Everton have been strong at Goodison this season, with the best home record outside the top six, but with nerves and a lack of confidence never too far away, there isn't really ever such a thing as a routine home win for Everton. This was, though; a belated expression of the talent that exists in the ranks even if it didn’t always gel into effective football or manifest itself in a slew of chances.
Much of that owed to the presence of Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman in defence and a performance from Wayne Rooney that was a lot closer to the maturity and composure that you would expect from a player of his age and experience.
The presence of those four relics of the Moyes era (one of them, of course, having returned from a decade away in between) served as the anchor to a lineup that had a number of changes foisted upon on it and yet looked and felt like one of the most settled of the campaign.
Ashley Williams began a three-match ban and both Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin were ruled out with the same virus which meant that with James McCarthy on the long-term injured list, there was no fit nominal holding midfielder apart from Beni Baningime. Despite having already demonstrated his readiness to step into the first team, the youngster was named among the substitutes and, thankfully, Everton were able to control the midfield regardless.
It helped that Brighton, despite coming into the game sitting one place above Everton on goal difference, didn’t offer much of attacking threat. They were under pressure early thanks to a strong start from the home side that almost led to Coleman opening his account, only for the Irishman to drag his third-minute chance across goal after strong work by Cenk Tosun.
And the visitors would remain under the cosh for the next half an hour or so, Everton forcing a succession of corners but only managing to prompt a save from Mat Ryan with one of them when Jagielka headed straight at the Australian from close range.
Yannick Bolasie, however, came within inches of turning another of Gylfi Sigurdsson’s dead balls in at the far post when he stuck out a leg and stabbed it the wrong side of the post. Later in the half, he made a mess of an attempted volley and dropped a header wide as the Blues continued to probe but, a couple of penalty appeals aside — the most viable one when Tom Davies was clattered through by Lewis Dunk as his team-mate Shane Duffy took the ball — gradually lost their early head of steam.
At the other end, Jordan Pickford’s only real test of the first half came from the in-form Glenn Murray whose 25-yard missile required strong hands from the young ‘keeper to parry away to safety.
Everton were unable to replicate their dominance of the first half in the beginning stages of the second but they still carried the greater threat. Walcott tore away on an early counter-attack but played his final ball a little behind Davies who couldn’t readjust in time to get a shot away. Then Duffy got in the way of a goal-bound Rooney effort that yielded yet another corner.
It felt like it should only be a matter of time before Everton’s superiority told but a goal remained elusive, promising moves faltering in the final third and the hosts just lacking enough cutting edge from both flanks.
Bolasie, in particular, was enduring a frustrating afternoon but just when the mind started to again wander over the question of why Nikola Vlasic, for example, can’t even get on the bench, the former Crystal Palace man cut inside into the space in front of him and engineered the opening goal. He swung in a wicked cross to the back post that left Gaetan Bong few options but to turn it past his own goalkeeper — which he did — or make no contact with the ball and let Walcott behind him do the honours.
Obviously, it would have been more satisfying had Walcott supplied the finish but the goal was the important thing. And just as important was Everton’s reaction to and defensive of it. Far too often this season, even at home, they have allowed the opposition to come back into the contest and make things difficult; instead they kept at it and doubled their lead thanks to a sumptuous finish by Tosun.
The build-up, however, was vintage Baines. He exchanged passes with Tosun to drive into the Brighton penalty area and wrong-foot Ezequiel Schelotto before squaring the ball back to the Turkish international near the top of the box. He set his sights and lofted a shot in off the underside of the bar to double the Blues’ lead.
If that goal hadn’t killed off the Seagulls’ chances, Pascal Gross’s audacious but slightly off-target attempt to catch Pickford off his line from the subsequent kick-off and then a straight red card for Anthony Knockaert did. The Brighton man’s own frustration got the better of him when he retaliated to an accidental ball in the face by lunging in with both feet on Baines and was summarily dismissed by referee Roger East for dangerous play.
That afforded Allardyce the opportunity to answer the clamour of Davy Klaassen to get a chance to shine by throwing the Dutchman on for the final 10 minutes and then another of his substitutes, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, to earn an 87th-minute penalty.
The young striker went down a touch theatrically under Duffy’s challenge but Rooney’s hopes of scoring his first goal of the year were snuffed out by Ryan who, having presumably done his homework, flung himself at full stretch to his right to push what was a well-struck spot-kick wide.
