When you’ve been knocked down to the mat, the first thing you have to do — assuming, of course, you don’t stay there and take the full count! — is get back to your feet and that’s what Everton did this evening with a slender but hard-fought victory at Huddersfield Town.
Having dropped their guard in criminal fashion at Millwall and been floored in the context of their season, the Blues rediscovered some of their composure, determination and fighting sprint to grind out only their third away win of the season.
Granted it was against the Premier League’s bottom team who had lost five home games on the bounce but once Lucas Digne was sent off for denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity midway through the second half, there was every danger that an Everton side bereft of confidence and prone to being the architects of their own downfall could have crumbled, even against the lowest scorers in England’s top four divisions.
Jordan Pickford pulled off two excellent saves, one of which had new Terriers boss Jan Siewert expressing his admiration afterwards, to deny the hosts a way back into the game but Everton largely kept them at arm’s length in that time despite being a man short.
In terms of the performance, this wasn't anything to write home about but under the circumstances, it didn't need to be — grinding out a win to restore some confidence after Saturday was paramount. Arguably Everton’s best move of the game, a rare instance of a central midfielder running beyond the forwards, came in the third minute when Tom Davies collected Bernard’s pass and found Richarlison in the centre to score at the second attempt.
Beyond that, slick football was at a premium and, truth be told, Huddersfield probably moved the ball better but without much end product. Importantly, however, Davies made a hugely positive return to the starting line-up in place of the “injured” Idrissa Gueye — the Senegalese is the subject of confirmed interest from Paris St Germain but was officially ruled out with a minor groin injury according to Silva — with an energetic display that allowed André Gomes to just sit in in defensive midfield and keep the ball moving.
Kurt Zouma, back in the side on merit as much as because of Yerry Mina’s foot injury, ran Davies and Pickford close in the man-of-the-match stakes with another impressive outing and, while he didn’t score, Cenk Tosun generally made a nuisance of himself until he was sacrificed for Jonjoe Kenny after Digne’s dismissal.
In terms of chances in the first-half, it was slim pickings. Gylfi Sigurdsson fired two shots straight at Jonas Lössl, one from a direct free-kick after Mathias Jørgensen had caught Tosun around the face with a stray elbow, and the other following a smart turn past his marker in midfield while Seamus Coleman sliced a decent chance well wide from the edge of the box.
At the other end, Steve Mounié dragged a rare opportunity for Huddersfield past Pickford’s right-hand post shortly before half-time.
Early in the second period, Davies forced a parrying save from Lössl with a stinging drive from distance at the end of a nice move that had involved another probing pass from Bernard and a neat flick from Tosun. But Huddersfield assumed a more dangerous posture once their key man Aaron Mooy had entered the fray in the 55th minute for his first appearance in seven weeks following a knee injury.
The Australian was involved in the build-up when Elias Kachunga might have done better with a header from Kongolo’s left-wing cross but he couldn’t keep his header down. Then, after Digne had come on for the unfortunate Leighton Baines, who had been forced off with a muscle injury to his hip or side, Adama Diakhaby was sent clear away with a defence-splitting ball over the top from Juninho Bacuna.
Caught flat-footed by his compatriot’s run, Digne tried to scramble after Diakhaby as he bore down on the Everton area with just Pickford ahead of him, clipped the forward’s heels and sent him sprawling to the turf. Referee Stuart Atwell reached for his back pocket and brandished the inevitable red card and Silva’s side were reduced to 10 men.
Pickford was equal to Mooy’s resulting free-kick, diving to his right to push it behind for a corner but his acrobatics to deny Kachunga after Diakhaby had flicked the ball past Kenny on the Huddersfield right was even better. The big striker looked to plant a free header low and into the bottom corner of the goal but the England goalkeeper sprang to his right again to turn it around the post with his right hand.
Should Watford lose tomorrow and Leicester fail to win at Anfield — the less said about that latter situation the better — Everton will go into Saturday’s clash with Wolves at Goodison knowing they can leapfrog into seventh place with another victory.
