LukakuRomelu Lukaku equalled Duncan Ferguson’s Premier League record for Everton with the clincher in a comfortable 2-0 win over Sunderland. His 60th league strike for the Blues condemned David Moyes to a fourth straight defeat against the club he left nearly four years ago. It was a victory of substance over style that enabled Everton to go nine unbeaten in the league for the first time since December 2013.

Ronald Koeman’s main selection issue at present is how to arrange his central midfield. With so many options following Tom Davies’ emergence, Morgan Schneiderlin’s arrival, and Idrissa Gueye’s return, over-engineering the engine room is a serious concern. Here, he got the balance spot on. Davies stayed further forward in Ross Barkley’s orbit as Schneiderlin and Gueye’s multi-faceted midfield shield kept Sunderland at bay.

Schneiderlin in particular was excellent. Slotting in between the centre-backs and commanding the space in front, he was essentially a docking station for the ball as Everton moved upfield. Radio listeners may well have wondered how many Schneiderlins were playing. In retreat, he was equally impressive with three tackles and four interceptions to maintain control. How this all affected Gueye was interesting.

Following an excellent tackle from Schneiderlin, Gueye inadvertantly beckoned Sunderland’s first corner and, and first spell of pressure, by losing the ball. Shortly after, he waved Ademola Lookman forward although Leighton Baines was burdened with two opponents. Gueye was treading on Schneiderlin’s toes, performing his roles less effectively. But 20 minutes in, he got big shove in the other direction.

Everton's players celebrate Idrissa Gueye's first goal for the club against Sunderland.

When Lookman failed to gather Lukaku’s flick-on just outside Sunderland’s box, Gueye found himself free enough to intercept, freer still to drive in the box and shoot. Despite Lukaku’s complaints about being better placed, Gueye’s near goal experience made its impression. When Seamus Coleman squared one just before the break, Gueye slammed home his first Everton goal with aplomb.

The goal was remarkable in that Everton carved Sunderland apart almost accidentally. Barkley was central to the move without touching the ball as two passes intended for him found Coleman and Gueye respectively. Everton did however warrant such luck after dominating proceedings. First half, Sunderland offered nothing but the odd wry smile at Darron Gibson recreating elements of the Craggy Island five-a-side. Even Jermain Defoe had failed to threaten.

Koeman gets it right again

Moyes chose his words well at half-time because Sunderland improved after the break. Clear-cut chances were still scarce but Adnan Januzaj at least began to expose Ramiro Funes Mori. Everton kept the Black Cats at arm’s reach but more through luck than judgement on occasion, particularly so when Januzaj stepped on the ball. Koeman was faced with a decision: shut up shop or go for the kill. In the context of Moyes’ return, his response was significant.

Koeman put responsibility for the win on his attackers’ shoulders by bringing on Kevin Mirallas for Lookman, and Enner Valencia for Tom Davies. The message was clear: score again, win the game. Moyes no doubt considered this approach risky given his propensity to worry about opponents’ strengths. Sure, Defoe made a compelling case for caution by rattling the bar on the counter, but seconds later, Koeman’s approach paid off and the game was over.

Bryan Oviedo endured a tough afternoon with Everton repeatedly targeting his area of the field. The first goal arrived when Coleman found space to his left; the second when Lukaku outpaced him in behind. With Sunderland fully committed to a corner, Mirallas released Lukaku to drive into the box and deflect in the decider off poor Oviedo’s leg. Then came the added security of James McCarthy on for Barkley. Shutting up shop at 2-0 with 10 minutes to go – that sounds about right.

Everton's Tom Davies takes on Sunderland's Bryan Oviedo at Goodison Park.

Koeman suggested Everton’s mid-season sojourn to Dubai was full of hard work but would only be truly valuable if Sunderland were beaten. To win in such a dominant manner while keeping a fifth clean sheet in seven league games reflects well on the spirit Koeman is cultivating within the squad and around the club. Gueye’s celebration incorporating most of the bench, and the rush to shake Barkley’s hand as he was substituted, further backed this up.

As underlying improvement has surfaced over the last month, Koeman has begun to cut a much more impressive figure at Goodison. The players appear to be enjoying their work while functioning well at both ends of the pitch. The last nine games have seen Everton score 21 and concede just seven (five of which were scored by Hull and Bournemouth).

However impressive Everton have been in the last nine games, they have clearly benefited from favourable fixtures. Perched menacingly just outside the top six, the Blues now require a tough challenge to put their recent uplift in context. Next week at Spurs, that challenge awaits.
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789

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