The remarkable and sudden Everton transformation from sieve-like to impenetrable continued to gather pace with a 1-0 win at Newcastle on Wednesday. Manager Sam Allardyce had the last laugh against one of his former clubs as the visitors claimed their first away win in 17 league games and 11 months.
For the second time in four days, the opposing manager bemoaned the Allardyce approach after failing to find a solution for it. On this occasion, Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez lamented perceived time wasting.
After countless awful performances and a wretched few months to open the season, three clean-sheet wins in four games and 10 points from a possible 12 has Everton only one point behind their tally at this stage last season. Football is a strange old game.
A big factor behind the striking home form and better displays last season was the blossoming midfield partnership between Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin. Most victories had those two at the centre of them.
Schneiderlin's struggle with form and discipline this season has left Gueye overworked due to a lack of midfield support. But for the first time in a long time, this match offered signs of those two linking up and approaching the level of performance evident last season. Those two back their best and consistently working in tandem would do wonders for this team.
Another slow start saw Everton spend the first 10 minutes treating the football like a proverbial hot potato as composure and the ability to string multiple passes together temporarily went out the window. Organisation and good football can coexist and finding the right balance is going to be the real test in the long term.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Another win built on strong defence and a clean sheet, though there is a clear need to ensure his team settle quicker in matches and do not immediately concede the initiative with needless long balls.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Jordan Pickford, 6 -- Unable to do anything about the two efforts from distance crashing against the woodwork, Pickford had little to do and is no doubt enjoying his reduced workload in recent matches.
DF Jonjoe Kenny, 7 -- Playing every minute of every league game since Ronald Koeman departed, strong tackling, good awareness at the far post and a willingness to push forward are becoming his trademarks. However, distribution can often be erratic.
DF Mason Holgate, 7 -- Unfortunate to pick up a yellow card in the second half and initial frustration at that decision seemed to affect his performance, but the young defender impressed otherwise and remains excellent value for his place at centre-back.
DF Ashley Williams, 8 -- After months of defensive chaos, there is something surprisingly reassuring about the sight of Williams lashing clearances downfield when pressure builds. Should have scored with a header from a set piece in the second half.
DF Cuco Martina, 7 -- With Allardyce shrewdly and publicly praising the player on the eve of the game, this was a good response to a trying Merseyside derby from the makeshift left-back.
MF Idrissa Gueye, 9 -- Back to his tireless best with one of those performances that convince you there must be two of him on the pitch. Gueye led the way for Everton on the night in terms of attempted passes, pass accuracy and tackles won.
MF Morgan Schneiderlin, 7 -- The French midfielder was far more proactive in and out of possession and closer to the player so prominent last season. This was the most convincing sign of promise amid a mostly miserable campaign to this point.
MF Aaron Lennon, 5 -- The winger had his header saved in the build-up to the goal but that was the extent of his influence on the match. While not entirely his fault, no player in the starting XI had fewer touches or attempted less passes.
MF Wayne Rooney, 6 -- Poor in possession and faded in the second half but showed his goal-scoring instincts when reacting first to poke home the winning goal. His seventh goal in eight games capped his 100th appearance for the club.
MF Gylfi Sigurdsson, 7 -- Possesses the kind of work ethic often associated with defensive players while retaining the ability to produce in the final third. Set piece delivery for the Williams chance was perfection.
FW Dominic Calvert-Lewin, 7 -- An isolated figure for the most part but selflessly ran himself to a standstill for the second time in four days and deserves immense credit for the attacking burden he has shouldered this season.
MF Nikola Vlasic, 7 -- Battled well in a competitive midfield and offered an attacking threat on the counter.
MF Tom Davies, N/R -- Revelled in winding up the home fans as Everton saw the game out.
DF Phil Jagielka, N/R -- His introduction at the end of games is becoming an Allardyce staple.