Everton sustained their Champions League challenge on Sunday -- placing their midweek blip in the rear-view mirror -- by winning 2-0 against Manchester United and the returning David Moyes. The win caps a first league double over United for 44 years.
Much of the credit for such an outcome goes to Roberto Martinez, who toppled more club records with this victory. This 13th home win of the season was also win No. 20 of the campaign -- both are club firsts in the Premier League.
If the focus pre-match was on Moyes, then he was little more than an afterthought by the end of this one-sided encounter. Home supporters loudly backed the current boss and his players, with only sporadic pantomime booing and the occasional mocking chant breaking the theme.
With Moyes watching on glumly, it was perhaps fitting that the Grim Reaper attended this torrid homecoming -- a man complete with a scythe sat near the dugout dressed as such in a marketing ploy by Paddy Power bookmakers. Moyes stood miserable on the touchline, unable to muster a performance from his team as his former employers outclassed his current ones. Given the summer pursuit of Leighton Baines, a tactic that angered many Everton supporters, there was a sense of poetic justice when Baines set this victory in motion, maintaining his 100 percent penalty record with a first-half spot kick.
Allowing United to monopolise the ball content in the belief that the visitors lacked the firepower to capitalise on their share of play, Everton opted to punish their opponents on the break, primarily through the jet-heeled pair of Seamus Coleman and Kevin Mirallas. Moyes commented afterwards that his side were in control but the illusion of being in command and actually controlling the game are two entirely different things. United had more of the ball but Everton had more of everything else: quality, determination, organisation and will to win.
United had no answer for the pace and trickery of Coleman and Mirallas, the ceaseless work rate of James McCarthy or the power and physicality of Romelu Lukaku. Everton outmatched the league champions all over the pitch, with only Juan Mata offering anything close to resistance.
Underlining the quality at Martinez's disposal was the aforementioned Mirallas, one of the players Moyes brought to Goodison. In this focused, determined mood, the Belgian international is a joy to watch. The key for both player and manager is ensuring that this Mirallas appears more often than the inconsistent alternative. From the unerring finish that gave his side a two-goal cushion to the exquisite second-half pass creating a chance for Lukaku, Mirallas was a constant menace to United, with and without the ball -- so were a number of his teammates.
Coleman was excellent, providing the assist for the second, marauding down the right flank, terrorising the hapless duo of Alex Buttner and Shinji Kagawa. Kagawa, in particular, did nowhere near enough defensively against the rampant duo of Coleman and Mirallas.
John Stones, keeping Wayne Rooney quiet with alarming ease, enhanced his worthy claim for a spot on the plane to Brazil, while Steven Naismith is thriving in his preferred position of late. In truth, though, while each of the XI played their part, the standout performer sat in central midfield.
In case there was any doubt, McCarthy underlined his importance to this Everton side, displaying the considerable talents sorely missed during the defeat to Crystal Palace. Tearing around the midfield like a man possessed, this was McCarthy at his lung-busting best. Closed down, tackled, harassed, outmuscled and outfought, those in red did not receive a moment’s peace from McCarthy over the course of the match. Even at the princely sum of 13 million pounds, this kind of performance cements his place as one of the bargains of the season.
Another astute acquisition, Gareth Barry, playing in front of the Goodison crowd for the final time this season, showed why his overall influence and partnership with McCarthy are such crucial components in this team.
Demonstrating spatial awareness, subtly changing the pace of the game whenever necessary, Barry displayed his vast passing range for the umpteenth time this season. Tying this free agent to a contract in the summer is an absolute must for Martinez. The contrast between these two and the man they replaced could not be greater, with Marouane Fellaini, who has struggled since his move to Old Trafford, an unused substitute on his first return to his former club.
As those with past ties to Everton left red-faced, those currently on board could celebrate this deserved three points and marvel at the impact of Martinez. Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, this is a team on the up.