My God, it’s hard supporting this team sometimes. (Most of the time?) A thrashing at home followed by an optimism-inducing 5-1 away win and now a third defeat in four games to an inferior team that means Everton have taken just five points from the last 21 available. Oh, and that team that embarrassed us 6-2 eight days ago lost 3-1 at home today to a team that was playing in the Championship this time last year. Merry bloody Christmas…
This trip to Brighton was every bit as difficult as it promised to be beforehand. Chris Hughton’s team have struggled away this season but only Tottenham and Chelsea have taken maximum points from the Amex Stadium so far and Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw on Boxing Day that suggested that this was going to be a much tougher assignment for the Blues than was Burnley.
Marco Silva elected to go with the same system as three days ago but against a different formation and it became apparent, particularly in midfield where André Gomes was largely smothered, that the extra centre-half against a lone striker was the wrong option. It was only the concession of the goal, another poorly-defended set-piece, that prompted the change to a back four and, as it turned out, that was too late.
Credit to Brighton — they set their stall out from the outset, compressing the spaces, collapsing around Everton players and snapping into tackles. Granted, they were favoured to a frustrating degree by a dreadful referee in the form of Andy Madley but they had clearly been instructed to be aggressive and fight for every ball and they generally made it very hard for the Toffees to establish any rhythm.
And yet, despite never really ever clicking into gear, Everton should have been ahead by half-time. Michael Keane should at least have hit the target from Bernard’s 11th-minute cross but planted a free header wide and you imagine that the Seamus Coleman of old would have put his foot through a gilt-edged volley opportunity with half an hour gone after a great run by Richarlison rather than trying to take a touch around his man and seeing his eventual effort blocked behind.
Idrissa Gueye, once again more advanced than Gomes despite his weaker offensive game, actually caught the ball well a minute later but his shot was saved by David Button in the Brighton goal. And there were other potential openings for Silva’s men but Gueye wasted one with a poor final ball after making an excellent interception in the middle of the park.
Bernard then tricked his way past his man but Theo Walcott overhit a cross looking for Gueye and the Brazilian was lax in not reading the potential for a chance in front of goal as his compatriot Richarlison cushioned a header back to him in the six-yard box and the ball was cleared.
Despite actually moving the ball better than Everton and finding greater success in playing out from the back, Brighton had been restricted to just a couple of chances of their own in the first period.
Jordan Pickford was called into action to push Pascal Groß’s cross away at the feet of Florin Andone in the 13th minute while Yerry Mina had to come across swiftly to take the ball off off Davy Pröpper’s toe later in the half.
The hosts were the better of the two sides in the first quarter of an hour after the restart, however, and it falls on Silva for not reading the writing on the wall that portended a Brighton goal, almost predictably off a corner just minutes after Pickford had bailed Mina out with a terrific point-blank save.
Not for the first time, the Colombian steamed across and inexplicably played the man instead of the ball, leading to an obvious free-kick that found Andone in the middle but Pickford reacted superbly to push it over.
The keeper was left stranded, though, following a 59th-minute corner that came from a loose pass by Bernard that required an emergency intervention from Keane to knock the ball behind. Mina couldn’t get contact on the resulting set-piece, it bounced off Gomes’s leg and fell straight to Jurgen Locadia who sliced it past Pickford. The goal was initially chalked off for offside but the referee awarded it after consulting with his assistant.
Everton were almost level within three minutes and it might have been a different story if Richarlison hadn’t been foiled by Button. Mina had come forward and found the Brazilian in the Brighton area and his shot through a forest of legs was turned onto the post by the keeper.
Silva made the belated change in formation shortly afterwards, withdrawing the erratic Mina and introducing Gylfi Sigurdsson but with the a goal advantage, Brighton had the Blues where they wanted them. Hughton’s men were adept at winning a succession of cheap free-kicks and were generally able to frustrate Everton by pulling men behind the ball and daring the visitors to break them down.
The extra gear that was needed was never achieved and the quality required to pick the lock was fleeting. After doing all the hard work by skinning his marker down the left flank and feigning another left-footed cross before cutting back inside, Bernard made a mess of his shot, one which threatened the corner flag more than the goal.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin came on for Gomes and Oumar Niasse replaced Bernard with 10 minutes to go but the supposedly greater firepower did not translate to more chances. Walcott did next to nothing all match – again! – Calvert-Lewin barely had a sniff inside the box and Niasse’s first touch was comically awful, to the point where you wondered once more how the hell he ended up in the Premier League and is even still considered as an option on the Everton bench.
