Three points, a clean sheet and sixth place, at least for the time being… job done and move on. That should be the overriding sentiment in the Everton camp after a narrow but important victory over Cardiff City at Goodison Park this afternoon.
The Blues have played — and will play — much better than that this season but where under the three previous regimes (and even earlier this season, perhaps, as was the case against Huddersfield) they might have drawn this one against a Bluebirds side that made things pretty difficult at times, today they were able to grind out the win.
That is becoming a feature of Silva’s reign and it’s a hugely useful trait to have. The Portuguese is banishing fears that he would prove to be the second coming of Roberto Martinez with a focus on defensive solidity and a strong emphasis on not conceding goals. That set the platform for a dominant display over Cardiff, one underpinned by the impressive pairing of Idrissa Gueye and André Gomes in central midfield, that restricted the visitors to just 29% of the possession and only a couple of openings to try and spoil Everton’s day.
There were moments of brilliance. Now starting to flex his attacking muscles after taking a few games to settle into the English game, Gomes had a couple of beautiful periods of play where he sauntered past his man and caused Cardiff problems, belting one shot into the side-netting. Ademola Lookman, meanwhile, stepped off the bench and delivered another example of his mesmerising footwork that almost resulted in the Blues doubling their lead in the final 10 minutes.
But on the whole this was a performance that, perhaps, betrayed some of the disruptive effects of the international break. Silva alluded to the less-than-ideal nature of the build-up that saw players returning to Finch Farm as late as Thursday and Richarlison, in particular, had what was arguably his poorest game so far since joining from Watford. That is fine, by the way; he gets to and rather it be against the likes of Cardiff and in a match where Everton still had enough to earn the victory than in some of the more difficult assignments looming over the next three weeks.
Then there the starting wingers who put on inconsistent displays but still managed to weigh in with telling contributions. Bernard laid on the pass from which Gylfi Sigurdsson looked likely to break the deadlock in the 55th minute before his shot was cleared off the line while it was from a Theo Walcott effort that the Icelander did score what proved to be the winner a few minutes later.
Neither Walcott nor Bernard were particularly effective in a first half in which let themselves down with loose passing in the final third and a general lack of guile that meant they carved out just one clear-cut opportunity before half-time. In addition to firing the afore-mentioned shot just wide, Gomes hooked one shot wide from 25 yards and also exhibited more dribbling skills to get to the byline and fizz a ball across the face of goal that was begging for a Blue shirt to convert.
Particularly in view of his very Duncan Ferguson-esque header for Brazil earlier in the week, it was Richarlison who probably should have scored six minutes before the interval, however, when he was picked out by Sigurdsson’s free kick from the right but headed tamely straight at Neil Etheridge.
Cardiff, meanwhile, had been predictably cagey about going forward and were content to sit deep and frustrate Everton where possible. Nevertheless, when Yerry Mina misjudged a header with a quarter of an hour gone, it allowed Callum Paterson to get in behind the defence and drag a shot across Jordan Pickford’s goal and wide. It was a decent chance and one he probably took too early given the time he had on his hands.
It was Sigurdsson who took centre stage early in the second half, however, as the Blues stepped up a gear after the restart. A great touch to wrong-foot his international team-mate, Aron Gunnarsson, at the end of a lovely attacking move set up a shooting opportunity from outside the area but he got underneath it and it flew well over.
Then, as Yerry Mina romped forward uninhibited and played the ball to Bernard before continuing his charge into the six-yard box, the Brazilian winger put Sigurdsson in on goal with a neat pass but after rounding the keeper, the midfielder was denied by Sol Bamba on the line.
The decisive goal arrived four minutes later, though. Greg Cunningham unwittingly knocked the ball into space ahead of Walcott and the winger took the invitation to drive into the area and line up a shot searching for the far corner of Etheridge’s goal. He didn’t appear to make clean contact, however, and the keeper pushed it to the side but straight to Sigurdsson who gratefully tucked it away into the empty goal.
That was Cardiff’s cue to press forward more and after Mina had been adjudged to have fouled Gunarsson and the resulting free-kick as cleared, Víctor Camarasa forced the only genuine save Pickford would make on the day midway through the second half, the Everton keeper diving to his left to fist the shot away to safety.
