Lennon hard work just rewards
To think of Aaron Lennon is to think of a number of things, the majority of them revolving around him running fast, quite fast, and very fast. At Tottenham, his reputation has grown – or shrunk – as he’s become pigeon-holed as a speed merchant, a luxury player who had simply become lackadaisical.
Those conceptions could be changing during his spell at Goodison Park after two consecutive performances which married effort and endeavour with an end product. It was the on-loan winger who created the first goal with two magnificent touches – the first to begin the counter-attack, the second coming in the area to touch back to Leon Osman. A lay-off later, the Blues were ahead.
His work on the ball was impressive, but he had sprinted 40 yards to get into the box after his initial through-ball. It was one example of how hard he worked off the ball. From the opening exchanges, he dropped deep to help Coleman, and slotted into central midfield to add an extra body.
In the second half, he made the only real decisive touch from an Everton player in the final 45, prodding home the ball after a well-timed run.
It has been a solid if unspectacular loan spell on Merseyside so far. More of these sort of performances will give Roberto Martinez and the club a dilemma when the time comes to send him back.
Kiev horror show miles away – until second half
There’s nearly 1,500 miles between London and Kiev, and the Blues were worlds apart from their Thursday horror show in Ukraine in the first half.
Granted, the quaint Loftus Road which sits amongst terraced houses in West London is not quite the intense, concrete hell which Everton had to deal with at Olimpiyskiy Stadium – but the scenarios, and styles of play, were similar.
A quick start from the home side. Quick, tricky players out wide. Long balls, arrowed forward, looking to put the opposition on the back foot and transition up the pitch quickly.
They crumbled in Kiev but stood firm here in the opening 45. Mistakes and slapstick no one found funny were replaced by a real desire and effort from the back line, Phil Jagielka in particular repelling the lofted balls.
It was a desirable response to Thursday, and it was a necessary one too. That applies to both work on the back foot, and work off the ball. The first half, not exactly a classic, was one of endeavour and gritted teeth. Intelligent movement and nice touches were there at times, but more impressive was how they ensured a repeat of their Europa League exit was not forthcoming.
There were moments to make the travelling Blues wince. Indeed, if QPR had fielded a striker with more talent than Bobby Zamora, a couple of moments of hesitation could have been punished.
The second half was a different story. Suddenly, memories of Kiev were raw. All Loftus Road needed was a few thousand lads behind the goal to shed their clothes and stand there topless.
It was a panicked second 45, and that is as worrying as the first half was heartening. Having found themselves in the lead, it was relinquished once more with miscommunication. Substitute Eduardo Vargas, a striker of much more ability than Zamora, fired home.
The Blues dropped deeper. Passes evaded the back line and clearances were hurried. Communication became non-existent.
Lennon’s goal would rescue the result but the demons of Ukraine remain.
Arouna Kone still a square peg
Will the real Arouna Kone please stand up, score goals and tell the Blues just where is best to utilise him? It is, of course, not necessarily his fault. He is a likeable player and one who gives plenty of effort, some smart touches and an outlet.
His Everton career was surmised in this one game. Out wide, he tried to create space with his runs and often looked for the ball around the corner to Romelu Lukaku. But the passes would be mistimed or misjudged. At one point, Lennon made his move and Kone delayed until the winger was suitably offside before sending the pass. Frustration abound.
With Lukaku off, he moved into a central position – like he did at Newcastle, and excelling at it, in December. But the flow of this game had already changed, and getting into it in a new position proved difficult.
His run would be a big part of Lennon’s winner – and, cruel fate, it would be his final contribution. After seasons of injury curtailing progress, it could have happened again, though thankfully not too serious.
Kone is a good player and was possibly envisioned as a good back-up to the Belgian, first and foremost. He could have got his chance but now he must wait once more. His career continues to frustrate everybody – Kone more than anyone.
The Blues aren’t going down
And so, with Lennon’s goal, the fears of a troublesome final few months at Goodison Park have been expunged. They now sit nine points ahead of Burnley, who occupy the final relegation spot, with eight games to play. The corner may not have been turned with this result, but the notion of a relegation battle have.
The way in which QPR, seemingly in possession of a one-way ticket back to the Championship, frightened the Blues will remain a concern. But the Blues ensured their spell of dominance was enough for three points.
That’s what decent teams do, and it’s what Everton haven’t done enough of this season. But with consecutive league wins over Newcastle and QPR – the first time that’s happened since October – they proved they are too good to be in a drop zone dogfight.
Now, for the final eight games, Martinez must ensure the momentum is sustained – while ironing out the creases which this season has created.
Leon Osman makes vital difference
Two games, two big moments from the midfield man whose career was supposedly winding down at Goodison Park. Let this be a lesson to anyone who stands poised, pen in hand, and thinks the writing is on the wall for any player – especially one with the experience of Osman.
Stationed out wide on the left, his impact was obvious – especially when linking up with Leighton Baines out wide. Baines and Steven Pienaar had created a partnership to remember under David Moyes and the left back was clearly thankful for a similar intelligent, diligent presence ahead of him.
His pass for the opener was timed to perfection, but it was his overall play which gives hope the 33-year-old still has a part to play. Against a side who tried to push the Blues’ full backs on the back foot, Osman offered an outlet to Baines as QPR’s pressing game ruffled the away side.
Osman’s position always gave QPR’s man on the right – be that Matt Phillips or Vargas – a reminder that attacking with abandon was not the sensible option.
He will not doubt be written off 10 times more in his career, but he’ll keep answering critics with vital contributions.