So many passes were over-hit or misplaced by black-shirted players, the decision-making in the final third remained suspect and yet Everton came within a few inches of grabbing a point when Locadia fouled Sigurdsson and the Icelandic international swung the resulting free-kick into the box where Kurt Zouma rose highest to plant a header off the crossbar with five minutes left.
Button was tested once more in stoppage time when perhaps the only ball Niasse was able to trap was fired the ‘keeper’s way from just inside the box by the Senegalese striker but the keeper gathered it at the second attempt before referee Madley blew for full-time.
As mentioned on another thread on these pages earlier, the term “transition” has become an irritating cliché for many Evertonians, particularly when Blues fans watch teams like Wolves, Leicester and Crystal Palace can travel to places like Wembley, Stamford Bridge and the Etihad and record wins over top-six teams while Everton struggle to even score at places like Brighton.
Each team is different, however, and while there is undoubtedly an element of psychology and, perhaps, a lack in coaching versatility at play in the Blues’ case, Silva is still presiding over a squad very much in transition from two failed managerial tenures.
There clearly was not enough time or money for Brands and Silva to ship out the dead wood last summer and bring in the quality we require across the board to compete with the top six. They did pretty well in the three months they had but both needed this season to fully assess the entire squad so that they can see where we still need to dramatically improve.
Everton desperately need a reliable goalscorer whose name isn't Richarlison because if he's not scoring or Sigurdsson isn't producing magic from midfield, there are few goals in the side. It was surprising to hear Brands came out as definitively as he did in saying he doesn't see any incoming signings next month but it would also be very difficult to sign the one player most teams are after – a 20-goals-a-season striker.
You could argue that right-back, right-wing and central midfield also need to be significantly strengthened before this team is capable of winning consistently and that takes time and money.
In the interim, however, as those afore-mentioned teams have shown, there is plenty to be said for having the right mindset and the right approach in games and combining it with a bit of killer instinct in the final third and a bit more solidity at the back when it comes to defending dead balls.
Too many players aren’t producing where it counts and as long as that continues, the more frustrating this season will continue to be.
Everton forged a number of good chances in a tough first-half at Brighton only to give up a goal to failed zonal marking on a corner.
Richarlison and Gueye return to the starting line-up, Calvert-Lewin and Gylfi Sigurdsson returning to the bench. The back three of Mina, Zouma and Keane continue.
For the home side, Shane Duffy, leading scorer Glen Murray is on the bench, while Anthony Knockheart is not involved. Keeper Matt Ryan is away at the Asia Cup.
Brighton kicked off with Everton in all black strip, the ball zipping around at pace until Brighton won an early free-kick. Montoya beat two Everton players only to run into Gueye who majestically took the ball off his toes.
Everton were getting the high press put on them all over the field, and finding it hard to make any space. But Gomes did, feeding Coleman with a tremendous pass, his cross straight at Button.
Richarlison picked the ball up and turned well to run forward but went to ground: no free-kick. Everton were trying to make good passing moves but Brighton were closing them down very effectively. Bernard won a corner that Digne played in well and Keane had a decent chance with his header but put it wide and was disappointed not to have tested the freshman keeper, Button.
Mina gave away a poor free-kick, shoving Andone off the ball, but the danger was repelled. But Pickford bravely saved a certain goal with his body as Andone came in on him. Brighton were making a strong fist of it, really testing the Everton defence.
Everton resorted to the long ball to try and release Richarlison with no result. Barnard and Gomes were triple-teamed. Gomes looked to release Digne but passed straight to Marsh, Brighton's covering and blocking the channels being very effective.
Walcott whipped a ball in that the keeper spilled, Bernard found it as his feet and played in Richarlison who looked to score but was flagged offside as his shot was cleared off the line.
Richarlison ran in down his favourite left-channel, his shot blocked away to Coleman, who failed to shoot and was soon closed down. Walcott followed up and lashed a shot on target but easy for Button. At least Everton had created some chances but ominously failed to take any of them.
Another good move saw Bernard fouled as Walcott chipped toward the far post and beyond Gueye who was not tall enough. Gomes played another loose pass straight to a defender and a sustained Brighton attack ensued. Good defensive play by Zouma stopped a frenetic advance by Propper.
More Brighton pressure saw Richarlison collapse in a heap, and stay down a long time while everyone ignored him. This type of physical press seems to bring out the worst in him.
A brilliant interception by Gueye saw him run forward but he could not play in Richarlison. Everton were putting together some fine movement, Richarlison heading back across goal, the ball just not falling right for Benard, who was on his heels and didn't anticipate it correctly. Would Everton pay for these missed chances?