Mason Holgate’s late slip in stoppage time, when he passed straight to a yellow shirt, thankfully wasn’t punished as Pickford beat Gross’s shot away and the Everton ‘keeper was able to celebrate a first clean sheet since Boxing Day.
For all the obvious reasons, this was a big result and the importance of it wasn’t lost on Allardyce. He claimed afterwards that he was always going to name an attacking side, a response to repeated criticism of an overly conservative approach, particularly away from home, but it was interesting to see how comfortable Everton were without a recognised defensive midfielder on the pitch.
Again, Brighton’s own cautious outlook and attacking limitations made it a comfortable afternoon for the Blues’ midfield and it won’t be anything like as routine the next time they’re at Goodison to face Manchester City but on this occasion the formation worked. What a difference two natural fullbacks make!
Survival, while always likely despite the lingering threat of a relegation dogfight to end the season hanging around in the background, is virtually assured thanks to an afternoon that would leave you wondering what all the fuss was about if you hadn't endured what came before it and the manner in which this season derailed in the first place.
Cenk Tosun starts against Brighton, with Leighton Baines finally returning at left-back to give the defence an older flavour with Coleman and Jagielka partnering Keane.
Davy Klaassen is on the bench, Funes Mori is deemed not ready, Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin are out with illness, and Ashley Williams is suspended after last week's stupid red card.
Everton kicked off and followed with the now requisite hoof upfield. Rooney slid in for a poor tackle. Duffy gave up an early corner that Sigurdsson delivered well enough, Coleman ran forward but screwed his shot across goal. Another corner was nmet well by Jagielka but directed at Ryan in the Brighton goal.
Everton pressed forward well enough, with Brighton reasonably sold in defence, tempting Bolasie to fire from distance, but well off target. Rooney was looking to control the game but overhit a wide drive to Davies, but did better for Walcott to win Everton's third corner, which produced the fourth, two Everton attackers getting dragged to the ground.
More Everton pressure forced a fifth corner, recycled via another marvellous out-ball from Rooney to Walcott but Bolasie was not sharp enough to profit from it. Baines crossed well and Walcott failed to attack the ball.
A sixth corner went past Ryan but Bolasie should have done better, his improvised strike hitting the side netting. Sigurdsson needed treatment and after the restart, Murray lashed a decent shot at Pickford.
Bolasie and Baines were supporting eachother reasonably well but Bolasie just taking too long and wanting to show off too many tricks. Davies got sandwiched after the ball had left him: no penalty. Walcott won corner number seven, recycled to Sigurdsson who lashed a tricky shot at Ryan and Bolasie again miscued the rebound.
More slow build-up, Davies the most conservative in playing it safe. A lofted ball let Bolasie in to only head wide when he should have done a lot better. Tosun was having a torrid time, seeing nothing of the ball.
The Everton pressure eased a little until the eighth corner, Duffy getting it away and Rooney firing well wide. Tosun finally saw some ball but caught his marker with a late clip. That free-kick for Brighton set up a rare threatening move.
Davies was getting worse with some just horrible backward plays, showing no intent whatever to play forward. More scrappy play led to another Brighton attack as the Blues' almost shameful inability to score in a half they had dominated began to play on the mind. The ball was worked to Sigurdsson whose fierce shot was blocked well by Duffy. before the half-time whistle.
Brighton restarted the game and continued to limit the Blues while feeling they could now threaten the Everton goal. Walcott ran forward well but Davies could do nothing with the ball played slightly behind him as signs of frustration started early on.
Baines linked well with Bolasie but his cross to no-one was hugely frustrating. A Jagielka free-kick bounced through harmlessly to Ryan as the lack of direct threat to the Brighton goal continued.
Bolasie was blocked by Schelotto and from the free-kick Rooney fired a decent shot that was again blocked. The ninth corner came to naught as the rain started and the quality of the football further deteriorated.
But it suddenly opened up for Bolasie who picked out Walcott ghosting in at the far post but it was Bong who fired it into his own goal.
The Brighton gameplan was torn up as they needed to open the game now, hopefully giving Bolasie and Walcott more space, but it may still not be enough for Tosun to make any impression.