The away fans also made vociferous claims for a penalty when Junior Hoilett appeared to be tripped in the box by Seamus Coleman but referee Paul Tierney waved play on.
Lookman was introduced in place of Walcott with in the 72nd minute and he quickly began furthering his case for a starting berth, perhaps at the expense of the man he replaced. His best moment came 10 minutes later with another of his slaloming runs past three opponents before a lucky bounce off a defender set up him perfectly for a placed shot that was pushed behind one-handed by the Cardiff goalkeeper.
Having been very comfortable up to that point, Everton were forced to endure an unnecessarily nervy last few minutes as the visitors sought to cancel out the narrow 1-0 advantage. The otherwise impeccable Gueye needlessly fouled Josh Murphy as he was going away from goal but, thankfully, Paterson headed the consequent set-piece well over the crossbar.
Everton had two chances soon afterwards to kill the contest in stoppage time but Richarlison’s shot in front of goal was saved and substitute Cenk Tosun somewhat fluffed a shot after being teed up by Lookman with a square pass into the box from the right flank.
That left Cardiff to have the final chance when Coleman allowed Hoilett to get a cross in far too easily, Murphy brought the ball down and got his shot off but it was charged down and deflected behind for a corner that would come to nothing before the full-time whistle was blown.
Much will be made of the fact that Everton weren’t their best today but, again, the three points and a clean sheet were the most important outcome on the day and there was much to admire from the likes of Gomes, Gueye, Digne, Keane and Mina, while Sigurdsson weighed in with another vital goal that took his tally for the season to seven in all competitions. The result moves the Blues into the top six pending the result from Bournemouth’s clash with Arsenal tomorrow and extends the home winning streak to four games.
No match is easy in England’s top flight anymore but once again Everton got the job done without really getting into anything like top gear. Things will have to be different next weekend at Anfield where the opponents will be second-placed Liverpool but the massively encouraging form of Gomes and Gueye in the middle of the park, combined with a tight defence means that the forward players only have to show their undoubted quality to make Silva’s Blues a formidable outfit and genuinely capable of getting a result across the Park.
Everton return to Premier League action with a home game against Cardiff this weekend with an unchanged side that started at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago.
Marco Silva was able to select an unchanged side after Sigurdsson and Gomes were declared fit with Kurt Zouma remaining on the bench as Mina partners Keane in defence.
Everton kicked things off and moved the ball around well in the early minutes. Some bright ideas but the execution a little lacking. Bernard gave the ball away poorly and it allowed Cardiff to get close to goal. Richarlison flopped at the merest touch... very poor from him. In his next challenge, he feels head contact and collapses again. Ater slid in to take out Coleman. From the free-kick, Bernard completely misses his kick.
Walcott ran forward and looked to play in Richarlison, who was challenged well and form the corner Keane headed softly to Etheridge. More poor control, this time by Coleman, showed a strange nervousness, Gunnarson trying his long throw. Better movement and passing saw Bernard cross but Walcott could do little with it.
A long throw form Gunnarsson was met by Paterson for the visitors. Gueye ran a long way abut wasted it with one of his trademark utterly wasteful shots. At the other end, Paterson got behind but drove early and well wide of Pickford.
Richarlison got the ball wide right but did nothing with it when confronted by Bamba. He then tried to dribble in and pass but gave up the ball. So many mistakes from a very sloppy Everton getting a lot of possession but not using it profitably.
Coleman overlapped well but his good cross was into no-man's land, no attacker showing the required intent. Sigurdsson tried to get Walcott running in but there was no understanding. Sig powered in a cross that won another corner, delivered really well but Mina could not reach it.
A quarter of the game gone already with not a single decent effort, and another poor giveaway in midfield invited Cardiff forward, Pickford out quickly.
They finally worked it to Richarlison but he just gave it away cheaply again. Barnard was again guilty of a pass to no-one. Richarlison did better to switch play across to Coleman and it led to Everton's third corner. Another fine delivery but half-cleared by the keeper, Gomes dancing through but lashing his shot from an impossible angle into the side-netting.
