Midfielder Gareth Barry marked his 600th Premier League appearance with a goal as Everton’s unbeaten start continued with a 3-1 win over Middlesbrough which moved them into second place.
The 35-year-old, whose milestone has previously been achieved by only Ryan Giggs (632) and Frank Lampard (609), sparked the hosts’ comeback after goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg was controversially adjudged to have conceded an own goal from Alvaro Negredo’s robust, old-school centre-forward’s challenge.
He may be slower than his more sprightly, younger compatriots but the cool-headed Barry reacted quickest to smash home from a corner. Having gone 103 matches without a goal it was the veteran midfielder’s second in four matches.
Full-back Seamus Coleman put Everton ahead with a well-worked second before Romelu Lukaku made it six goals in three games for club and country.
That made it four wins and a draw for manager Ronald Koeman, another summer arrival, with only Manchester City having a better record.
Barry was one of two Everton midfielders being talked about pre-match as Ross Barkley’s indifferent form was another subject for public debate.
The England international was hooked at half-time of Monday’s 3-0 win at Sunderland with Koeman subsequently telling the 22-year-old he had to improve.
FT: Everton 3-1 Boro. Goals from Barry, Coleman and Lukaku give us our best start to a season since 1978/79. Up the Toffees! #EFCmatchday
— Everton (@Everton) September 17, 2016
He kept his place in the starting line-up but his first real run of any intent with the ball saw him check backwards, which had Koeman turning away in a mixture of frustration and disgust.
Barkley was to get better as the match wore on with one long-range drive parried by Victor Valdes into the path of Lukaku, who was flagged offside as he collected the rebound.
He produced one brilliant turn to leave Daniel Ayala trailing in his wake only to delay just long enough for the defender and his centre-back partner Ben Gibson to get back and snuff out the threat.
Of all the midfielders on show, however, Everton’s industrious Idrissa Gana Gueye is already looking a snip at £7.1million from Aston Villa purely on his work-rate alone.
Barry, meanwhile, was going about his business in the same manner he had done in 599 previous Premier League matches: mopping up in midfield, keeping it simple and generally being solid.
That was until Ashley Williams got in the way of Valdes at a corner and Barry instantly lashed home an angled shot to make it 1-1 in the 22nd minute.
If Middlesbrough argued Williams had impeded their goalkeeper, Everton thought they had an equally justifiable claim on the visitors’ opener three minutes earlier when Negredo, dominant in the air, appeared to head Stekelenburg’s hands and not the ball, forcing the goalkeeper to divert Stewart Downing’s cross into his own net.
A furious Stekelenburg, who left himself open to some criticism by not being physically stronger under pressure, was booked for his protests before Everton gradually took a hold of the game, only really making it tell when they scored twice in three minutes before the break.
The first of those was a smart move which saw full-back Coleman exchange passes with Lukaku, cut across the area before rolling a shot with his weaker left foot past Valdes.
Everton’s third, in added time, had more fortune about it as Yannick Bolasie’s inswinging cross was aimed at Lukaku and the Belgian was deemed to have got the slightest of touches to divert the ball beyond Valdes.
Deadline day loan signing from West Ham Enner Valencia was given a second-half debut when Lukaku took a whack on his calf as Everton comfortably saw out the game.