Bolasie won a free-kick in a central position that Sigurdsson delivered well enough but it came back off Duffy's head and Boalsie had to pull off a fine tackle on Schelotto. Coleman had to block a dangerous shot with his hand at close quarters. Tosun did fire at goal but unfortunately it was his own... thankfully Pickford alert to it as the Blues rocked a little with Brighton's first two corners.
Walcott went down, holding his calf, Calvert-Lewin replacing him. Baines and Bolasie linked up well down the left, Baines rolling the ball across the are to set up Tosun for a fine strike, in off the bar, to seal the win for Everton in the final 15 minutes.
Knockaert went in on Baines, studs high, foot extended, and was immediately shown the red card. Davy Klaassen came on for his first appearance under Sam Allardyce, replacing the 'industrious' Tom Davies.
Calvert-Lewin did well to get behind Duffy and draw a penalty but Rooney's decent enough penalty was saved very well by Ryan.
A mistake by Holgate allowed Brighton to run at Pickford but he was well up for Gross's fine shot. Everton played out the 4 mins of added time to register a vital home win and their first clean sheet of 2018.
Scorers: Bong (og:59'); Tosun (76').
Everton: Pickford, Coleman, Jagielka, Keane, Baines, Sigurdsson, Davies (84' Klaassen), Walcott (72' Calvert-Lewin), Rooney, Bolasie (78' Holgate), Tosun.
Subs not Used: Robles, Martina, Niasse, Baningime.
Brighton: Ryan, Schelotto [Y:55'], Dunk, Duffy, Bong (82' Suttner), Kayal (69' Locadia), Propper, Izquierdo, Gross, Knockaert [R:80'], Murray (77' Ulloa).
Subs not Used: Krul, Bruno, Goldson, March.
Referee: Roger East
Big Sam's eight game job interview
We planned on getting to the pub at around 1pm. “Do you not want to get there earlier to catch the United vs the Shite game?” enquired Dan. “No”, was my general reply. I seldom watch Liverpool as they just wind me up, and I couldn’t abide the idea of watching them win at Old Trafford so I was happy enough to miss a bit of it. As we arrived through the Mersey tunnel, Ste checked his phone and said “United are winning 2-0”. That cheered us up somewhat and we couldn’t wait to get to the pub and catch a bit of it, Manchester United seeing the game out successfully, and with an attacking team named, we weren’t quite skipping to Goodison Park but walked with smiles rather than frowns.
With a full house crowd and Brighton selling out their entire allocation, the atmosphere was bubbling nicely as we got to kick off, and Everton began very impressively, really forcing Brighton onto the back foot in the opening 20 minutes. I’d almost go as far as to say that the first 20 minutes were as good as we have played all season. Given the season we’ve had, this isn’t the boldest statement I know, but we did play very well in that period. It was clear from early on that Yannick Bolasie had the beating of Argentine right back Ezequiel Schelotto and though end product was sometimes frustrating he was causing problems from the off and probably came closest to scoring during that period when he flashed a leg at a deep Gylfi Sigurdsson corner kick only to see it stab into the side netting. I think some of the crowd in the Main Stand and Top Balcony area thought it was a goal for a second or two, cue ironic cheers from the travelling crowd. Phil Jagielka also got a header on target from another corner kick but it fell safely into the arms of Australian goalkeeper Mat Ryan. Seamus Coleman also flashed an effort across goal and wide of the far post with a good opportunity.
Everton were dominant, but hadn’t scored and on about 25 minutes when Brighton had finally settled, Glen Murray found a little space and hit an effort from distance which Jordan Pickford saved pretty comfortably. All that play though, and Brighton have one effort and almost scored. That’s what can happen if you don’t score when you’re on top. The remainder of the half was played out a lot more evenly, with Everton probably disappointed not to have made their early dominance count.
Andrei Kanchelskis made an appearance on the pitch at the break to warm applause throughout the stadium. We got under way and whatever Chris Hughton had said to his team at the break seemed to have worked and they pinned us back early on, though failed to convert their pressure into something meaningful. Nevertheless, this unnerved Everton somewhat and we lost our way a bit. The crowd were starting to get restless and it took a moment of inspiration from Bolasie to cut inside and put a good ball into the far post towards Theo Walcott. Thankfully Brighton’s defending was awful, or at least Gaetan Bong’s was as he contrived to prod into his own goal to put Everton ahead. We hadn’t realised at the time and thought Theo had scored. I thought it was poor defending anyway to let Theo get the wrong side of him like that, but hadn’t realised it was even worse and that Bong had in fact put into his own net. The goal was met with huge relief throughout as things were not going great on the pitch at that point.