Richarlison crossed harmlessly into Etheridge's grateful arms. Sig turned brilliantly and ran forward but the ball into Richarlison was overhit. A flurry of action came from a poor clearance but no-one could fashion a strike from the quarter-chances. Bernard tried to get free down the left. Gomes did a perfect Gueuye impression, shooting wastefully wide.
A spell of more open play ended with Paterson trying to rile Mina, and succeeding. Gueye gave the ball away again as Everton struggled to show any kind of fluidity, simply nothing at all was working for them.
Everton won a free kick off Arter, to some protest, a decent position for Sigurdsson, and a free header for Richarlison that he headed really poorly into the ground and Etheridge's harms. The best chance of the game, utterly squandered.
Mina ran forward with the ball half the length of the field, but it again came to nothing. Etheridge, dawdling on the free-kick, saw yellow for time-wasting. A charge which could be level at the entire Everton team.
Perhaps the best play came from Gomes, who danced in brilliantly and put in a delicious wicked cross but Walcott must have been sleeping at the far post as it bounced out hopelessly off his shins. Richarlison played in Digne and a heavy shoulder charge on Digne was deemed not to be a penalty. A fitting end to a really maddening half from Everton.
Everton structured a slow attack after some bizarre head-tennis following the restart, Barnard catching Harris, while Walcott sat on the turf, getting extended treatment for an ankle or calf problem. He finally walked off. Morrison headed into Pickford's arms and caught Keane with his head.
Gomes tried to release Richarlison with a lovely forard pass but it bounced back of his heel. Gomes then tried a long ball to Sigurdsson that flew behind for a goalkick, the second half so far worse than the first, if that could be possible. Sigurdsson at least tried a shot but it was too high.
Another attack broke down and Gueye lost the ball but Cardiff were if anything worse at profiting and Everton built better down the left, the game suddenly more open and Sigurdsson got around the keeper but there was Bamba on the line to kick away his goalbound shot.
Everton were trying to make the triangles and quick passing work but it still wasn't clicking. But Walcott got loose and ran in on goal with some fine determination only to have his shot parried nicely into the path of Sigurdsson who could not miss. What a relief!
Pickford was dreadfully taken out by Harris coming in very strongly from the right on a ball he had no chance of getting, the contact twirling Pickford in the air, the Everton keeper landing very awkwardly on his shoulder and head, but incredibly no-one injured. A yellow for Harris.
Everton had to defend a corner as Cardiff looked to get back into the game, Gunnarson doing his long throw. Richarlison and Bernard advanced but Bernard lost the ball. Walcott released Coleman but Bamab was across strongly to deny any advantage, and somehow Cardiff had an advantage that ended with Mina taking out Gunnarsson. A superb strike from Camarassa was palmed away well by Pickford.
Lookman came on for Walcott but found the tight marking equally hard to get around, Everton still struggling for any fluidity, Richarlison losing the ball in midfield. But Lookman then created something, the cross from Benard into empty space, though. More well-intentioned balls overhit as Tosun replaced Bernard.
Lookman agian made space and looked great on the ball but it evaded Coleman. At the other end, Coleman makes heavy contact on Cunnngham who goes down convincingly, Coleman was lucky here has he had not touched the ball, and it was a strong penalty shout.
A simply brilliant dribble in through four defenders by Lookman deserved a goal but Etheridge parried his shot away. Everton pressed at a couple of corners, Lookman getting too closely marked, and Gomes trying to make something of the second ball, but drilling his cross too close to Etheridge.
Live-wire Lookman won a free-kick in midfield as he tried again to drive Everton forward, Sigurdsson unable to make some quick close passing work, but it did win another corner that Keane nor Mina could not convert and Cardiff broke, three men needed to stop ___, giving away a free-kick, headed over by Paterson.
At the other end, Richarlison saw sight of goal but it was saved again, then more magic from Lookman who cleverly picked out Tosun across the area but the Turk didn't really strike it cleanly.
Gunnarsson threatened again with the long throe, as Kurt Zouma replaced Sigurdsson for the final change, in added time, to break up any final Cardiff resistance. Another long throw from Gunnarsson threatened again but Pickford collected. Cardiff attacked again and Murphy was closed down by two defenders, and it finally ended with the points secured after 5 minutes of added time.
