A number of watchwords have come to characterise following Everton over the past few years and one of them has very clearly been “frustration”. It was the overriding feeling again today at the final whistle at Molineux, but this time it will have been laced with optimism and a sense that this team could finally be moving in the right direction again after years of stalled momentum.
The Blues were 10 minutes from a first opening-day win away from home in 17 years and had they been able to hold on to the lead handed back to them by a moment of brilliance by Richarlison, it would have felt like a huge victory in a number of ways.
After all, it was only a few short months ago that largely the same XI was labouring under Sam Allardyce’s limited stewardship, struggling to register shots on target let alone win games with any regularity. It was only a week ago that a similar starting XI looked worryingly ill-prepared for the resumption of the Premier League. And, having proven quite categorically that Marco Silva’s men were ready after all, they had the rug pulled out from underneath them by a moment of controversy at the end of the first half against Wolves, one that contributed significantly to the loss of two points.
Having largely quelled the enthusiasm and momentum that Wolves carried into their first game back in the top flight, amid pyrotechnics that illuminated and echoed around this famous old ground before kick-off, Everton were riding into the half-time interval on the back of a 1-0 lead at the time thanks to Richarlison’s first goal for the club since his big-money move from Watford.
The 21-year-old debutant had been in the right place at the right time after 16 minutes when Michael Keane challenged for a corner from the Blues’ left, the ball dropped to the feet of Richarlison had the simple task of firing home from close range to open the scoring and silence the buoyant home crowd.
Joao Moutinho’s rising half-volley midway through the first period was as close as Nuno Espirito Santo’s men had come to troubling Jordan Pickford while Everton had looked composed and good value for their lead.
But then a momentary lapse of concentration… a square pass from Michael Keane squirms away from Phil Jagielka and towards Diogo Jota arriving on his blind side. What consequences, if any, the Blues’ skipper should have suffered for what followed really depends on individual interpretation (even the match officials have apparently changed their minds from the denial of a goalscoring opportunity to serious foul play) as the debate has raged since between pundits, rival fans and among Evertonians themselves.
Desparately trying to atone for his slip, Jagielka slid through the ball, diverting it forward before catching his opponent’s foot and sending him sprawling. "Over the ball" it was not but his stretch meant that he led with his studs and it was one of those incidents where the tackled player’s reaction can have a huge bearing on the referee’s course of action. No surprise, then, that as the Wolves player writhed in pain on the turf, Craig Pawson went straight to his pocket to pull out the red card.
To that insult was added the injury of a Wolves equaliser, one which owed plenty to Ruben Neves surreptitiously moving the ball forward — unseen or unchecked by the officials — five yards into the ideal spot for a curling free kick over the wall. The Portuguese’s shot was spot-on, Pickford’s fateful step to his right to peer through his wall less so, so while he got his fingertips to the ball, he couldn’t keep it out.
Credit to Everton after half-time, because they could have folded and last season under any of Silva’s immediate predecessors, they might have done. Kudos also to the manager himself whose faith in Richarlison was amply illustrated by the decision to keep him on, despite the fact he was burdened by a yellow card picked up in the 14th minute, and to sacrifice Gylfi Sigurdsson for Mason Holgate instead for the required replacement at the back after Jagielka’s dismissal.
And after Rui Patricio had denied Cenk Tosun at one end — the Turk really should have played in the better placed Theo Walcott — and Pickford coming up trumps at the other to foil Raul Jimenez, that faith in the Brazilian was rewarded midway through the second half.
Collecting Tosun’s lay-off near the touchline, Richarlison took a few steps into the Wolves box before whipping a bending low shot around the goalkeeper’s despairing dive and inside the far corner. It was a strike where the element of surprise in its early despatch was as important as the crispness and accuracy of the finish and it felt like a massive goal for the 10 men in Blue.
They couldn’t keep the lead, though. Cross after cross was repelled by Holgate and the much improved Michael Keane at the back but the numerical disadvantage meant that stopping those deliveries from the wide areas was made that much more difficult.
With 10 minutes remaining, Neves capitalised on the space wide the on left to check back and curl a wicked cross over Keane’s jump to Jimenez who buried his header at the back post to make it 2-2.
