ROBERTO MartÃnez said it would be â€œfoolishâ€ to talk of winning the Europa League before the onset of winter but the noises coming from Everton are clear. The manager believes his team can reach Warsaw in May, the captain Phil Jagielka claimed likewise and their words were given substance by a convincing victory over Lille.
Everton require one point to qualify for the knockout phase following a second successive home win in Group H and a performance against Lille, who arrived in the competition via defeat in the Champions League play-offs, that demonstrated intent. Leon Osman underlined his enduring importance to the club on the day he signed a one-year contract extension with the gameâ€™s opening goal, the defender Jagielka scored his fourth goal in 10 games and Steven Naismith completed the victory after another incisive Everton move.
The positives were not confined to the scoresheet. Romelu Lukaku led the line with a vastly improved display, Sylvain Distin made an assured return to the heart of an injury-hit Everton defence and James McCarthy was imperious in the middle of the park. A huge picture commemorating â€œThe Holy Trinityâ€ of Howard Kendall, Colin Harvey and Alan Ball adorns the main stand here and MartÃnez had no hesitation in praising the Republic of Ireland international as a worthy successor to that revered Everton midfield.
â€œJames McCarthy does not surprise me,â€ said the Everton manager, who brought McCarthy with him from Wigan Athletic for Â£13m. â€œHe fits so well at Everton. You talk here about The Holy Trinity, everything about that midfield, and I look at James McCarthy, Gareth Barry and Ross Barkley and I am proud of that sort of midfielder. People forget James is still only 23. He does the things that managers appreciate and fans donâ€™t always see too easily but he is a vital part of this football club.â€
Everton were dominant from the off against a Lille team who had drawn their three previous Europa League fixtures and demonstrated why they languish 12th in the French league. The Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama produced a fine save to deny Lukaku after 22 seconds as the home side began brightly but Everton, unlike against Swansea City on Saturday, remained patient and purposeful against opponents content to absorb pressure.
Aiden McGeady was instrumental in helping them to a comfortable interval lead. Patience does not seem in plentiful supply for the former Celtic winger at Goodison but his willingness to take a man on, and delivery from both flanks, was a valuable outlet that Lille could not contain. Barry started the move with a ball through to Lukaku, who in turn released McCarthy. The midfielder sent his Republic of Ireland team-mate scurrying away on the right and though McGeadyâ€™s inviting cross evaded the in-rushing McCarthy and Naismith, it dropped perfectly for Osman at the far post. The 33-year-old enhanced his day with a sweeping finish into the far corner.
McGeady created chances for Naismith and Lukaku, albeit both with the same result as his colleagues missed the target, and it was from his corner that Everton doubled their advantage. Jagielka, who wrote in his programme notes that Everton could win the Europa League, lost his fellow central defender Marko Basa in the six-yard box and converted the wingerâ€™s delivery with an emphatic diving header.
This was the first appearance on Merseyside for Divock Origi since his Â£9.8m summer move to Liverpool, a transfer that came with the condition he remains with Lille on a season-long loan. It was also the first time a French club had played a competitive fixture at Goodison. Both debuts failed to impress. The Belgium striker, preferred to Lukaku for his countryâ€™s final games at the World Cup against the USA and Argentina, showed glimpses of pace and more intent as the contest wore on. He was either isolated or shackled by the experienced defending of Tony Hibbert otherwise.
In contrast to Brazil, Lukaku was the sharper, more influential Belgium forward on display. Evertonâ€™s Â£28m record signing was again thwarted by Enyeama when he unleashed a venomous free-kick from 30 yards and it was his astute pass, not always his strongest point, that led to the teamâ€™s third. Lukaku showed good strength to hold up play then released Leighton Baines on the outside. The England international picked out Naismith and the Scot sent an unstoppable finish into the top corner from close range.
â€œWe are at a football club that is expected to win things,â€ said the Everton manager. â€œOK, it is a long time since we won a trophy and you can look foolish if you talk about winning competitions in November, but we want to go as far as we can in this competition. All we can do is keep testing ourselves.â€ – The Guardian