It says something about the progress being made under Marco Silva that you could come a way from a game hugely satisfied with a comfortable win while still feeling a little niggle in your belly that Everton really could have handed out a proper thrashing.
It would have been harsh on Brighton — not that they were particularly unfortunate to lose; the Blues were dominant throughout — simply because you have to admire what the thoroughly decent Chris Hughton is doing on the south coast but it would have underlined the quality coursing through Silva’s increasingly confident team.
Richarlison deservedly grabbed the headlines with a superb brace but from the unflappable defensive duo of Michael Keane and Kurt Zouma to the indefatigable anchor formed by Idrissa Gueye and André Gomes in the centre of midfield, there were impressive displays to be lauded as Everton won their third home game on the spin. Oh, and there was a moment of redemption for Seamus Coleman who let it be known that he hasn’t been oblivious to criticism of his performances this season.
What should be hugely encouraging to Evertonians and unsettling for our rivals is that Silva’s side still haven’t hit their stride. The final ball and the composure in the final third is a little inconsistent and that was probably the difference between a handsome win — by most measures, the best of the season at home — and a rare Goodison tonking. It will come though; this Blues team is going to tear someone apart one of these games and it’s going to be glorious.
Despite all the speculation about the ongoing effectiveness of playing Richarlison as a central striker, the chequered form of Theo Walcott, and the need for Yerry Mina to get some competitive playing time ahead of next weekend’s trip to Stamford Bridge, Silva went for the same line-up as that which started the two previous matches. The importance of a settled team is seemingly not lost on the Portuguese and it paid dividends this afternoon.
Walcott was lively and exhibited some great movement but he might feel he could have done better with a chance early in the second half after Gueye had slammed a shot off the post and Bernard had pinged a fast ball across goal where the right winger sliced wide at the far post.
Mina, meanwhile, got a few minutes at the end to savour the atmosphere at Goodison when the crowd is in full voice from pleasure at an imminent home win. His time will come at Stamford Bridge when Zouma will be forced to step aside by eligibility requirements against his parent club.
That will postpone the manager’s selection headache for a week but, depending on how the Colombian performs next Sunday, he will face another impossible choice when Cardiff come to town towards the end of the month. Because, with England manager Gareth Southgate watching on from the stands, Keane put in another imperious performance at centre half alongside Zouma who was just as good.
Both players read the game so well and they commanded both the air and the ground against Glenn Murray and Solly March. Brighton’s goal, another annoying lapse at a set-piece that allowed Lewis Dunk to steal in behind Zouma and head home, was disappointing but you sense that in a zonal marking system, it’s more difficult to assign individual blame and, perhaps, it was the ease with which the visitors were allowed to cross that was the real issue.
Thankfully, Dunk’s 36th-minute strike was rendered academic by an Everton display in the second half that was a more realistic reflection of their collective talents and the intensity they can bring. They had been in control for most of the first half, enjoying more than 60% of the ball but had just one shot on target to show for it at the interval. (Indeed, the Blues were remarkably efficient when they got the ball on target over the whole game, scoring with all three.)
Gylfi Sigurdsson, another unsung hero on the afternoon, really should have scored with just five minutes on the clock when Coleman collected a sublime pass from Keane and cut it back perfectly for the Icelander but, whether it bobbled at the crucial moment or he took his eye off the ball, he miscued what should have been a routine crack at goal.
He narrowly missed trying to convert a low Lucas Digne cross from the other flank five minutes later but he was instrumental in the opening goal when it arrived in the 26th minute. Zouma back-headed a Brighton corner into space outside the Everton box and Sigurdsson took off into the yawning gap that lay ahead of him down the left flank.
He exchanged passes with the alert Bernard and advanced to the visitors’ area where he met Richarlison’s run with a neat ball that the Brazilian thumped emphatically over the head of the hapless Mat Ryan.
The second goal, one which restored the Blues’ advantage just five minutes after the break, was scored in fine style by the captain and it was followed by a passionate hands-cupped-to-the-ear, what-say-you-now? celebration in front of the Gwladys Street End.
Typifying his deceptive physical strength, Gomes tussled with his man to recover after he had tried to control a heavy pass inside from Bernard and did enough for the ball to break to Coleman 20 yards from goal. The Irishman had enough time and space to pick his spot past a couple of defenders and despatched a crisp drive inside the far post.
There were some nearly moments that followed where a misplaced pass or a moment of indecisiveness would ruin a promising move and prevent Everton from increasing their lead until a moment of superb opportunism from Richarlison led to the third goal.
Anticipating Dunk’s attempt to find Shane Duffy with a cross-field pass, the Brazilian seized on what was a slightly under-hit ball, knocking it past the former Everton defender and then confidently rounding the keeper to slot into the empty net.
