John Stones and Everton mighty impressive against hapless Chelsea
When Everton convincingly beat Manchester United 3-0 at Goodison Park in April, nobody expected the next four home matches to return zero wins, three losses and seven goals conceded. Saturday's deserved 3-1 win against Chelsea proved worth the wait.
Goodison has become temperamental in recent times, for all the wrong reasons, with the struggles of last season a marked contrast to the auspicious home form witnessed in Roberto Martinez's first campaign.
But the well-documented events of the transfer window spurred home fans on and helped set the tone. Whether it was questioning Jose Mourinho's job security, telling him where to go or reminding him that money cannot buy everything, the home support delighted in baiting the Chelsea boss, especially once the goals began to flow.
Volume cranked up in the stands and the television cameras were firmly focused; there was no hiding place for John Stones, the player at the centre of this heightened atmosphere. Stones relished the spotlight, even thrived in it, delivering a performance of startling maturity and composure.
Many questioned whether Stones could remain at the club and continue to perform after Everton denied him a move to Chelsea, but he has silenced any doubters. Stones galloped down the touchline in delight when the third goal hit the back of the net, celebrating as though scoring the hat trick himself. Hardly the actions of someone supposedly "devastated" at still being an Everton player.
One slaloming run beyond several Chelsea players capped a fine afternoon, but there is defensive class to match the brightness in possession. Stones won his battle with Diego Costa by a landslide margin, even managing a Johan Cruyff turn inside his own six-yard box to evade the onrushing Pedro.
By the final whistle, it had surely become clear, if it was not already, why Everton were so desperate to keep Stones and Chelsea intent on signing him.
Elsewhere, Gareth Barry typified the team's aggressive, forward-thinking approach in one second-half moment.
Winning a tackle, barging beyond another and releasing Romelu Lukaku with a through ball, this was Barry at his disruptive best, snuffing out opposing attacks in one instant and building them for Everton in the next. It was an unspectacular passage of play in the context of the match, but it underlined the role Barry played in this victory and many others gone before.
Indispensable during Martinez's first campaign, with a strong case for player of the season, Barry became a divisive figure when rushed back from injury last term.
Subsequent poor form created an easy target and the scapegoat for poor team performances. Aside from a 20-minute spell in the 0-0 draw at Tottenham, it has been normal service resumed this season. Even his sternest critics could not question his role in this impressive win, as he won the most tackles (five) and blocked the most shots (three).
The sterling work of the defensive players provided Ross Barkley with the space not always afforded in previous matches, something the young midfielder gleefully accepted. We are five matches into 2015-16 and Barkley has scored as many goals and created more assists than the whole of last season. Two assists and four chances created placed the young midfielder as the most creative player on the pitch on Saturday.
Barkley has overcome the beating his confidence received last season and returned from the summer break looking refreshed and determined. The freedom of playing in advance of those deep-lying positions suits the England international as he develops. Barkley began to dictate play in the second half, never more so than the third goal, and these promising signs point to a maturing midfielder willing to stamp his authority on matches.
This fine team performance ensured a welcome shift from the customary style so difficult for those on the terraces to throw their vocal weight behind. Countless sideways passes played at an excruciating tempo usually bores supporters into a trance-like state of indifference. Tedium turns to frustration and then despair at a team failing to create the chances necessary to win.
Then there are matches like this emphatic performance inspired by a Steven Naismith hat trick, the first in the league against Mourinho's Chelsea. Naismith moves to six goals in six games against the champions and cements his status as a player with a happy knack for scoring in big games.
The same passing style remained in this match, but the key differences were a proactive approach with and without the ball, aggression, pressing and players taking responsibility in possession. This greater attacking intent resulted in more shots on target than the previous two home games combined and three goals originating from passing moves starting in the Everton half.
When the team plays at a tempo fans can both support and appreciate, Goodison transforms, resembling the ground that visiting teams used to dread and not the one so recently accommodating. The lack of width still causes issues, particularly in the full-back areas, but the purpose and tempo prevalent throughout this match are the hallmarks of this team in full flow.
The opening goal featured 19 passes, and the second boasted sharp interplay to create space for Naismith, while the third, orchestrated by the ever-improving Barkley, cut through the Chelsea defence with ease.
It reinforces the quality this group possesses at its best. Finding and maintaining this consistency and building on the confidence gained are vital.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.