BAINES MUST BE BACK ON PENS
Any football manager worth his cliched salt will have regaled supporters and media with the importance of “fine margins” at some point.
They’re the things which they often blame when things go wrong or laud when everything turns out alright.
Roberto Martinez likes to wax lyrical about them, and he may have resorted to reflecting on such marginal matters had his side conspired to throw away three points at home to Burnley.
In the end they didn’t, but for a while they might have been in a spot of bother at Goodison.
In Romelu Lukaku’s absence, the policy of delegating penalty duties to a group of players based on their mood during the game is confused. A recipe for disaster.
So it almost proved when Ross Barkley saw his 11th minute spot-kick saved, as Leighton Baines watched from outside the area.
Baines is a specialist – the fifth most accurate from the spot in Premier League history – and to not have him on penalty duties without Lukaku on the pitch is asking for trouble.
The defender has only ever missed one for Everton, and as a left-footer with an array of techniques he’s a bona fide specialist who always keeps goalkeepers guessing.
Barkley’s effort wasn’t bad; Burnley’s Tom Heaton deserves credit for a fine save. But it’s difficult to imagine Baines giving the keeper a chance.
Had Everton been left to rue that moment, theier muddled penalty policy (remember West Brom in January?) would have come under closer scrutiny.
As it is they should still learn from a near miss.
WIDTH GIVES EVERTON WINGS
Whether it was circumstantial, with both Leon Osmand and Steven Pienaar misisng, or not – Roberto Martinez decided to gie Everton wings against Burnley.
Kevin Mirallas started on one flank, Aaron Lennon on the other, and with Ross Barkley in the middle of the attacking triumvirate Everton had a sumptuous balance.
Two wingers of such quality and penchant for directness and speed meant Burnely’s defence was stretched; their full-backs pulled wide. In the gap which ensued, Ross Barkley flourished.
It was no coincidence that the midfielder was able to make more of his trademark powerful surges, and find more space, in a line-up which did not have non-wingers like Steven Naismith or Osman on the flanks,
Both Naismith and the veteran tend to come inside and Barkley’s room to manoeuvre is reduced.
But their was a nice symmetry to the way they got stuck into Sean Dyche’s men, particularly in the opening half hour, and not for the first time this season you were left wishing Everton had wings more often.
MIRALLAS DOESN’T SEEM WANTAWAY
Many have given up on the prospect of seeing Kevin Mirallas in a royal blue shirt next season.
His apparent desire for Champions League football has understandably prompted the verdict that his exit is a foregone conclusion. Reviewing his past utterances would seem to back up that bleak theory.
But the man himself seems to disagree.
Mirallas was given a rare chance to start against the Clarets and responded with a goal and the body language of a man who does not seem hell-bent on departure.
He has already said he is targeting a goal in each of Everton’s remaining games, which would given him a respectable total of 15 for the season.
And his celebration after suggesting he might just walk the walk after talking the talk was interesting. The Belgian seemed to be suggesting there has been too much chatter about his future.
Afterwards he added to it. “A lot of people have talked about my future, but I like to play for Everton,” he said.
“I am in my best form of the season, but when it is finished I will talk to my partner, the chairman, the trainer and manager.
“But I am confident here and I enjoy playing.”
Not quite an emphatic “I’m staying” but still, perhaps more evidence that Mirallas might just see out his contract on Merseyside after all.
WILL THE REAL AROUNA KONE STAND UP?
Brett Angell, Stuart Barlow and Ibrahima Bakayoko – all names from Everton’s inglorious goal-scoring dud past, and a turgid trio which were bandied about on Twitter as Arouna Kone lumbered through the first half against Burnley.
It wasn’t through lack of effort, but at times the Ivorian just seemed to get in the way of good attacks during the opening 45 minutes rather than help execute them.
And yet. The striker kept at it, and in the second half he hit the post with a poacher’s flick of his boot and delivered a lovely cross with the outside of his boot to Mirallas. He held up the ball strongly too.
So which is the real Kone – zero or hero?
There’s no shortage of goodwill for him. Evertonians appreciate the former Wigan man’s work-ethic, but unless he starts, well, scoring some of the chances that come his way, the clamour for a more potent back-up option to Lukaku won’t subside anytime soon.
In the lowest point of a pretty low season, Martinez kept talking about his side dragging themselves to the magical 40-point margin.
Then, he said, we’d at least know they were safe. Well they’ve done it after another win in the league, and with 41 on the board it would be virtually impossible for the Tofffes to get dragged back into any semblance of danger.
They’ve got to safety by bagging 13 points of a possible 15 on offer since the nightmare of Stoke away in March.
So it may not be much cause for wild celebration, but at least it’s been emphatic.
So now what? Can the Blues finish as high as ninth, or even eighth?
The odds are long in that regard, but Everton are a team in form, crucially winning form too, and there may yet be something to briefly smile about as we reflect on an otherwise disappointing season.