ROSS BARKLEY ENHANCED his growing reputation by firing Everton into the Premier League’s top four with a sublime 84th-minute free-kick in a 2-1 win at Swansea City.
The 20-year-old England midfielder, his head newly shaved, shaped a magnificent shot into the top-right corner after Seamus Coleman’s 30-yard opener for Everton had been cancelled out by a Bryan Oviedo own goal.
Barkley’s strike gave manager Roberto Martinez victory over his former club and left Everton a point above Chelsea in fourth place, having extended their unbeaten run to 10 league games.
Swansea, meanwhile, missed out an opportunity to move into the top half of the table and have now gone three matches without victory.
Swansea manager Michael Laudrup made five changes to the team held 1-1 at Norwich City in their last outing, with Gerhard Tremmel, Dwight Tiendalli, Chico Flores, Wilfried Bony and Wayne Routledge coming into the XI.
There were two changes for Everton, with James McCarthy returning from suspension in place of Leon Osman and Kevin Mirallas taking over from the injured Gerard Deulofeu.
With both sides renowned for the quality of their passing, the match had rich potential for entertainment, but the first half was a disappointment.
Routledge, Bony and Pablo Hernandez all failed to hit the target from promising positions for Swansea, while Everton’s one sight of goal saw Mirallas denied by a block from Ashley Williams after Chico lost possession.
Everton began to turn the screw after the break, with Gareth Barry volleying over before Tremmel had to push a rising drive from Barkley onto the crossbar.
The visitors broke through in explosive fashion four minutes later, with Coleman taking aim from 30 yards and surprising Tremmel with a vicious shot from wide on the right that swerved inside the right-hand post.
The breakthrough was in keeping with Everton’s mounting momentum, but their lead lasted just four minutes.
Ben Davies tossed a high cross into the Everton box from the left and Tiendalli stole in front of Routledge to send a volley past Tim Howard via a sizeable deflection off Oviedo.
Both managers made changes in pursuit of a winning goal, with Alvaro Vazquez entering the fray for Swansea and Steven Naismith and Osman coming on for the visitors.
It was Barkley, however, who delivered the knockout blow, arcing a glorious free-kick over the wall and in off the crossbar with six minutes to play.
He was the match-winner, but Everton were indebted to Howard in the closing stages after the American goalkeeper produced a pair of excellent stops to thwart Hernandez and then Roland Lamah.
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