The goal helped the players relax and they exerted themselves well on the game in the final half hour. 15 minutes later it was 2-0 when Leighton Baines picked up the ball and darted on with it, played a lovely one-two with Cenk Tosun who took a touch and rifled home. He probably could have been closed down quicker, and against better teams he’d probably have needed to take it first time as wouldn’t have been afforded the touch, but the hapless Bong could only do enough to have it skim off his backside on the way through. It was, regardless, a marvellous finish from Cenk and it’s great to see him firing with two goals in two games. Excellent work from Leighton also. We’ve certainly missed that quality from the left, well from both flanks really. Hopefully Leighton and Seamus can stay fit and maintain that quality for the remainder of the campaign and into pre-season.
Brighton were pretty much done as Everton became a bit relentless and they really didn’t need Anthony Knockaert to get himself sent off with an unforgivably poor challenge on Leighton Baines. Prior to the challenge, Knockaert got a ball in the face from Baines and maybe the red mist descended which caused him to fly in like that. Good on both our full backs for their reaction. First from Baines for not rolling around and making a meal of it; and then from Coleman for giving Knockaert an earful on the way off. Seamus knows, of course, better than anyone what it is like to be on the receiving end of a bad tackle and having just come back from a long injury, Leighton is lucky not to have been hurt with that challenge.
2-0 should have become 3-0 when Dominic Calvert-Lewin went down easily in the penalty area and Roger East pointed to the spot. Wayne Rooney, who had played defensive midfield with aplomb and so was deep on the pitch, got excited and ran pretty quickly up the pitch to make sure he got the ball and get on the scoresheet, but he was prevented by an excellent save by Mat Ryan. He’s missed three this season now Wayne, albeit two of them he put in the rebound, and Sam Allardyce is right when he says Wayne shouldn’t take the next one, especially with Baines and Sigurdsson on the pitch.
Thankfully it didn’t matter of course, though when substitute Mason Holgate gave the ball away carelessly, Brighton were almost in but Pickford did well to save their effort on goal. It was nice to keep a clean sheet as a late Brighton goal would have been a shame.
After a torrid season on the sidelines it was nice to see Davy Klaassen get some time on the pitch as Everton saw the game out, and overall we were good value for what was an important win in making sure we weren’t going to get sucked into the relegation battle this season.
We still have an opportunity to look up rather than down this season. Big Sam has spoken out a couple of times now about staying on for longer than this season and next. For me, he has an eight game job interview from now. I’d say we’ve more or less done enough to survive, and won’t get relegated from here. Based on experience of years of disappointment, this is where our team will usually down tools for the season and get the flip flops on. If, and it’s a ginormous if, we can go unbeaten in these games and win the majority of them, this gives us quite a platform and good momentum going into pre-season. This then makes it difficult to move Sam Allardyce on, as why would you move on a manager who is performing?
Over to you Sam. Have you got what it takes?
