On a day when an Everton Giant was bid a poignant farewell by a faithful following that will never forget the memories or what he meant, Everton took a giant step away from the pack chasing the Premier League’s top seven clubs and fixed their sights firmly on the top six.
Goals by Kevin Mirallas, his fourth of the season, Morgan Schneiderlin, his first for the Club, and Romelu Lukaku, his 19th Premier League goal of the season to put him equal at the goalscoring summit with Tottenham’s Harry Kane, put seven points and clear daylight between Ronald Koeman’s Blues and Tony Pulis’ West Brom. It was an emotional, emphatic afternoon as Lukaku became the first Blues player to score 20 goals or more in three consecutive seasons since Bob Latchford did it between 1976 and 1979.
Goodison remembered an Everton legend prior to kick-off when tributes were paid, a lone piper played Z Cars and a minute’s applause was observed in honour of Alex Young, the Golden Vision, who passed away last month. Hours earlier his funeral had been held in Edinburgh but he was as much synonymous with Merseyside and the Royal Blue as he was of his native land and the outpouring of warm feelings was spontaneous and heartfelt as people stood in unison within the old stadium he graced with such intense, spellbinding presence.
Ronald Koeman, the Everton manager, paid his own tribute in the matchday programme: “We have said goodbye and paid tribute as a Club to Alex Young. A League and Cup winner, he is remembered as one of the greatest exponents of the game ever to wear the Royal Blue of Everton. Our thoughts are with his family, of course, for it will be a really difficult day for them to have let go for the final time of a husband, father, grandfather. To the wider Everton family, he was a gift, a legend. May he rest in peace.”
An hour before kick-off Koeman outlined the difficulties his side would face in the game. “We will have a lot of the ball but you need high quality on the ball in your final pass and, if you make a fast goal in the game, that will make the game open,” he said. "If not, then you need to be patient."
With captain Phil Jagielka restored to the team as well as Kevin Mirallas, with Ramiro Funes Mori and Idrissa Gana Gueye making way, the Blues made an aggressive, purposeful start to the game. Tom Davies embodied the pressing, harrying approach advocated by Koeman and Mirallas attacked with menace and penetration, with the full-backs getting forward, too, and Schniederlin, Gareth Barry and Ross Barkley engaged in some effective support play.
Lukaku put the West Brom defence on early alert as to his high expectations in a season that has seen only Kane of Tottenham challenge his supremacy in the Premier League goalscoring charts. He provided a focal point for Everton’s advances and charged forward with a force that induced a degree of anxiety in the visitors' defence. His compatriot, Mirallas, provided potent accompaniment, too, and Seamus Coleman made a strong run forward and directed a cross from the left which fizzed across the six-yard box.
Predictably, Lukaku carried the greatest threat and a succession of short, sharp passes culminating in a pass into his path by Barry put the Belgian in the clear inside the penalty area where he would have been odds on to score, but he dragged his right-footed shot wide of the far post and the Baggies survived.
They breathed some relief again when a corner kick short to Leighton Baines and a cross from the left by the full-back presented Lukaku with another opportunity, this time with his head from six yards, and again he failed to find the target. Everton’s supremacy was diminished by the final ball not quite being crisp, clever or incisive enough.
West Brom were subdued in comparison, confined to only sporadic productive periods. Darren Fletcher’s looping header at the back post, with which Joel Robles dealt with ease, and Nacer Chadli’s left-footed strike from range, which was pushed away by Robles for a corner, proved a pretty tame riposte. Meanwhile, Lukaku was about to turn provider and Everton’s grip on the game became absolute. With possession by the home side up at 65 per cent, Lukaku charged once more into the box, his deflected shot falling perfectly for Barkley whose effort was saved by Ben Foster, rebounded into the path of Mirallas and the Belgian winger finished adroitly, lifting the ball over the forlorn Foster with six minutes of the first half remaining.
Right on half-time, Schneiderlin made it two. Lukaku was pivotal again. Played in by Barry, he used his strength to hold off Jonny Evans before threading a pass through to Schneiderlin whose two exquisite touches on the ball took him around Jake Livermore before, with a surgeon’s precision, he clipped his shot over the despairing Foster. When the Frenchman signed in January he said he wanted to score at Goodison as an Evertonian so that fans might forgive him for scoring here for Manchester United. Well, Morgan, all is forgiven.
Forgotten, too, were half-hearted appeals for a penalty when Coleman fell inside the area under what appeared to be a clumsy challenge by Livermore. All that remained was 45 minutes to be played out with a hint of inevitability to the proceedings.
West Brom were not to be entirely compliant victims. Chadli, as he had done in the first half, forced a good save out of Robles with a solid strike from range. But Everton were just too good. Davies was dynamic again in midfield, Barry assured and in control alongside him and Schneiderlin oozed class. Barkley demonstrated once more the new dimension to his game which has elevated him to a level which surely will have persuaded the watching England manager, Gareth Southgate, to recall the 23-year-old for the friendly against Germany later this month, followed days later by a World Cup qualifier against Lithuania. He had shown this even before his superb ball across the box to Lukaku whose powerful header at the back post beyond Foster rounded off an exceptional afternoon.
Everton’s fifth successive Premier League victory at Goodison, the first time such a run has been sustained by the Toffees for three years, brought the Blues to 47 points, equal to the totals amassed during each of the past two seasons. Ten games remain and there's much still to play for. Alex Young would have looked down with an approving smile.