Organisation and defensive solidity, underpinned by unflinching courage in the face of artistic attrition by the might of Manchester City, were at the heart of a famous victory at Goodison, sealed by a memorable attacking display by Kevin Mirallas – who made the first goal and scored the second – and further goals by Tom Davies - that launched him on a tidal wave of emotion into the crowd at the Howard Kendall Gwladys Street End – and debutant Ademola Lookman.
It was an outstanding display by Ronald Koeman’s team against one of the best sides in the Premier League – the best side the Everton manager said he had ever faced as a manager when the teams clashed in October last year at The Etihad.
There were an array of sub-plots in a game that featured the meeting of two managers whose careers and lives have been intimately entwined since their days as heroic figures in Barcelona’s first European Cup-winning team. New signings Morgan Schneiderlin and Lookman took their places on the bench and the Everton manager made one change to the side that had lost to Leicester City last weekend in the FA Cup. Mirallas came into the starting line-up and Enner Valencia dropped to the bench.
That assertiveness and aggression that the manager always demands was apparent in Everton’s game from early on. Lukaku’s pass into the penalty area for Seamus Coleman carried a serious threat. The Irishman’s ball rolled across the box for Mirallas for the simplest of tap-ins but the assistant referee had already flagged for offside, with Coleman and Mirallas having just failed to check their runs.
The tempo of the game was good, with City also hitting their stride. Sergio Aguero picked out Kevin De Bruyne on the left and his low cross into the box for Raheem Sterling provoked anxiety in the box for Everton. Leighton Baines kept a cool head and combined with Joel Robles to thwart the City forward, but the Spanish goalkeeper may have taken the legs of Sterling in his initial effort to clear the danger. Referee Mark Clattenburg dismissed the call for a penalty and Goodison breathed easy again.
Lukaku picked out a cross for Ross Barkley at the back post but City captain Pablo Zabaleta cleared before a brilliant pass by De Bruyne into the box left Sterling in the clear for a volley which he fired straight at Robles. Patience was going to be key for Everton with City enjoying a great deal of possession in dangerous areas. De Bruyne and David Silva were able to exploit one such moment and it required bravery from Robles to come out and meet his compatriot to deny the point-blank opportunity.
But for all City’s threat and possession, it was Everton who took the lead with a superb goal.
Davies, showing poise and daring in equal measure, weighted a brilliant pass in behind to Mirallas and a great cross for Lukaku, who had held back and drifted off his marker at the opportune moment, finished first time with his left foot past Claudio Bravo into the Sir Philip Carter Park End net==. It was a goal worthy of City’s glittering array of stars and Davies’s role in it was immense, the 18-year-old once again displaying all of the hallmarks of the player David Unsworth and Joe Royle handed a debut to in the final game of last season against Norwich at Goodison.
City almost hit back quickly when Sterling’s pass to De Bruyne advanced the Belgian playmaker to the byline and his ball across the face of goal narrowly eluded Aguero for what would have been the simplest of tap-ins. Thriving in a free role, Sterling fired wide from 30 yards, striking the stanchion behind the post, but Everton were not done. Davies did brilliantly to steal the ball, Barry played it forward to Lukaku and Nicolas Otamendi had to make a vital intervention at the expense of a corner. City were not done either, however, and a header by Bacary Sagna had to be cleared off the line by Davies at the back post.
It had been an eventful 45 minutes and the second half began with a further positive twist to the plot. The ball was broken up in midfield by Barry. Lukaku played the ball to the edge of the area for Mirallas but Stones stole in ahead of him, only to give the ball away to Barkley, however, and his pass slipped in to Mirallas left the opening for the Belgian, who duly obliged with a top-class finish into the bottom right corner of Bravo’s goal. Two up for the home side with a minute gone in the second half – sterling stuff by the team without Sterling in the side.
Ramiro Funes Mori especially and his central defensive partner, Ashley Williams, epitomised Everton’s resistance, with Barry a vital figure also against his former team. Barkley, too, was an essential contributor and Lukaku was even producing clearing headers from free kicks by Silva in a truly team performance by Koeman’s side.
Schneiderlin came on in the 64th minute for Mirallas, who had picked up a knock on his Achilles when Zabaleta tackled him from behind and left his mark. Everton’s performance grew the longer the game went on against one of the Premier League’s most accomplished teams. City were enjoying 70 per cent possession entering the final quarter, but Robles could hardly have been described as being under siege. Everton were maintained their shape and contained City commendably and remained constantly dangerous and penetrative on the break.
De Bruyne fired in a low ball which just evaded the inrushing Kelechi Iheanacho and Robles collected. Gareth Barry made way for James McCarthy and the crowd demonstrated its appreciation of the captain’s display with a standing ovation.
But that wasn’t it by any stretch. One of the great goals at Goodison was about to be scored by one of its youngest emerging heroes. Davies, whose flowing blond locks and assured presence graced the cover of the matchday programme, made an amazing run through midfield, holding off challenges from several players and releasing the ball to Lukaku whose touch to Barkley was threaded back through return for Davies, who dinked the ball over Bravo to apply the coup de grace. It was bedlam inside Goodison as Davies finished up in the crowd at the Howard Kendall Gwladys Street End.
Still Everton were not done – Lookman had barely been on the field a matter of seconds before he announced himself to the elated Evertonians inside the Grand Old Lady with a cool finish past Bravo from a tight angle.
Four goals, three points, one unforgettable afternoon at Goodison Park.