Given how poor the Toffees have been since early December, that speaks volumes about the lack of quality in England’s top flight outside the top six but from a psychological perspective it could be very important as Silva tries to rebuild both the morale and the prior effectiveness of his team.
There is plenty of work to be done but getting three points on the board while opening up a road back into the starting XI to the likes of Davies and Tosun will be instructive in the context of the longer-term rebuilding work that must go on between now and the start of next season.
Everton dug in to claim a much-needed victory over the Premier League's bottom club despite Lucas Digne's second-half sending-off.
Richarlison scored the game's only goal inside three minutes and while it wasn't a stellar display by the Blues they were comfortable enough until Digne, on as a substitute for the injured Leighton Baines, brought down Adama Diakhaby as the last man and received his marching orders from referee Stuart Atwell.
Jordan Pickford was called upon to make two excellent saves to preserve the victory, his best a diving one-handed stop to deny Elias Kachunga's header in the closing stages.
Cenk Tosun led the line after his goalscoring cameo on Saturday but the most noticeable absentees from the team sheet were Idrissa Gueye, the subject of a transfer bid this week from Paris St Germain but officially out with an unspecified injury, and Digne who was presumably given another rest with a packed schedule of games coming up in the next week or so.
Tom Davies came into central midfield to partner André Gomes while Baines was recalled at left-back and it was the young midfielder who served up the opening goal with just two minutes gone.
Davies ran onto a smart ball from Bernard and crossed from the right where Richarlison scored his 11th of the season at the second attempt.
Huddersfield responded by assuming control of the ball and playing the better football but, apart from forcing Michael Keane into a nervous header that went out for a corner, they weren't troubling the Blues' back line.
At the other end, Tosun went down clutching his face following a foul by Jorgensen but Sigurdsson's free-kick was despatched straight into arms of Lossl before Kongolo was forced into covering action to clear a Richarlison cross that was searching out Tosun in the centre.
A good turn in midfield by Sigurdsson opened up space for a shot a few minutes later but, again, the shot was fired down the keeper's throat.
Everton grew in stature as the first half progressed without ever threatening to score a second until Tosun's backheel put Coleman in for a shot but he sliced a left-footed shot well off target.
Mounier dragged a shot across goal and a yard wide with a rare opening for the Terriers in the 45th minute but there was no further scoring before the interval.
Davies had been one of Everton's best players in the first half and he had the first effort on goal early in the second with a stinging drive that Lossl had to parry and control.
Baines was forced off shortly afterwards with an apparent hip or side strain after coming off worse in an innocuous coming together with Jason Puncheon, Digne coming on to replace the veteran.
With 11 minutes gone in the second period, Sigurdsson was felled by Puncheon 10 yards outside the Huddersfield box but Richarlison ballooned the resulting free-kick high over the bar.
A good move the home side created a chance for Kachunga but he couldn't keep his header down off a left-wing cross but they were handed a huge advantage in the 67th minute when Digne was sent off.
The Frenchman was caught out as Diakhaby was released behind the defence with a ball over the top and with the Terriers man bearing down the Everton box, he got tangled up in his legs and sent him sprawling giving referee Stuart Atwell no option but to show him a red card for denying a goalscoring opportunity.
Substitute Aaron Mooy took the free kick just outside the box but Jordan Pickford was equal to it, diving to his right to push the shot wide of goal.
Silva responded to the set-back by taking Tosun off, bringing Jonjoe Kenny on to play at left back before Mounier easily drifted off Keane but could only glance a header wide from a cross from the right.
Huddersfield kept pressing and when Diakhaby skinned Kenny to get to the byline and cross, the resulting header looked bound for the bottom corner until Pickford made a brilliant diving save with his right hand.
Silva threw Calvert-Lewin on for the closing five minutes instead of the tiring Richarlison while Jan Siewert put on big striker Depoitre to add more height to the Terriers' forward line.
