Everton 3 QPR 1
Everton turned their final home game before Christmas into a yuletide celebration with a Salvation Army brass band playing carols at half-time and prizes for the best festive jumpers. They also invited the most obliging of guests in Queens Park Rangers.
It is eight consecutive Premier League away defeats and counting for Harry Redknapp's men and there will be no new year optimism should this generosity continue.
Ross Barkley injected much-needed quality into the contest and Everton's performance, with his first goal of the season. Kevin Mirallas added a second via a wicked deflection and Steven Naismith capitalised on slapstick defending from the visitors to seal the victory before substitute Bobby Zamora scored a late consolation for the visitors.
Not for the first time this season Roberto Martinez’s team switched off late in the game but, with the tenacious Muhamed Besic and Barkley to the fore, they had too much for Rangers. QPR have now taken a measly 13 points from their last 40 Premier League away matches. It is not hard to locate where their prospects of staying up are being dangerously compromised.
Rangers’ dreadful away record offered Everton a perfect opportunity to rediscover form at Goodison. For 33 minutes, however, they comfortably stifled Martinez’s team and familiar complaints over Everton ineffectiveness were growing until Barkley transformed the complexion of the night.
Only one team in Premier League history has made a worst start on the road than Redknapp’s side this season; their seven consecutive defeats prior to this game eclipsed by Bolton Wanderers’ nine away losses at the start of the 1995-96 season. Bolton finished bottom that season and Rangers’ recent improvement has to be replicated beyond Loftus Road to avoid a similar plight.
It was perhaps unsurprising that only 350 Queens Park Rangers' supporters travelled to Merseyside with Charlie Austin, the only Rangers player to score away from home in the Premier League this season, suspended.
QPR started brightly with Matt Phillips shooting over from the edge of the area and Eduardo Vargas stretching the Everton defence frequently. With Joey Barton and Leroy Fer protecting their defence diligently, Redknapp's team did not resemble a side that instantly loses their way once they leave the comforts of home. But it was their misfortune to encounter Barkley on his best performance of the season by far.
The 21-year-old only started in central midfield due to injury to James McCarthy and Gareth Barry’s suspension but relished the extra responsibility on the ball. It was only a few weeks ago that Martinez ruled out a central position for the England international, insisting it would be “a shame” to remove his creativity and explosive power from the final third.
The midfielder’s response showed it does not have to be that way.
Barkley created Everton’s first opening out of nothing with a measured pass over the top to Naismith, whose touch towards Romelu Lukaku lurking inside the penalty area was just too heavy to enable the striker to connect. Naismith also struck a goal-bound shot against Lukaku’s backside from an inviting cross by Séamus Coleman and Everton were beginning to look frustrated when Barkley suddenly burst forward from the centre circle.
Having evaded Barton and exchanged passes with Lukaku, the midfielder drove towards the left of the Rangers' penalty area before unleashing a powerful left- foot drive at Rob Green's goal. The shot took a slight deflection off the back of Mauricio Isla and the pace of the shot left Green flailing as it found the top corner.
It was the midfielder’s first goal since the memorable curler against Manchester City in May.
A more generous deflection gifted Everton a comfortable lead 10 minutes later. Barton was penalised for a foul on Naismith and, from the resulting free-kick from 25 yards, Mirallas’s shot struck Vargas on the head, wrong-footed Green and sailed into the opposite corner to where the Belgium internationalan intended his effort to go. The breaks, evidently, are not falling Redknapp’s way.
Rangers' composure, so evident before Barkley's goal, deserted them at the start of the second half. Green put his defence under pressure with a poor clearance that only just cleared the penalty area and his error was compounded by a second careless touch from Richard Dunne. Mirallas won possession and fed Aiden McGeady on the right, who floated a delightful cross to the back post where Naismith headed home via the fingertips of Green and the face of Nedum Onuoha. Guardian Service