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Goodison optimism abounds as run-in remains full of opportunity

April 9, 2017 5:20 PM
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Goodison optimism abounds as run-in remains full of opportunity

Greg O'Keeffe sees plenty of reasons to be cheerful as Ronald Koeman's side beat Leicester City 4-2

Seventh might not be heaven - but once again this week we got a compelling summary of why it's exactly where Everton currently belong.

So commanding and ruthless against the sides below them in the Premier League, they're still not quite strong enough yet to consistently challenge the division's top five.

Close but not close enough at Old Trafford, on Grand National weekend the Blues had one of their thoroughbreds back in Morgan Schneiderlin, and he helped ensure that Goodison supremacy reigns.

Without him at Manchester United they lacked the big-game nous to see out an otherwise resilient display with three points.

The derby, thankfully, can begin to be consigned to the dustbin of Blue memories for another season as victory over Leicester City eased Ronald Koeman's men level on points with Arsenal in sixth place.

The Gunners will take some catching, they've got three games in hand and a stronger squad, but as platforms for a successful second season go, the run-in to Koeman's first on Merseyside remains full of opportunity.

Continue this imperious home form, and add a dash of hope for further progress by perhaps beating either Chelsea or Arsenal, and the optimism which continues to produce sell-outs at the Old Lady will remain in good supply.

Add European football to the mix and you've got plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

Of course, on the afternoon Steve Walsh's old paymasters came to town, the significant caveat is that the Toffees have to get their recruitment right this summer. It would help if some key targets, such as Burnley's Micheal Keane, were in the door early.

The early emphasis on Matthew Pennington's inexperience and bad decisions this afternoon underlined the folly of not signing a central defender either last summer or in January.

Elsewhere Joel Robles produced further evidence that his true metier at Goodison must be as an able deputy to a top-class goalkeeper. His positioning for Marc Albrighton's free-kick was unforgivable, and against stronger sides it could have been more damaging.

On the positive side they had the strength of character to weather a frenetic opening period which saw four goals in 23 minutes, then take control of the contest against the in-form Foxes.

In the final third the quality was largely Everton's. Ross Barkley's movement in between the lines and understanding with Romelu Lukaku continues to flourish; the outstanding contract situations of both will also be key to hopes of higher than seventh next season.

Also promising were the tantalising shoots of consistency which the new-look narky Kevin Mirallas is hinting at.

It meant that Leicester, perhaps with half an eye on their Champions League quarter final in Madrid on Wednesday, were never comfortable. Everton kept asking questions of them, and with the energy of Tom Davies supplemented by Schneiderlin's economic orchestration, they created plenty of chances.

When you serve up assists like Barkley's cross for Lukaku's opening, a striker in such rich form isn't going to miss.

It means Everton can keep looking up, safe in the knowledge that their improvement has made seventh-place at least a formality. West Brom are 10 points behind them now.

A word too for the role which the captain, Phil Jagielka, played in it. His resurgence adds another chapter on man-management to Koeman's first season.

He's taken the knocks, the ego bruising of being dropped, and responded with gusto. It might have been blunt but the manager has been honest with him throughout.

His lack of pace means he is no longer a guaranteed starter going forward, but his experience is worth keeping around next term even if Keane & Co arrive.

Lambasted in some quarters after the derby, he has shown growing equanimity to deal with the criticism and get back on track.

He should have capped this powerful display with a goal, but can otherwise be satisfied with a superlative afternoon that saw him reach more top flight assists from open play than anyone else this year.

When he allows his innate footballing focus to guide him; letting nothing else impinge on his concentration, his array of fine qualities really shine through. Like the team itself, he must now find a way to do it consistently away at the big clubs.

For now though, here at Goodison where Everton have been so rampant in 2017, it's increasingly encouraging.

Encouraging because the Blues are keeping their remaining fixtures meaningful.

Koeman is ensuring nobody allows that mentality to creep in; presumably emphasising how a strong finish creates further momentum for next season; attracting the attention of potential quality new recruits along the way.

Of course, where you finish in the table is ultimately the most important thing.

EVERTON (4-3-3): Robles; Holgate, Pennington, Jagielka, Baines; Gueye, Schneiderlin (Barry 73), Davies; Barkley, Lukaku, Mirallas. Subs: Stekelenburg, Valencia, Calvert-Lewin, Lookman, Kenny, Williams. BOOKINGS: Baines, Mirallas. GOALS: Davies 1, Lukaku 23, 57, Jagielka 41.

LEICESTER CITY (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Amartey, Benalouane, Huth, Chilwell; Albrighton (Ulloa 78), King, Drinkwater, Gray (Mahrez 61); Slimani, Vardy (Musa 61). Subs: Zieler, Kapustka, Simpson, Wasilewski. BOOKINGS: Huth, King. GOALS: Slimani 4, Albrighton 10.

Source: liverpoolecho.co.uk

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