Darron Gibson can be influential for Everton after stop-start season
The latest instalment of this most puzzling of seasons led to a 3-1 win and 7-2 aggregate against Young Boys for an Everton side advancing to the last 16 of the Europa League as the sole British representative left in the competition.
Once the home side recovered from the early scare of a goal conceded and another shot rebounding to safety off the crossbar, the match followed a similar pattern to the first leg. The Swiss team carried the fight in the opening stages before their hosts got to grips with the task and exerted their authority.
The visitors' need for goals undoubtedly helped the Everton cause, with those in royal blue at their best when faced by teams willing to attack and leave spaces that can exploited. This always promised to be anything but the sort of rigid rearguard frequently troubling Roberto Martinez's team on home turf this season.
At the forefront of this march into the next round sat the returning Darron Gibson, with the midfielder's stop-start season underlined by the completion of a first 90 minutes since the group-stage draw at Krasnodar in October.
Employed initially in the advanced central position, Gibson revelled in the extra freedom, regularly spreading the play or sending a galloping Seamus Coleman into space on the right. Second-half substitutions returned the player to a more familiar role in front of the back four.
Just like in the early stages of his Goodison Park career, when the midfielder became a key figure and a lucky charm rarely on the losing side, Gibson can be a hugely influential player, and this match served as a welcome reminder of those qualities.
Gibson built on a promising substitute appearance against Leicester to stake a strong claim for retaining his place in upcoming matches. There has been a trend for pedestrian passing this season, as the ball moves slowly across the pitch in areas offering little threat to the opposition. That is why a fit and in-form Gibson is such a useful player for Martinez to have at his disposal, a player able to pick out forward runs and breach opposing defences with an elegant swish of his right foot.
The Republic of Ireland midfielder distinguishes himself from his competitors by way of the passing range displayed throughout this match, none more so than the marvellous turn and through ball assisting Kevin Mirallas for the third goal, a touch of class fit for any match. The pace and unerring accuracy of the pass confirmed Gibson's capacity for quickening the tempo at a moment's notice. It was a chance from nothing; Gibson picked up possession not far outside his own penalty area.
Mirallas was another to enjoy a productive evening, scoring the third to snuff out any flicker of hope the visitors may have entertained. His calm finish reinforced his prowess in one-on-one situations. This Mirallas, determined, focused and industrious, is the one supporters need to see for a run of matches, not the occasional one here or there.
Though the Belgian scored his goal in the first half, the second period saw his performance at its strongest as a move to the left flank to support Luke Garbutt reaped rewards, both individually and collectively.
At last, Everton had another outlet beyond the willing Coleman and, more importantly, width on a flank repeatedly lacking it. The Garbutt and Mirallas pairing highlighted the importance of a balanced side.
Garbutt now had the support lacking in the first half and a player in front of him to link play and occupy defenders, enabling him to overlap into the space behind the Swiss defence. The young defender excelled for the most part, as a game-high five chances created reaffirmed the obvious attacking quality he brings to the role, not to mention excellent crossing and dead-ball delivery. This latest disciplined and effective performance hastens the need for pen to paper on a new contract for the promising left-back.
The key now, as it has been all season long, is transporting these European positives to the stuttering league form and the not-so-small matter of a trip to Arsenal, a team Everton have not beaten on the road since January 1996.