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Creaking defence damns Everton

Everton
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Everton and Idrissa Gueye enjoying life under Ronald Koeman

A controversial Middlesbrough goal from Alvaro Negredo after 21 minutes woke Everton from their slow start to such an extent the home side overturned the deficit and had the game won 3-1 by half time.

After the hosts ran riot with three first half goals, the two teams went through the motions in the second half as the Blues comfortably closed the game out to win four of their first five games for the first time since 1978-79.

EvertonEverton
MiddlesbroughMiddlesbrough
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Positives

Even at this early stage, matches under Ronald Koeman are without the prevailing dread of recent seasons. Koeman is bringing belief and excitement back to Everton. For the second time in five league matches, his team won despite conceding the opening goal. It no longer feels like the game is lost if the first goal goes to the opposition.

Similarly, the measure of control displayed once Everton had engineered a winning position is erasing last season's knack for dropping points when ahead in matches.

The visitors did not register a single shot on target. As those in blue hurled themselves into tackles, supporters showed their appreciation, none more so than when one such episode ended with Idrissa Gueye flat on his back after a lung-busting piece of defensive work in midfield.

This is a team playing football with smiles on their faces. And for the first time in a long while, supporters are enjoying watching them.

Negatives

Everton responded in impressive fashion to falling behind, but it should not have needed a contentious goal to rouse Koeman's team from their 20-minute slumber at the start of the match.

Having begun the 3-0 win at Sunderland in similarly sluggish fashion, this will become a concern if not addressed. While the fixture list has been favourable to this point, there are other teams in this division liable to punish such lethargy.

Manager rating out of 10

7 -- Kept faith with Ross Barkley and the midfielder responded with an improved display. Third substitution could have arrived sooner, though, as one or two had run out of steam before the final whistle. Weary starts to games are the key thing for Koeman to address.

Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Maarten Stekelenburg, 6 -- Fouled for the Middlesbrough goal but still a case for the Everton goalkeeper being stronger in that situation. The visitors registering no shots on target meant a quiet afternoon otherwise.

DF Seamus Coleman, 8 -- This was a timely reminder of the marauding right-back Everton possess when at his best. Brilliant run and finish for his goal capped an impressive return to form.

DF Phil Jagielka, 6 -- Lost out in his physical battle with Negredo a few too many times as the away side began well. His display improved thereafter as the home defence dominated the visiting attack.

DF Ashley Williams, 7 -- Vocal throughout, his leadership qualities and much-needed robust defending continue to shine through as the 32-year-old seamlessly slots into defence.

DF Leighton Baines, 6 -- With Everton favouring the right side when attacking, this was a quieter afternoon for the left-back though still managed to create two chances for teammates.

MF Idrissa Gueye, 9 -- Eight tackles won barely scratches the surface of how impressive a performance this was. Industry, composure, tackling, interceptions, accurate and decisive passing, this had it all.

MF Gareth Barry, 8 -- Marked his 600th Premier League appearance with the equalising goal and a performance typical of his time at the club. Exemplary reading of the game makes it all look so effortless.

MF Yannick Bolasie, 7 -- Another assist for the winger, who is currently the most creative player in the squad, averaging a chance created every 31 minutes. This creativity counters the moments of inconsistency and a slight tendency to disappear in matches.

MF Ross Barkley, 7 -- Reacted well to his Sunderland dressing down with a much-improved outing. Tiredness toward the end showed the effort he had put in.

MF Kevin Mirallas, 6 -- Remains the attacking player adapting best to Koeman's demand for work rate and pressing without the ball but struggled to affect the game in possession.

FW Romelu Lukaku, 7 -- The slightest of touches ensured his fourth goal this week. Performance sparked to life in the 25-minute spell before half time, with an assist to add to his goal.

Substitutes:

FW Enner Valencia, 6 -- Some nice touches and worked hard on his debut after replacing Lukaku.

MF Gerard Deulofeu, N/R -- Lively enough cameo without delivering anything too significant.

MF Tom Cleverley, N/R -- Back from injury, the midfielder replaced Barry in the final minutes to allow the 600-man a deserved ovation.

Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.

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