A great ball from Gueye was crossed in first time by Digne to Richarlison who went to ground again under pressure. Everton pressed forward and won a late corner, but it ended with a foul called on the Everton attackers. Brighton had made it a really difficult half for Everton but their class had seen a handful of good chances created that were not taken.
Hostilities resumed but the play was scrappy overall. Brighton were the first to show with a great through ball played in behind by Propper after a great turn but Zouma was across superbly to deny Andone. Mina failed to play out the back and created a chance that was curled wide. But the tempo of the game was raised and Bernard was booked for getting involved with Marc after the ball was not played out by either side after Richarlison had gone down in a heap yet again, turning his ankle after overstretching and losing his balance. Stupid reaction from Bernard.
Brighton smelled blood and pushed Everton back, two Brighton players going down without calls before Minoa made another poor foul wide left and saw yellow for his troubles. The free-kick was headed well by Gross, and saved brilliantly at close range by Pickford. More last-ditched defending by Everton led to a corner, the ball fell to Locadia off Gomes but was initially ruled offside until the referee consulted the linesman, with three unmarked Brighton players, a really poor advert for zonal marking.
Richarlison got in as Everton responded well, and saw his shot pushed on to the post, Digne's follow-up deflected behind but nothing from the corner. A real test now for Everton with Silva calling up Sigurdsson in place of Mina, but not until a corner was overhit and wasted.
Brighton now took an age to play in a free-kick, and were called offside. Bu Brighton were now in control. Bernard went on a great run and had to score but sliced horribly, screwing the ball out for a throw-in.
Gomes was having a nightmare and he was finally hauled off for Calvert-Lewin. A better move down the right failed when Walcott's ball was underweighted. Sigurdsson tried to get in the mood with a long-range shot that was miles off target, as Chris Houghton rang his changes, Murray coming on to cause Everton even more headaches.
Bernard and Richarlison looked to combine and exchanged passes only for Duffy to dispossess Richarlison with ease. Nothing seemed to be working as Walcott was bamboozled by Bernado's trickery and persistence. He then gave away a ridiculous corner that Pickford punched out but it looked like an easy goal for Murray, only for Keane to head his shot away.
The final last-ditch change by Marco Silva was Niasse on for Bernard, now six attackers on to save Everton blushes. A corner won, swung in by Digne, and away by Duffy. The ball just wasn't sticking for Everton, as move after move broke down.
Sigurdsson was fouled wide right. He drove in a brilliant curler that Zouma ros high for and hammered into the cross-bar with Button all sewn up.... It was just not going to happen for the traveling Blues today.
With time running out, Calvert-Lewin had his ankles clipped, Digne drove the free-kick straight into the wall. A Brighton clearance fell straight to Walcott but he was denied space. However, Niasse did well to pull out a shot in the crowd; however, not strong enough to beat Button.
Digne tried a long throw but it was booted away, and he was not prepared to let things go, getting involved with Murray at the end after the whistle finally went on a hugely frustrating game for Everton. Normal service resumed.
Kick-off: 3pm, Saturday 29 December 2018
Brighton & Hove Albion: Button, Montoya, Duffy, Dunk, Bernardo, March, Propper, Stephens, Gross, Andone (74' Murray), Locadia.
Subs: Bong, Kayal, Bissouma, Balogun, Steele, Gyokeres.
Everton: Pickford, Mina [Y:56'] (65' Sigurdsson), Keane, Zouma, Coleman, Gomes (72' Calvert-Lewin), Gueye, Digne, Walcott, Bernard [Y:53] (79' Niasse), Richarlison.
Subs not Used: Stekelenburg, Baines, Jagielka, Davies.
Referee: Andy Madley
Match PreviewMarcel Brands has made it clear to the Echo that he is not a fan of the January transfer window.
“I don't like to sell in the winter, I don't like to buy in the winter.
“If you see, statistically, they are not the best transfers and you have to be careful.”
“We spent a lot of money in the summer and the club have spent a lot of money in the past,” he explained.
“My responsibility is to not only to bring players in but my responsibility is also financial on the football side. So that means we have wages, transfer fees, the youth Academy and I also have to bring in some money. So the goal is not to look for new players in this January window.
“It is not a secret, a few young players with great potential — Mason and Kieran — need to play,” he added. “I spoke to them both and we are looking to see if there is a good possibility for them to go on loan, then we will consider it.
“For the rest, we are not looking to offload players. We have a squad of 27 still and so if those boys go, we have 25. The games that are now coming up, you don't know what is going to happen, it is almost impossible to get through it without injuries so we have to take care of that also but you never know what is going to happen.
“But if really serious things happen (offers) then we have to look at what we have to do consider if we sell or not. But it is not a goal to sell, it's not a goal to bring in new players in the January window.”