Ramiro Funes Mori stars as Ross Barkley struggles in Aston Villa win
On the back of a positive few days off the pitch, there was a pleasing result on it as Everton won 3-1 at Aston Villa on Tuesday, even though the overall performance left room for improvement.
In a campaign awash with eye-catching football and disappointing results, this was three points wrapped up in a poor performance. There was no repeat of the winning positions squandered at Bournemouth, Norwich and Chelsea, but the unnecessary panic and lack of composure following Villa's late consolation helps explain why this win merely inched Everton into the top half. This team is still very much a work in progress.
The ease with which defender Ramiro Funes Mori opened the scoring represented a welcome role reversal. A player receiving the freedom of the penalty area at a set piece is usually a trick reserved for the opposition in Everton matches. This early goal and subsequent spell of dominance suggested a landslide victory, but whether it was a conscious effort to ease off or merely complacency, this victory failed to become as emphatic as the early stages suggested it might despite goals from Aaron Lennon and Romelu Lukaku.
Too often passing aimlessly in their own final third -- the top three passers on the night were Gareth Barry, Phil Jagielka and Funes Mori -- sloppy play in the attacking third stopped various attacks before they could start.
Nonetheless, a win is a win and Everton are quietly becoming a tough nut to crack on the road, unbeaten in eight Premier League away games, winning three. The next three matches welcome West Ham, Chelsea and Arsenal to Goodison Park and the test now is improving upon home form amid a two-year stretch of disappointment.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Joel Robles, 7 -- Occasional signs of a goalkeeper and defence still adjusting to each other but Robles continues to impress otherwise. Two very good saves at important moments in the match.
DF Seamus Coleman, 6 -- His form has generally dipped in the last two seasons and the Everton right-back would surely benefit from some overdue competition in his position.
DF Phil Jagielka, 6 -- Prone to misjudging crosses and becoming rooted to the spot underneath a high ball, the Everton captain delivered one such indiscretion for the Villa goal and it spoiled a solid defensive performance.
DF Ramiro Funes Mori, 8 -- Proved his worth as an attacking threat at set pieces with a goal and assist. Survived one first half lapse of concentration to record another commanding display in central defence.
DF Bryan Oviedo, 6 -- His position in the team always seems under threat from a persistent and frustrating knack for acquiring injuries. Injury curtailed a steady display in the final 10 minutes.
MF James McCarthy, 6 -- Always a willing runner but sometimes appears to be only that. The Republic of Ireland midfielder has the experience and ability to do more but seems to lack the required self-belief.
MF Gareth Barry, 7 -- This was his latest exhibition in shielding a back four while linking defence and attack. Barry topped the passing statistics, led the way on tackles and interceptions, regularly eased opponents off the ball and proved alert to any sporadic Villa threat.
MF Aaron Lennon, 7 -- Another whose influence is measured by more than just his contribution in possession. Everton have lost just two of the 12 matches Lennon has started this season, winning seven. His tidy finish continued recent excellent form and led to a fourth goal in his last six league games.
MF Ross Barkley, 5 -- His role in the build-up to Lennon's goal was a rare bright spot on a night when Barkley dipped well below his best. Poor decision-making ensured a rare blip amid a very good season.
MF Kevin Mirallas, 6 -- Flitted in and out of the match, as he so often does, but two assists marked a satisfactory return to the side.
FW Romelu Lukaku, 6 -- Poor for long periods, but scored one and could have had two more. Scoring when not at his best for the second successive game, this was his 17th league goal this term and makes him the most prolific Everton player in a single Premier League season.
DF John Stones, NR -- His introduction resulted in a change of system and there was no obvious benefit. If anything, it added needless pressure and Everton were worse for it.
DF Leighton Baines, NR -- A late cameo after a few matches on the sidelines. He should be starting games.
FW Oumar Niasse, NR -- On for his league debut, put himself about but saw little of the ball.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.