That was more or less all she wrote. Ademola Lookman came on for Bernard for the final 25 minutes and Dominic Calver-Lewin replaced Walcott for the last few minutes but the Blues were home and dry by that point.
Having not been tested apart from the Brighton goal — there was little he could have done to prevent it — Jordan Pickford’s only real action of the second half was to push Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s curling shot over the bar three minutes from the end. Brighton had been game enough but they couldn’t cope with their visibly superior hosts.
Coming on the back of the previous home wins over Fulham and Crystal Palace, this was another very encouraging performance from Everton with key individuals starting to really starting to blossom and the quality of play is becoming increasingly pleasing at the same time.
Freed up to what he does best by his new midfield partner, Gueye was exceptional in midfield, covering every blade of grass, snapping into tackles and disrupting the opposition time and time again. Gomes, meanwhile, was the metronome in the middle of the park, running the show with tidy passes, forward momentum and no shortage of muscle in the challenge of his own when required. The Portuguese just oozes class and his signature on a permanent deal has surely moved towards the top of Marcel Brands’s agenda.
Silva would be the first to admit that there is still plenty of room for improvement in general, however, and that should concern our rivals bidding to finish “best of the rest” in the Premier League. Another test of whether the top six, two points away as things currently stand, is a viable target looms next week at Chelsea. Spring a surprise there — this Blues team has the talent to do it — and the optimism around what can be achieved under the new regime can be ratcheted up a little further.
Silva also knows, however, that if his team keeps winning its home games and can collect draws on the road, they will still be in very good shape. This was a pleasingly routine victory that very much keeps that strategy in play while the wider rebuilding job continues.
Three excellent goals, two from Richarlison and one from Coleman, sealed the win over a resistant Seagulls side.
Yerry Mina remained on the bench until the final minute, Richarlison rising to the challenged and finally delivering from his unaccustomed role at centre-forward. Shane Duffy was stalwart in defence for the visitors, who kicked off and moved the ball about zippily, Everton less so, with some unforced turnovers.
A fine move down the right, and layback from Coleman set up Gylfi Sigurdsson for a fine finish that burst the net... except it didn't — a dreadful touch by the Icelander squandering a guilt-edged chance to put this game on the right track, an unbelievable mishit.
Everton perhaps realised they should be doing better and tried to build but Richarlison was tapped by Dunk who saw a very early yellow card.
Another fine move, this time down the left, saw a fine cross that picked out Sigurdsson again, but his shot under pressure hit the side-netting when it looked easier to score.
Richarlison turned his ankle overstretching to try and keep the ball in play, he tried to play on but then went down for treatment, eventually coming back on.
Walcott had a fine run into the area but his cross was blocked behind. From the corner, Digne picked out Zouma who really should have done far better than heading it wide. Brighton had a free-kick that was competently defended.
Everton pushed and probed, winning another corner that Duffy cleared strongly. Bernard exchanged passes with Richarlison, back to goal, ineffective and unable to turn; no chance ensuing.
Brighton won their frst corner that was floated in hig, Zouma releasing Sigurdsson, for a fantastic break down the left, he exchanged crisp pases with Bernard before playing in Richarlison who finished brilliantly into the roof of the net. Much better!
The fans wanted a penalty when Digne went down but it was questionable. Another corner, again met by Duffy as Brighton come under pressure. Digne swapped sides but played an overhit forward ball to nowhere.
Another Brighton corner, recycled well, and a very good ball to the back post, over Zouma, headed in by Dunk to level the score, pIckford with no chance to stop it.
Richarlison picked the ball up, turned and ran on goal but his shot going wide was blocked behind as Bernard was deemed to have fouled, running into a defender.
Digne went on a run and decided to shoot rather than cross, a horrible choice, lashing it high and well wide. Walcott looked to be playing a little more brightly but was blown for offside.
A good spell of Everton pressure saw the ball pinging around the Brighton area without creating a clear chance and, on the counter, they won another corner that went all the way back to Ryan.
Despite getting more possession, it was Brighton who finished the half with a free-kick that Keane headed away.
A fine cross from Coleman after the break initiates an unbelievable spell of play, Gueye hitting the post, Bernard putting it back in the mix where Walcott blazes wide at the far post from point-blank range. Another horrible miss.
In the next spell of pressure, with nothing really on, Coleman fires a lovely dazy cutter drilled into the far corner off a half-assist from Gomes, his first goal in over 18 months since that horrible leg-break, and what a celebration!
Some great attacking play dominated by pinpoint passes from Gomes won a corner that Digne swung in well but cleared at the near post. Everton continued to press but Bernard was too easily dispossessed by Bong. Bernard put in a great ball to Walcott but, with first touch lacking, it bounced back off him.
Gana won a soft free-kick that Sigurdsson put on Keane's head but too much contact saw it fly wide. Richarlison pressure won another corner flicked across brilliantly at the near post by Richarlison. A free-kick from the left was lashed goalward by Sigurdsson but blocked.
