Romelu Lukaku scored the fastest goal at Goodison in the Premier League – eclipsing by a couple of seconds David Unsworth’s famed 32-seconds strike in the first game under David Moyes in March 2002 – before the Belgian added three more in a dramatically fluctuating game. Three goals up and out of sight, Everton contrived to allow a resilient Bournemouth back into the game at 3-2 before some valiant defending and last-ditch resistance from Joel Robles preceded three more Everton goals and another by Bournemouth as the Blues closed the gap on the top six with six of their own.
Lukaku, with 16 goals this season, is now the Premier League’s top goalscorer and currently he is poised on the shoulder of Duncan Ferguson’s Premier League club record of 60 goals. The Belgium international’s 59 goals in three-and-a-half seasons at Goodison underline his importance to the form team in the division. Everton’s past nine games in the Premier League have featured six wins, two draws and a solitary defeat in the dying moments of the Merseyside derby.
The gathering momentum yielded here to dramatic fluctuation in a helter-skelter second half which featured six goals in total, three for either side as Everton, utterly dominant in the opening 45 minutes, lost their stranglehold on the game by conceding two goals to Josh King in the space of 11 fraught and frantic minutes. Ultimately, Ross Barkley applied the coup de grace in time added on at the end of the game - his goal, James McCarthy’s and Lukaku’s four (the first Everton player to score four since Louis Saha in February 2011) ultimately eclipsing Bournemouth’s three goals, two from King and another in the 90th minute by Harry Arter. It was some game.
With Idrissa Gana Gueye back from international duty with Senegal at the African Cup of Nations and McCarthy back to full fitness, Ronald Koeman had choices and decisions to make ahead of the game. Gana had a place on the bench while Irish international McCarthy came into the starting line-up alongside Ademola Lookman, making his first Premier League start since his January transfer from Charlton, and Gareth Barry. Kevin Mirallas, Tom Davies and Mason Holgate were the players who made way.
“Sometimes you need to protect young players,” the Everton manager explained. “We know we have big competition in the midfield so I can make changes. Lookman deserved to start today. He has brought some energy to the team after coming on and I wanted to see the boy from the start.”
And what a start. A quick free-kick inside the Everton half and a mislaid pass by Seamus Coleman preceded Tyrone Ming’s loose clearance which was intercepted by McCarthy, with Morgan Schneiderlin playing in Lukaku whose exchange of passes with McCarthy culminated in the Belgian’s stunning strike into the far corner off the inside of his left foot from more than 20 yards, prompting the kind of eruption of euphoria around Goodison that spoke volumes of something memorable. A goal after 30 seconds is indeed a rarity and, ironically, it came against opponents responsible for the fastest goal ever scored at Goodison back in September 1985 when the then English League champions were hit by a goal from an acute angle by former Tranmere forward Colin Clarke after a mere 11 seconds. Harry Redknapp was then Bournemouth manager. Eddie Howe, the present incumbent and an Everton fan from childhood, may not have appreciated the irony immediately.
If Koeman wanted to see young Lookman from the start, he was not the only one. The 19-year-old prodigy has excited in each of his appearances from the substitutes’ bench, scoring on his debut against Manchester City and providing further promising cameos at Crystal Palace and Stoke in midweek. When Lukaku, who has taken the little dynamo under his wing, played him in on the edge of the penalty area the dexterity of his footwork effortlessly outwitted Harry Arter to create space before he shot narrowly wide of the far post. Getting people off their seats seems to be second nature to the likeable Londoner.
Soon the fans were off their seats again when Ross Barkley’s pass and Lukaku’s muscle combined with McCarthy’s marauding run into the Bournemouth box and, though his initial effort was blocked by Steve Cook, the rebound fell for him kindly and the visiting goalkeeper, Artur Boruc, could do nothing to deny the Republic of Ireland international from close range. Everton’s second goal in the 23rd minute applied an inexorable inevitability to proceedings thereafter.
The class of Gareth Barry and especially Schneiderlin was there for all to see as Everton maintained a grip on the game with the lightness of touch of a champion jockey on a winning thoroughbred. Schneiderlin’s cleverness, assured touch and all-round anticipation and reading of the game meant that everything for Everton appeared to be effortless. Bournemouth were impotent by comparison and it was hard not to feel sympathy for Howe’s admission that his team’s confidence is at the lowest ebb of their season.
Everton’s, on the other hand, is sky high and when the third goal went in off the boot of Lukaku, the Belgian striker capitalising clinically on a bad back pass across his box by Bournemouth skipper Simon Francis, a sixth win in nine Premier League games, supplemented by two draws and a solitary defeat suffered in the dying seconds of the Merseyside derby, was assured. Jack Wilshere had a shot deflected for a corner and Joel Robles had to save from Cook but Bournemouth’s assaults lacked bite and they had been blown away by the ferocity and focus of Everton’s attack.
To their credit, Bournemouth were not done and they galvanised their efforts in the second half. Arter fired over the crossbar in a clear sign of intent and the visitors drew clear hope from Josh King’s cool finish from Wilshere’s ball over the top which reduced the deficit in the 59th minute to two goals. There was clear daylight still between the teams. Barkley rolled the ball to McCarthy whose shot was blocked by Boruc and the rebound fell to Lookman who shot into the side netting. Davies replaced McCarthy just after the hour and almost set up Lukaku for another shot on goal before the Belgian was brought down by substitute Brad Smith.
With stealth akin to a thief in the night, Bournemouth managed to turn a clear inevitability back into a genuine contest in the 70th minute. Robles had denied King again at the expense of a corner before Ryan Fraser’s strong effort down the right created the opportunity for King to turn his shot past the Everton keeper and, from being virtually dead and buried after half an hour, the Cherries were suddenly breathing heavily down the Toffees’ necks and the anxiety that gripped Goodison, filled with 39,026, was palpable.
Bournemouth’s revival proved an unnerving experience for the Blues. The crowd’s anxiety transferred itself onto the pitch and the tension could have been suffocating. But Lukaku retained the deadliness of the cool assassin that he is, as clinical a finisher as exists in the Premier League, according to Koeman. Lukaku’s exquisite one-two with Coleman in the 83rd minute yielded a hat-trick for the big Belgian striker. With clear vision and purpose, he fed the ball to his right to Coleman and continued his run to the back post where the Irishman’s pinpoint cross was converted efficiently past Boruc by the Belgian.
Another one-two, this time with Barkley whose back-heeled return pass sent Lukaku clear, produced another summary execution, the striker’s shot beating Boruc again as Everton drew 5-2 clear.
Incredibly, there was yet another twist in the tale. Arter’s close-range finish narrowed the gap once more to a mere two goals before Barkley made it six of the best with his solo effort to round off what Koeman called “a crazy game”.
“That's not a normal result. It was a crazy game,” Koeman said. “Both teams changed systems - it was a tactical battle. They made it really difficult for us. We dropped in intensity after half-time, but the reaction to them getting back to 3-2 was good. We scored great goals. Romelu showed that he is one of the best finishers in football. Scoring is one of his big qualities. We need to support him, to create. We can improve, but he showed his best today. I'm not surprised because we see it in training.
“We are getting closer to the top six. We have momentum and we are confident. It's a long way to go until the end of the season. If we keep this up, everything is possible.”