Three Points: Ross Barkley guides Everton to victory over QPR
LIVERPOOL, England -- Goals from Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith helped Everton to a tidy 3-1 win over Queens Park Rangers at Goodison Park. The win pushes the Toffees up to 10th in the Premier League. Here are three points from Monday's game:
1. Toffees slowly climb the table
Everton kicked off in 13th. They ended the day in the upper half of the division and as the top team in Merseyside (on goal difference). Nevertheless, their starting position was a sign that Liverpool aren't the only side in these parts that have failed to replicate last season's stellar form.
Victory was deserved on Monday night, even if this scarcely ranked as one of the most fluent footballing displays of the Roberto Martinez era. It did not need to, but the outcome was welcome.
After all, the natives had grown a little restless. Perhaps they were spoiled a little last season when Martinez's team played some superb football, but the only home wins they had witnessed this term came against Aston Villa and West Ham. They booed Everton off against Hull.
Had QPR taken anything, it would have prompted talk of a slide. Everton's four previous matches had produced one draw and three defeats, even if the most recent was with the second-string side that faced Krasnodar in a meaningless Europa League fixture. During a quiet first half-hour, such sounds as were heard tended to be those of a crowd getting frustrated.
Yet they went in at the break two goals to the good, with the dissenters silenced and the platform for success built. Both took deflections, a slight one off Mauricio Isla as Barkley rifled Everton into the lead while Mirallas' free kick changed course when it hit Eduardo Vargas' head in the wall.
Naismith added a third with a typically intelligent header back across goal, although, in keeping with the theme of the game, the last touch came off a defender, as Nedum Onuoha failed in his attempts to prevent the ball from crossing the line.
Thereafter Everton switched off, allowing QPR a consolation goal and depriving themselves of a more emphatic triumph. The gloss was taken off the night, too, when Mirallas was stretchered off following a poor challenge from Jordon Mutch. Injury problems have been a constant in Everton's season. They are one reason why they are not found higher up the league.
2. Strong night for Barkley
Barkley does not score enough goals, but those he does get tend to be memorable. This was no exception, joining last season's strikes against Swansea and Manchester City in his personal pantheon. An unstoppable shot on his less favoured foot, one that arrowed past an in-form Robert Green, was an indication of his ability. The fact it was his first goal in seven months -- albeit a spell interrupted by the end of last season and an injury-enforced absence -- is a reminder that he ought to be more prolific.
The irony was that he returned to the score sheet when given a less attacking remit. However, it could be a glimpse of his future. If Barkley does join a Champions League club, some of his football may have to be played in a central midfield duo. Those who are full-time No. 10s at the elite outfits tend to be genuinely special players.
Martinez tends to trumpet the talent of Barkley, yet it is notable how he has been reluctant to trust the 21-year-old in a holding role. Even when Gareth Barry and James McCarthy have been separated, Muhamed Besic, Leon Osman and Darron Gibson have been preferred in the deeper berths. Yet with Barry banned, McCarthy injured and only the Bosnian in the matchday 18, Barkley was granted a starting position a little nearer his own goal.
Not that Barkley was part of the double pivot Martinez usually employs. The Spaniard asked Naismith, ever a player who will follow a manager's instructions, to drop more than usual and make a trio with Besic and Barkley. Perhaps it was a sign that Martinez did not want to burden Barkley with too much responsibility.
And indeed, Barkley illustrated that he is at his best when he has a licence to think positively. A capacity to pass the ball forward can be invaluable, and two Naismith shots followed passes that Barkley made to teammates in more advanced positions. Just when it seemed Barkley was more restrained than usual and dribbling less, he strode forward to hammer Everton into the lead. It was a sign he is player who can make a difference, wherever he operates.
3. QPR's road mediocrity continues
Consistency eludes many clubs. Not QPR. They are paragons of uniformity. They have a 100 percent record this season: They have played eight away games and have lost all eight. Suffer another setback at Arsenal on Boxing Day and they will equal Bolton's record for the worst start to a Premier League season on the road.
They are not just the only club in the Premier League without a point on the road, but the only one in all four top divisions of English football. Their only hope of ending that unwanted statistic seemed to disappear with Barkley's thunderbolt.
At least one part of Rangers' record on their travels improved. They scored, and not just because they got the final touch to all three Everton goals. They had mustered only two previous goals away from Loftus Road, and both came from Charlie Austin, who was suspended after being sent off against Burnley. Harry Redknapp's starting XI still have not scored on the road, but a substitute did: Bobby Zamora tapped in the rebound after Tim Howard parried Mutch's shot. Most of their other efforts were too wayward, symbolic for a side with little sense of direction when it leaves home.
Perhaps QPR could lose all 19 away games. Perhaps their form at Loftus Road will be so good they will still survive too, but that would be an astonishing combination of events.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.