Everton keep Europe dream alive
Published 22/03/2014 | 17:27
Everton's outside hopes for Champions League qualification improved after a 3-2 victory over Swansea edged them closer to the top four.
Arsenal's drubbing at Chelsea meant the win moved Roberto Martinez's side up to fifth place and within eight points of the Gunners with a match in hand.
But the task to overhaul the Londoners remains a stiff one and will require both greater application and urgency on Everton's part combined with something of a collapse from Arsene Wenger's men.
For long periods in the first half the home side lacked the necessary spark to mount a challenge to the established top four when this is precisely the time when they need it.
Goals from Leighton Baines, Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley got the job done after Wilfried Bony had equalised in the first half, with Ashley William's injury-time header not threatening the final result.
Arsenal's defeat could possibly prove to be one battering too many this season while Tottenham, whom Everton overtook with this result, and Manchester United below them are troubled by inconsistency, leaving the possibility of Martinez's side gatecrashing the Champions League party.
Swansea have now not beaten Everton in 20 meetings - this was their third defeat against the Toffees this season - and dropped a place to 15th and the fact they dropped no closer to the bottom three will be little consolation.
They have taken just two points from five matches and will remain in danger until they can shore up a defence which gave away sloppy goals.
Swansea's defences were breached by a quick 20th-minute counter-attack but it was contentious.
John Stones, continuing at the heart of defence with captain Phil Jagielka sidelined with a hamstring injury, played a first-time ball from the edge of his own penalty area which initially looked like an aimless clearance.
By the time it had travelled 40 yards, however, it was apparent he had brilliantly picked out the acres of space in front of Barkley in the inside-left channel.
The England midfielder raced forward and as Chico Flores came across he critically delayed his challenge until it was as close to the edge of the box as to make no difference and his opponent had nowhere to go but down.
Flores argued contact had been made outside the area but referee Michael Oliver had no hesitation in awarding Everton their first penalty at Goodison since January 2013.
Baines made no mistake from the spot to make it 12 out of 12 Premier League penalties.
That should have been the signal to raise Everton from their slumbers but they remained strangely lacklustre and Swansea deservedly got themselves back into the game.
Wayne Routledge cut in from the left and - unlike Everton midfielder Aiden McGeady - spotted Angel Rangel's charge from right-back and picked him out with a diagonal pass and the defender crossed low for Bony to tap in from close range.
Swansea finished the half strongest without creating much in the way of a threat apart from Pablo Hernandez's deflected free-kick which dropped wide of the far post with wrong-footed goalkeeper Tim Howard on his backside.
Whatever was missing in the first half was discovered at the interval as Everton scored twice within 13 minutes of the restart.
First Kevin Mirallas worked himself some space on the right to cross low for Lukaku to convert his 12th of the season.
Then some poor defending at a Mirallas corner allowed Barkley to score with a stooping header at the far post.
That should have been that but in keeping with the general laid-back tone of the game the home side required Howard to make a reflex save from Bony's header midway through the second half.
Mirallas should have put the game beyond any reasonable doubt after racing forward on a quick breakaway but he fired weakly at Michel Vorm.
Howard saved again from Hernandez in the last 10 minutes but was eventually beaten again by Williams' 90th-minute header but it was too late to affect the result.