Richarlison flung himself to the ground when touched by Dunk but the free-kick, played short, failed to develop any threat. Gomes kept driving Everton forward, a third goal very much required but the big men in Brighton's defence making it hard, and Barnard was the first to be switched out by Silva, with Ademola Looking getting 25 mins, but the corner kick was powered over everyone.
Good play on the left saw Sigurdsson almost play in Richarlison. After trying down the left, Everton probed down the right, winning a free-kick that Digne put to the far post where Ryan collected.
Richarlis leapt onto a poor backpass, cleverly beating a defender and carrying it wide around Ryan and finishing cleanly to finally give Everton the lead their play deserved.
Pickford had to react to a snap-shot from Duffy, who then got whipped out by his teammate Bong. Yerry Mina finally got his Everton debut, coming on for the final minute plus four added.
Everton played out the game confidently to secure the points and consolidate their place in the upper half of the Premier League table.
Scorers:Richarlison (26', 77'), Coleman (48'); Dunk (33')
Everton: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Zouma, Digne, Gueye, Gomes, Sigurdsson (89' Mina), Bernard (68' Lookman), Walcott (85' Calvert-Lewin), Richarlison
Subs not Used: Stekelenburg, Baines, Davies, Tosun
Brighton & Hove Albion: Ryan, Saltor, Duffy, Dunk [Y:10'], Bong, Jahanbakhsh, Stephens, Kayal (79' Andone) , Izquierdo (63' Knockaert), March (70' Bissouma), Murray.
Subs not Used: Locadia, Balogun, Steele, Bernardo.
Referee: David Coote
Everton return home to face Brighton & Hove Albion this weekend looking to bounce back from Sunday's loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford.
A difficult assignment made harder by incompetent refereeing ended in frustration for Marco Silva's men but in the broader context of the evolution underway under the Portuguese's stewardship, there were, again, positives to take even in defeat.
In what is a difficult run of fixtures away from Goodison Park — the Blues were pit against United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City in successive away games — it's at home where Silva knows his Everton side needs to ensure it picks up maximum points.
A few weeks ago, the visit of Brighton might have looked like a “home banker” (or as close to you can get to that in the modern Premier League) but Chris Hughton is overseeing a five-match unbeaten run which has seen the Seagulls win their last three, all by a single goal to nil.
That has lifted them to 11th in the table, just one point behind their hosts this weekend who will be looking to record a third home win on the bounce following the 3-0 win over Fulham and the 2-0 triumph over Crystal Palace.
Silva has named an unchanged attacking quartet for the past three games, with Richarlison moving to a central striking role to accommodate Bernard, but what worked so well at Leicester has started to be questioned somewhat by supporters.
It took the introduction of Ademola Lookman, Cenk Tosun and Dominic Calvert-Lewin to tip the match in Everton's favour against Palace and while the same strategy wasn't quite as effect against United, the manager will have been given food for thought by all three players and it could well be that he makes changes this weekend.
That could see one of Tosun, who scored in this fixture earlier this year, or Calvert-Lewin lead the line and Richarlison move back out wide, while Silva might be tempted to take Theo Walcott out of the firing line based on his iffy form of late and, perhaps, try either Lookman or one of the two Brazilians in his place.
Central midfield, where André Gomes's poise and seemingly seamless introduction to English football is delighting Blues fans, is likely to be unchanged but circumstance could prompt Silva into altering his line-up at centre-half in anticipation of next weekend's trip to Stamford Bridge.
Kurt Zouma will be ineligible to face his parent club in that one and there is some concern over the wisdom of throwing Yerry Mina in for his full debut in such a tough game. As well as Zouma has acquitted himself since signing on loan from Chelsea in August, he could be forced to make way and potentially risk losing his first-choice spot in order to blood Mina against Brighton.
The Colombian has been fit enough to start the last two matches but has been kept on the bench by the form of Zouma and Michael Keane. His debut is much anticipated, however, and this could be the weekend where he gets his chance. We await to hear from Silva at his press conference for more.
As Brighton have shown with three consecutive clean sheets, they can be tough to break down and that kind of defensive resilience, typified by ex-Blues defender Shane Duffy, has been a problem of Everton sides in the past and it proved to be again against Huddersfield in two months ago.
Richarlison was, of course, missing that day, and with Bernard and Gomes having settled into the team since and Lookman now pushing for game time, there is more creativity and guile about Everton than was the case in the frustrating 1-1 draw with the Terriers. The Toffees should have too much for the Seagulls but they will have to earn it.
Kick-off: 3pm, Saturday 3 November, 2018
Referee: David Coote
Last Time: Everton 2 - 0 Brighton & Hove Albion
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Mina, Digne, Gueye, Gomes, Sigurdsson, Walcott, Richarlison, Tosun