this mis-firing attack against Palace in what was widely seen as essentially a must-win match.
The win and the manner of it, was then potentially a hugely significant one in every way with the Toffees’ looking a team transformed from those limp performances.
One plus for the manager was having a fully fit Dominic Calvert-Lewin to pick at last. The England man had been missing since before the opening game of the season but now he had returned and gained some important minutes against Spurs and Newcastle.
But, was he ready to play a full ninety minutes in the Premier League and make a real impact at last for his team?
The answer emphatically was yes as after ten minutes Calvert-Lewin collected the ball, turned away from a defender sublimely and then slotted home a powerful right-foot finish to give the Blues’ the lead.
He continued to lead the line effectively throughout the game offering a much-needed point of reference to the Toffees’ attack.
I’ve never been totally convinced that Calvert-Lewin could become a genuine top class striker or that he really fits playing in a modern, fluid front three. His injuries have also become a major problem leading him to miss so many games over the last two seasons.
However, credit where it’s due, he did perform well alongside Demarai Gray and Anthony Gordon and certainly added additional pace and power to the Everton attack, which was previously missing.
If he can continue to stay healthy and produce strong, all-round centre-forward performances like yesterday, then perhaps he can become that talisman striker this side needs.
One other notable thing from the Palace win was the energy, hunger and desire of the Blues’ players to hunt in packs, press and close down their opponents and never let them settle, and to be on the front foot.
The Toffees’ had played this way sporadically last season when Lampard took over, and earlier in this campaign too.
But, during that run of defeats they had progressively become more passive allowing opponents to dictate the game and going back into their shell at times. Too much sideways passing and a lack of urgency had been on display.
On Saturday, even when they were passing the ball around there always seemed a positive purpose and direction to it.
This was epitomised by the second goal when the Blues’ passed the ball from the back right through to the Palace goal before Gordon (who was the most energetic of the players) finally scored the goal that effectively sealed the points.
Although it’s hard to maintain this level of intensity all the time, I think it’s important for Everton to try and sustain that focus and determination not to allow opponents to dominate them.
Finally, one other major significance was the impact of players who have previously struggled to really make a mark so far.
Vitalii Mykolenko has been unable this season to replicate his performances of the last campaign after he had joined the Blues’ in January.
In particular he hasn’t been able to provide enough attacking support and creativity and this has been especially important with the absence of his partner at full-back, Nathan Patterson.
Everton have missed Patterson’s overlaping play and attacking outlet and needed Mykolenko to step up and provide it while the Scot was out.
Against Palace he did exactly that playing with real energy and dermination to get forward and support his attacking team-mates, most clearly seen in his critical role in the second goal.
Patterson is well on the way to making a full recovery from his injury and his return will be a big plus in helping the Toffees’ continue this attacking improvement.
Despite that though, I think it’s important Mykolenko continues to perform as well as he did yesterday.
The other player whose impact might well become more significant is one of the club’s summer signings, Dwight McNeil.
As I’ve mentioned before he has had a difficult first few months at Goodison Park. There was a question about how much concrete end product he would deliver enough goals given that he had struggled to do so with Burnley.
McNeil did score the winner recently at Southampton and then came on against Palace to score the third goal, showing great skill in a one-two with Alex Iwobi before he fired home.
Hopefully he is beginning to settle into the side. More of the same will be needed from him as Everton will require goals from as many sources as possible, given that it would be risky to rely on Calvert-Lewin with his injury history and with Maupay not prolific.
I still think additional attacking players are needed though and the Blues’ should try and add at least one more forward in January.
But, there was a lot to feel positive and optimistic about from Saturday’s win, particularly in attack, in what was Everton’s best all-round performance of the season so far.
Now, can they maintain this form and provide as much attacking threat as they showed yesterday, starting with Fulham away next weekend.