Pickford: When your goalkeeper has a quiet game you need him to be alert when the opportunities come the oppositions way, and Jordan was certainly on the ball with the few chances Brighton created. Well done. 7
Baines: Terrific to see him back and great to finally have some balance and creativity down the left hand side. Fitted in as if he’s never been away. Well done Leighton. 7
Jagielka: Also came back after, albeit a much shorter, spell on the sidelines. He swept up very well and looked after Michael Keane sufficiently. Great to have him back and it would be nice if we could keep that back line together for the rest of the season. 7
Keane: Did OK. 6
Coleman: Didn’t quite get going in attack but had quite a solid game. 6
Rooney: A shame he missed the penalty but otherwise, a late mistake which gave the ball away aside, he did ever so well from defensive midfield and had an impressive game. 7
Davies: Frustrated at times but I like that he sticks to his guns and he had a good impact on the game in the second half. 6
Bolasie: Was a constant thorn in their side and though he can frustrate us, he must have frustrated them a lot more. Had a good game and one time when he tracked back a long way to put a tackle in was also impressive. A good effort and an assist. Well done. 7
Walcott: After an under par display at Turf Moor last week, he did a lot better against Brighton and caused them problems. Gets back well and helps out his defence also. I hope his injury isn’t serious as he is one of our more important players. Well done. 7
Sigurdsson: He’s really settling into that no. 10 position now and is really making his mark. His set-piece distribution is really up to scratch now also. Had a very good impact on the game and is my man of the match. 8
Tosun: I like the look of him. He isn’t blessed with pace but does work hard and I’m looking forward to what he can offer next season when he is razor-sharp following a good pre-season. He seems a good character also, and is always encouraging his team mates and applauding their efforts and passes. Two goals in two games for Cenk, and I hope he can continue his purple patch for at least another three games. :-) 7
Calvert-Lewin (for Walcott): Got involved and did quite well. I’d like him to stop going down like this in the penalty area though as he’ll soon enough get a reputation. He’s won two penalties now with minimal contact, and was denied one at Arsenal. It would be a shame if his talent became tarred with a ‘diver’ reputation. 6
Holgate (for Bolasie): As soon as we made it 2-0, Holgate was waved over from his warm-up by Sammy Lee and was introduced to the action. He was doing OK until hew carelessly gave it away. Make that error at 1-0 against better teams, and he’ll likely be punished. You live and learn I suppose. 5
Klaassen (for Davies): Nice to see him get on the pitch after a long, long time out. Though he didn’t get on the ball much, he got involved and covered plenty of ground in his nine minutes or so. Nice to see you back involved Davy. 6
Everton return to Goodison Park following two disappointing away games for a clash with Brighton that has taken on much importance than it otherwise might.
The Blues' run of poor form, just two wins in the last 11 in the Premier League, combined with the Seagulls' own improved results, means that they will begin the weekend sitting below Brighton in the table and just seven points above the relegation zone.
That has heaped more pressure on Sam Allardyce to oversee a third successive home victory that would significantly ease fears that Everton could dragged into the scrap to beat the drop this season.
Though he will be missing a first-choice centre half in the form of the suspended Ashley Williams, the manager has been boosted by the return to fitness of Phil Jagielka, Ramiro Funes Mori and Leighton Baines, all of whom are now available.
“Our injury list is not too bad at all,” Allardyce said in his pre-match press conference. “Obviously, we've got a couple of long-termers in Mangala and McCarthy but the rest of the players are okay.
“There [is a decision to be made at centre half]. We've got Funes back as well after two or three Under-23 games [so] we've got a number of centre-halves we can choose from as a replacement for Ash.”
Baines's presence at left back and Jagielka's experience in the middle have been missed in recent weeks and it would not be a surprise to see both drafted back into the starting XI but whether Allardyce would be tempted to drop Michael Keane and replace him with Funes Mori remains to be seen.
Up front, Cenk Tosun's goalscoring return to the side last weekend will surely have earned him a place and Dominic Calvert-Lewin could also keep his spot if Allardyce opts to keep the same attacking unit as that which faced Burnley and bring Wayne Rooney in at the expense of Tom Davies.
The manager will be treating Chris Hughton's Brighton with plenty of respect if the comments in his presser and then to the print media afterwards are any indication. He is all too aware of the costs to him personally if Everton don't win this important home game given how poor they have been on their travels and that the next two visitors to Goodison are Manchester City and Liverpool.
“I can't continue to lose football matches. It is as simple as that,” Allardyce said. “There is no point beating about the bush and saying you can have as much backing as you want. There is great backing from the owners but I have to win matches to reassure them that I am the right man for the job.
“Brighton are picking up points home and away so it'll be a hugely difficult game for us and it's not one we can underestimate at all,”
“We all aware of the disappointment [in our form] away from home but we have to look at the home results and say that's where our bread and butter lies. That's where we've been good.
“We've won the last two home games and I think we've only conceded two goals that were penalties so we've played well at home but our away form is the big problem we have.
“We have to put that behind us, make sure there's no legacy from the disappointment of the last two games and be in top form on Saturday because we need to get a win.
“We have a put a bit of pressure on ourselves because of the last two away results and we have to cope with the pressure and deliver for the fans who are very, very important to us, home and away.”
Kick-off: 3pm, Saturday 10 March, 2018
Referee: Roger East
Last Time: Everton 2 - 2 Brighton & Hove Albion (October 1982)
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Jagielka, Keane, Baines, Gueye, Rooney, Sigurdsson, Calvert-Lewin, Walcott, Tosun