"Goodison’s Spanish era is now up and running...now that calls for a fiesta"
It ended as it began, with a fan fiesta. But if the pre-match festivities at Goodison on Saturday were aimed at educating supporters of their new manager’s culture, then come full-time Roberto Martinez truly understood what it means to be an Evertonian.
“The season starts here,” declared the Spaniard last week with the distractions of the transfer window and international break having been banished.
Yet dramatic, breakthtaking, backs-against-the-wall victory over championship contenders Chelsea hasn’t just kickstarted a spluttering campaign into life and earned Martinez a belated first Premier League win of his tenure.
It could prove a sizeable founding stone of a new Goodison era.
The club has gone out of its way to welcome Martinez since replacing David Moyes in the hotseat, a march of support ahead of his first home game against West Bromwich Albion followed by a series of Spanish-themed events at the weekend.
But the message that resonated loudest was directed at the new manager, from both the players and fans. If he didn’t know already, this is Everton.
The arrival of Martinez has been all about the new; new players, new backroom staff, new playing style. A new outlook.
This triumph, though, owed a heavy debt to the famed resilience and team spirit forged under his predecessor, and the intimidating atmosphere which continues to make Goodison a top-flight fortress.
In pictures: EFC 1 Chelsea 0
Chelsea, the only away team to take three points from Everton last season, were knocked out of their stride, Jose Mourinho, previously the Special One and then the Happy One, now the Beaten One for the first time since his return to Stamford Bridge.
Central to the victory were two players who, for varying reasons, were not expected to make much impact during the early months of the season.
Steven Naismith’s stock had fallen dramatically during a difficult debut campaign, the Scot seemingly falling down the pecking order with each new attacking summer arrival.
However, injuries to Steven Pienaar and Arouna Kone opened the door on Saturday. And it was Naismith who celebrated his 27th birthday by heading home the only goal in first-half stoppage time to help claim a notable scalp early in Martinez’s reign.
Over at Manchester City, Gareth Barry was in a similar position of watching with his face pressed up against the glass; out of favour and, with new City manager Manuel Pellegrini taking the team in another direction, on his way out.
His subsequent season-long loan to Goodison smacked of a real coup even before Barry had kicked a ball. And, on the first evidence of the weekend, City’s loss is most certainly Everton’s gain.
Barry was outstanding on debut, slotting in effortlessly both with his shielding of the back four and keeping the hosts moving forward with his simple yet effective distribution. Arguably, it could be said, more in the Martinez mould than the departed Marouane Fellaini.
Having encouraged the Goodison crowd with one crunching challenge on Juan Mata, he endeared himself further with a brilliant sliding block on the half-hour to prevent Samuel Eto’o converting into an open goal after a wayward pass from Tim Howard presented the visitors an opportunity.
That came at a time when Chelsea were starting to knock loudly on the door, the visitors dominating the first half in terms of clear-cut chances.
Eto’o headed wastefully high and wide early on, Howard saved well from Ramires, Andre Schurrle shot excitedly off target while in space and Branislav Ivanovic rose highest to meet Juan Mata’s free-kick but nodded over.
But the telling blow came at the other end just before the break, with a goal that demonstrated the virtue of the game Martinez is attempting to impose on his players.
With the clock ticking down until half-time, rather than pump a free-kick in the Chelsea box, Everton chose to play it short to grumbles from sections of the home crowd.
The visitors, though, struggled to clear out their own final third, and a concerted period of pressure ended with Ross Barkley finding Leon Osman down the inside right channel, who then dug out a cross to the far post where a stretching Nikica Jelavic did well to head back across goal for Naismith to nod in from a matter of yards.
That gave Everton something to defend, a job the excellent Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin greeted with relish. And while Ramires and Schurrle both ruffled the side-netting, the nearest either side came to scoring during an increasingly stretched and frenetic second half was when Leighton Baines clipped the top of the bar with a free-kick in the final minute.
If Barry was the star turn, then the supporting cast also deserve credit. Alongside him, Osman was industrious in midfield while the indomitable Barkley improves with each passing week. New signing James McCarthy, who emerged from the bench midway through the second half for his debut, and recovering Darron Gibson face a fight for their place.
It wasn’t all good news for Martinez, however. Despite his assist, Jelavic remains a shadow of the player from 18 months ago, and his substitution for McCarthy was no surprise despite it leaving Everton without a recognised centre forward on the pitch for the final quarter.
An insistence on passing themselves out of danger backfired on occasion – most notably with that Eto’o chance – but Martinez maintains such teething troubles are inevitable.
Goodison’s Spanish era is now up and running. Now that calls for a fiesta.
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Howard; Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Barry, Osman; Naismith (Stones 89), Barkley, Mirallas (Deulofeu 90); Jelavic (McCarthy 67). Subs: Robles, Heitinga, Oviedo, Gueye.
CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole (Torres 69); Mikel, Ramires; Schurrle (Lampard 57), Mata (Oscar 57), Hazard; Eto’o. Subs: Schwarzer, Essien, de Bruyne, Cahill. BOOKINGS: Ivanovic (deliberate handball), Hazard, Luiz and Mikel (all fouls).
REFEREE: Howard Webb.