Scorer: Sigurdsson (59')
Everton: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Mina, Digne, Gomes, Gueye, Walcott (73' Lookman), Sigurdsson (90+3'Zouma), Bernard (77' Tosun), Richarlison.
Subs: Stekelenburg, Baines, Davies, Calvert-Lewin.
Cardiff City: Etheridge [Y:43'], Ecuele Manga, Morrison, Bamba, Cunningham, Ralls, Victor Camarasa [Y:58'] (85' Ward), Gunnarsson, Arter (74' Hoilett), Harris [Y:63'] (67' Josh Murphy), Paterson.
Subs not Used: Peltier, Bennett, Smithies, Reid.
Referee: Paul TierneyAttendance: 39,139
Everton return to Premier League action with a home game against Cardiff this weekend and they have been bolstered by the fitness of Gylfi Sigurdsson and André Gomes.
The duo were doubts for this weekend after picking up knocks in the draw at Chelsea a fortnight ago, with Sigurdsson a particular concern after he left Stamford Bridge wearing a protective boot and missed Iceland's fixtures over the international break.
The midfielder was the victim of a terrible tackle from Jorginho that only merited a yellow card in the eyes of referee Kevin Friend and it looked initially as though he would need to come off straight away.
Sigurdsson ended up playing deep into the second half before hobbling off to be replaced by Phil Jagielka but he has trained this week and is available to face Cardiff.
Gomes, meanwhile, collided with the advertising boards in the same game and took a while to begin moving freely again. He, too, joined the first team in training this week and will be in the squad for this weekend.
"We had some worries during the week about Gylfi but he's okay and that's good," Silva said of the duo. "They are available for selection this weekend."
They will be joined by Richarlison who was also forced off at Stamford Bridge but he shook off a minor groin strain in time to play for Brazil and scored the winner against Cameroon in Milton Keynes.
The positive injury news means that Marco Silva is in a position to name an unchanged lineup if he so chooses but it won't be an easy decision, particularly when it comes to central defence.
Kurt Zouma is eligible again after missing the goalless draw against his parent club but he was in fine form alongside Michael Keane prior to Yerry Mina's recovery from a foot injury.
Mina played in Zouma's stead last time out but made a strong case of his own to remain in the side. Silva has experimented with a three-man central defence before and has intimated that he would not be averse to using it at Everton but it remains to be seen whether he would adopt that approach at home in a match his side would be expected to win.
Elsewhere in the side, Ademola Lookman gave his manager something to think about with an enterprising cameo off the bench at Chelsea and he is pushing both Theo Walcott and Bernard for a place in the starting XI.
Neither winger is enjoying their best form at the moment but Silva has shown a willingness to make as few changes to his team as possible in recent weeks and that could be the case again this time around.
"If you have competition in your squad, you have a good headache to decide what will be the best eleven," Silva said in his pre-match press conference. "I have that at this moment because they are all available which is a good sign for us as well.
Cardiff are come to Goodison Park on the back of only their second win of the season, a 2-1 triumph over Brighton that was secured by Sol Bamba's last-minute goal. They sit in the relegation zone below Southampton on goal difference but have been showing signs that they are getting to grips with life on their return to the top flight.
Midfielder Aron Gunnarsson said: "The first few games we were learning, just to see what the league was about.
"I feel like we are growing into the league. It's coming and I feel like we are progressing as a team and definitely the Fulham and Brighton games gave us confidence going forward."
Despite being praised in the press recently for an expansive style of football under Neil Warnock, the Bluebirds are likely to come to Merseyside looking to keep things tight and to make things as difficult for their hosts as possible.
Warnock has identified Richarlison as a key threat and will, no doubt, take measures to nullify his influence but that will hopefully just open up opportunities for other members of the Everton attack.
Without wanting any over-confidence or cockiness to enter the equation, Everton must be looking at this as a game they should be winning. It would represent a fourth straight home victory and help keep them in touch with the top six ahead of the visit to Anfield looming next Sunday.
Kick-off: 3pm, Saturday 24 November, 2018
Referee: Paul Tierney
Last Time: Everton 2 - 1 Cardiff
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Mina, Digne, Gueye, Gomes, Sigurdsson, Bernard, Walcott, Richarlison