Two years and two months ago Dominic Calvert-Lewin ended his six-game loan spell at Stalybridge Celtic having scored his fifth goal for the club in a 4-1 defeat away to Tamworth. “This lad might be able to play at the top,” was Keith Briggs’s assessment of the forward’s contribution. Briggs was Stalybridge’s manager and he combined his responsibilities there with the day job at Sheffield United’s academy, where Calvert-Lewin had arrived from.
Though they ultimately did not go down, Stalybridge were facing relegation from the Conference North into the seventh tier of English football, so the prospect of becoming a Premier League footballer must have seemed very far away at the time.
In only his second Everton start here, Calvert-Lewin scored his first top flight goal on a day where Romelu Lukaku became the first Everton player since Gary Lineker to score more than 20 goals in a season, and the first Evertonian since Bob Latchford to score in seven consecutive home matches. The Belgian announced this week that he will not sign a new contract with the club. Yet his name was cheered and chanted.
Calvert-Lewin’s opener was a crucial one for Everton because it gave them control. It was beautiful in its simplicity, delivered by their three young English players. Ross Barkley’s repositioning has been a masterstroke by Ronald Koeman and though in formational terms Barkley will be described as a right winger, he is proving to be much more than that. There are parallels with Steven Gerrard when Rafael Benitez decided to use him similarly, giving Liverpool’s captain the freedom of expression by drifting in-field, getting in zones where defenders do not expect him to appear.
Barkley had moved into a central area when his most incisive pass of the game came, rendering the involvement Harry Maguire and Curtis Davies irrelevant. From there, Tom Davies – a star in the making – sprinted free, he looked up once and found Calvert-Lewin at the back post for a simple tap in.
No wonder David Unsworth was smiling broadly in Goodison Park’s main stand executive seats. Davies particularly has spoken of the invaluable guidance received from Everton’s Under-23 coach, who has created a competitive environment where the importance of results as well as progression are stressed.
It is significant that Everton’s Under-23 team are top of their league by five points – ahead of Manchester City, ahead of Liverpool, ahead of Arsenal, ahead of Chelsea, ahead of Tottenham Hotspur and way ahead of Manchester United, who are way down the standings.
It is said that Unsworth rates Matthew Pennington very highly, that he is telling Koeman he should give the 22-year-old a chance at replacing Phil Jagielka at the centre of Everton’s defence in the long-term. If there is one area of Everton’s team, indeed, that will need surgery soon enough, it is the backline, with Jagielka, Leighton Baines and Ashley Williams all in their thirties.
Williams has been a good signing but here, he gifted Hull with the opportunity of an equaliser, though he might argue that the communication from Joel Robles should have been better. One left it to the other, Sam Clucas reacted quickly but not calmly and the midfielder’s lob dropped onto the roof of the net.
Hull, it is fair to say, did not deserve a hammering. After falling behind, their performance was full of energy and reasonable craft and Koeman’s decision to remove Calvert-Lewin early in the second half and replace him with Ramiro Funes Mori – another defender – was a reflection of his concern. Morgan Schneiderlin’s enforced substitution in the first half through injury had affected Everton’s flow and their control only returned when Tom Huddlestone was sent off for a two-foot challenge on Idrissa Gueye.
Koeman’s final substitution came after that moment and it was an attacking one, with Davies making way for Enner Valencia. Ninety seconds later, Valencia volleyed in the goal that secured Everton’s victory. In injury time, Lukaku registered Everton’s third and fourth.