Attacked in a bar, vilified by a reviled columnist and embraced by his boyhood club – Ross Barkley will not forget the past week in a hurry. The Everton midfielder responded to a traumatic period with an influential show against Burnley as Ronald Koeman’s team climbed to fifth with an eighth consecutive home win. Goodison Park, if he did not realise it before, is Barkley’s sanctuary.
There was a standing ovation for the England international when he left the pitch in the final minute and pointedly, amid doubts over his future at the club, Barkley responded in kind. The 23-year-old absorbed the celebrations on the Gwladys Street after striking a decisive second goal against Sean Dyche’s unfortunate side – credited to Ben Mee after a deflection off the Burnley defender – and pointed to all four sides of the ground, other hand on crest, while being booked for standing on the advertising hoardings as he did so. Phil Jagielka, with his third goal in three games, and Romelu Lukaku, with his 24th league goal of the season, sandwiched Barkley’s intervention.
Lukaku struck for the ninth successive game at Goodison – equalling a feat last achieved by the legendary William Ralph “Dixie” Dean in 1934 – but this was Barkley’s day. Along with everyone else in royal blue, he made a subdued start against Burnley. Ultimately, however, this was a resilient response to a week in which he was punched in a city centre bar and the subject of a disgraceful column by Kelvin MacKenzie that resulted in Everton following Liverpool’s lead and banning The Sun newspaper. MacKenzie’s slurs were forgotten as Everton and Burnley marked the 28th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster with a minute’s applause before kick-off.
“I can understand his celebration because what happened last week had really a big impact on him,” said Koeman, who was also indebted to the midfielder for two goalline clearances. “He will learn from what happened. I did some stupid things myself when I was 19, 20, 21. If you learn from mistakes, that is good. He is a human being and the best way for him to forget what happened is to play football. He was focused on the football side for the rest of the week and this afternoon. He was one of many in the team who started not good and struggled to adapt to the way Burnley played. They were the better team. It took us 30 minutes and after [that] I saw the Everton I like to see. It is a good win.”
Burnley were initially the brighter, more aggressive side but their failure to capitalise on several defensive errors by Everton – two undercooked back passes from Jagielka and a dropped catch by Joel Robles – provided one explanation for their inability to win away from Turf Moor this season. They fell behind when Ashley Williams flicked on a Kevin Mirallas corner and Jagielka converted with a flying header that Tom Heaton clawed away, but too late. Goalline technology helped the referee, Mark Clattenburg, to make his decision before Jagielka had a second attempt from the rebound. The veteran defender celebrated with a cartwheel that demonstrated why 34-year-old men rarely perform them.
Everton’s lead was short-lived. Koeman was livid with Morgan Schneiderlin for losing possession in central midfield and his goalkeeper when, after Jeff Hendrick’s pass had sent Sam Vokes away from goal, Robles fouled the striker from behind to concede an idiotic penalty. “A stupid foul by the goalkeeper,” Koeman said. Vokes converted with ease.
Burnley had a platform for victory but, once Everton stepped up a level, they had no response. Barkley’s shot found the far corner of Heaton’s goal via deflections off Michael Keane and Mee before Lukaku sealed victory in style, rolling Keane inside the area and finishing instinctively inside the near post. Leighton Baines’s ball into the striker made him the first defender in the Premier League to reach 50 assists.
“I’m disappointed with the result but not the performance,” said Dyche, understandably. “That type of performance has to win you a game away from home eventually.”