After the Lord mayor’s show is a phrase Everton fans have become bitterly acquainted with in recent years. On the back of last week’s uplifting 4-0 win over Man City, this week’s trip to Crystal Palace, yet to win in the league under Sam Allardyce, seemed a prime opportunity for another airing. In the end, Everton’s patient 1-0 victory was arguably more befitting of celebration. At last, the underlying improvement under Ronald Koeman surfaced.

For the first time, Everton resembled Koeman’s Southampton, and appeared to be exhibiting the style he was hired to instil. This was a step beyond the pragmatic, direct play which has secured most of Everton’s points under the Dutchman. There was a much greater desire to maintain possession, to combine quickly and to create space, there was calm in the attacking third, there was patience. For the vast majority of that, Ross Barkley was the linchpin.

Everton's Ross Barkley fires off a shot when under pressue from four Crystal Palace defenders at Selhurst Park.

Barkley made himself available constantly and weaved majestically around the pitch lending the ball here and there. He had the most touches (91), completed the most passes (56) and had the most shots (5). With the protection of Gareth Barry and Tom Davies and a three-man defence, and with two strikers and two expansive full-backs, Barkley was free to dictate play, and it was a joy to behold.

Everton’s performance echoed many a frustrating afternoon endured away from home under Roberto Martinez. The Blues dominated the ball, created many chances but frustratingly failed to put them away. The differences were crucial, not only to secure the win but also to convince supporters of Koeman’s worth. It was Martinez football with common sense and caution. Case in point: the opportunism of Everton’s winner.

With Jeffrey Schlupp down injured (side note: schlupp seems entirely appropriate as a verb to describe scuttling back on to a pitch sneakily, and as a noun to denote the sort of player who would do such a thing), Everton had the choice to be nice or to try and win. Fond of their nice guys tag, old Everton would have bottled it but there was no such nonsense here. They pressed on, regained and recycled the ball when openings were thwarted, until eventually Davies freed Coleman to blast in from close range.

Mason Holgate celebrates with Seamus Coleman after the latter scored the winner in Everton's 1-0 win over Crystal Palace.

Everton’s total of 12 goals scored after the 75th minute is surpassed by only Arsenal’s 13 this season. This is a considerable turnaround for a side who had lower levels of fitness than the BDO World Championship under Martinez. On a basic level, Everton work harder and cover more ground for longer periods under Koeman. In that regard, prevailing in a troubling trip to Palace is likely to convince Evertonians more than last week’s inimitable win over City.

It was the Toffees’ fourth win in five, and third straight without conceding. Joel Robles preserved his fifth clean sheet in six league starts by tipping Scot Dann’s header round the post superbly. Christian Benteke also headed a fine chance onto the bar. Mason Holgate continued his fast-track process to becoming Everton’s best defender with yet another assured display. Like Davies, Holgate has injected not only youth but steel and finesse where it was sorely needed and so it seems has Ademola Lookman who looked brilliant during a 20-minute cameo.

Koeman raised hopes early on in his reign as Everton claimed 16 of the first 18 points available, dropping two only on opening day at home to Spurs. But the subsequent months were brutal as the side unravelled completely and produced some frankly horrible football. A new phase is now well underway with the Blues matching that five-game haul since Boxing Day only with more goals scored and fewer conceded. It has taken six months and it has been testing for all, but Koeman’s vision is finally coming together at Everton.
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By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter@cdsmith789 

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