But Huddersfield's lack of quality in the final third, their undoing all season as they have prolonged a run of six consecutive home defeats, was a continued hindrance and Everton were able to see out the game and claim all three points.
Kick-off: 7:45pm, Tuesday 29 January 2019
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Last Time: Huddersfield 0 - 2 Everton
Everton: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Zouma, Baines (55' Digne [R:66']), Davies, Gomes [Y:87'], Sigurdsson, Bernard [Y:31'], Richarlison (86' Calvert-Lewin [Y:90+5']), Tosun [Y:43'] (70' Kenny).
Subs not Used: Stekelenburg, McCarthy, Lookman, Walcott
Everton look to pick up the pieces of their broken season this evening as they travel to bottom club Huddersfield Town.
The game comes on the heels of the Blues' humiliating cup exit at the hands of Millwall on Saturday, a result that marked the nadir of a season that has derailed spectacularly and thrown up a number of questions about the team, it's coaching and mental fortitude.
Marco Silva will be looking for a reaction from his players and some answers to those questions as it won't be lost on him that he and many of his charges will be heavily scrutinised in the coming weeks, starting with this trip to the John Smith's Stadium.
The game will mark the first match in charge for the Terriers' new boss, Jan Siewert, the man who succeeds David Wagner and who has been charged with pulling off a miracle to save the Yorkshire club from demotion back to the Championship. Huddersfield come into the game on just 11 points — by way of comparison, during his time at Hull City three years ago Silva's Tigers had 17 points after the same number of matches — three behind Fulham and 10 from safety.
One of their points was, of course, collected at Goodison Park in what was, for Everton, a disappointing 1-1 draw back at the start of September but their goalscorer that afternoon, Phillip Billing, is one of two players almost certainly ruled out, the other being Danny Williams.
Siewert expects to be able to call on Talismanic midfielder Aaron Mooy, however, now that the Australian is fit again following a seven-week layoff with a knee ligament injury and Abdelhamid Sabiri should also be available.
As far as Everton go, it will be interesting to see what changes Silva makes for this one in response to Saturday's debacle at The Den. Having endeavoured to name as settled a starting XI as possible prior to December, the Portuguese has struggled to find his best line-up in recent weeks and Saturday's performance won't have helped the cause of some of his players.
Having picked up an apparent ankle problem, Yerry Mina is a major doubt after failing to reappear for the second half against Millwall and Phil Jagielka is still out injured himself which should make the manager's decision over which central defensive partnership to employ fairly straightforward. Michael Keane and Kurt Zouma should start but there could be a place on the bench for someone like Morgan Feeney in Mina's absence.
Cenk Tosun, who scored in this game last April, will be hoping his goalscoring cameo off the bench will get him the nod over Dominic Calvert-Lewin which would see Richarlison remain wide left and one of Ademola Lookman and Bernard starting on the opposite flank.
Gylfi Sigurdsson and André Gomes were disappointing in the cup defeat but it's hard to see either being dropped while Silva looks for a quick win to ease the pressure on his shoulders. That just leaves the question of Idrissa Gueye who reports now claim has handed in a transfer request in a bid to force through a move to Paris St Germain.
Silva went on record yesterday as saying that he had no desire to lose the Senegal international but he will have to evaluate whether or not Gueye will have the necessary focus to play. Tom Davies is a potential deputy if the manager feels he isn't and there is also the option of dropping Sigurdsson back into central midfield and using Bernard in the No.10 role.
Whichever line-up Silva employs, Everton are going to have to be significantly more artful with the ball than they were three days ago and show equally substantial improvement at the back. Huddersfield, who made life very difficult in the return fixture and could benefit from the “new manager bounce”, will have studied the Blues' glaring weaknesses at set-pieces and will surely look to exploit them.
Kick-off: 7:45pm, Tuesday 29 January, 2019
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Last Time: Huddersfield 0 - 2 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Zouma, Digne, Davies, Gomes, Sigurdsson, Lookman, Richarlison, Tosun