Yet Everton were unbowed and they could have won it after Oumar Niasse replaced the exhausted Tosun, perhaps belatedly, immediately after Wolves’ second goal. The Senegalese striker toed the ball past an onrushing defender inside the centre circle and into Coleman’s path and the pair galloped into the clear with just Bennett rushing back to defend but the Irishman made a mess of the final ball and a gilt-edged chance with seven minutes left went begging.
Silva was denied a memorable victory in his first game in charge at Everton but there was plenty to admire about his team and much that will give hope for a strong season ahead if today’s performance was an indication of what is to come.
Importantly, there was a spirit and fight in the face of adversity that was absent for so much of last season which hints at both a unity of purpose in the ranks and the effects that true competition for places can bring. Keane and Holgate emerged with credit for their performances, the latter playing his first football since the training camp in Austria; Leighton Baines looked good coming forward in partnership with Richarlison down the left and if Tosun and Walcott will have better days, they never stopped working.
Of course it was Richarlison who deservedly took the plaudits on his first competitive start in Everton blue. The young Brazilian was everywhere, popping up at times at left back, defensive midfield and in front of goal as well as his favoured left-wing position.
Debate, much of it unfair, has raged in neutral circles over the size of the fee paid for a player with one middling season of Premier League football behind him but the former Hornet looks like he will put those arguments to bed in short order.
It may not have ended up that way in this game but it looks like Everton have a bona fide match-winner in Richarlison. Even better, all four of Silva’s deadline-day signings, among them Bernard and Andre Gomes, have yet to make their first appearances. It feels like exciting things are just getting started…
Everton's 2018-19 Premier League campaign began with a hard-fought draw in front of the BT cameras in the late-afternoon kick-off at Molineux against newly-promoted Wolves. Richarlison got a brace but Jagielka was harshly dismissed for winning the ball fairly in a lunging tackle.
Only new signing Richarlison made his competitive debut for Everton but none of the Deadline Day acquisitions were even on the bench, as Silva had foretold.
Jason Pickford returned to keep goal for the first time since his heroics for England at the World Cup in Russia, with Stekelenburg on the bench.
Yerry Mina, Andre Gomes and Bernard missed out completely while Digne was named on the bench, with Beni Baningime out injured, but Holgate was declared fit enough to sit on the bench despite his recent injury problems.
Everton kicked off amidst a vibrant and fiery atmosphere, winning an early corner that was defended away. There was then some good pressure from the home side, Neves putting a deep cross onto the roof of the Everton net as something of an ominous warning. Keane was forced into an erratic clearance at the back and Costa won Wolves their first corner, cleared.
Sigurdsson did well to win a corner that was delivered straight to Patricio. Wolves were trying forward balls but overhitting them as the teams felt each other out. Some nice work down the left was spoilt when Baines ventured offside.
Coleman was gifted a chance to shoot but scuffed it straight at Patricio. An utterly stupid late dive in by Richarlison after he felt he was denied a free-kick earned the stupidest of yellow cards for the Brazilian after just 14 minutes.
But he would make immediate amends for his rash stupidity, after getting a free-kick and finishing adroitly from close range off a fine ball delivered in by Baines to give Everton a very important early lead.
Wolves maintained their possession and pressing game in an effort to get back at Everton but the Blues defence was looking reasonably well organized and set up a decent wall to frustrate the home side until disaster struck shortly before the break.
Jagielka turned into the high press with a poor touch a few yards outside his area and was forced into a lunging tackle that brought Diogo Jota down and referee Craig Pawson immediately brandished a red card.
Forced into reshuffling his back line, Silva swapped Sigurdsson for Holgate but Everton's lead was wiped out when Ruben Neves swept the ball home off Pickford's fingertips from the resulting free kick.
The game took a while to warm back up in the second half, with the two sides feeling each other out following the change in the numerical match-up but chances at both ends opened up just before the hour mark.
First, Tosun elected to go it alone with a shot when Walcott was arguably better placed and Patricio palmed his effort behind. Then at the other end, Jimenez was played in behind the Blues' back line but Pickford made an excellent blocking save.
Great work by Gueye, followed by a pass out to Coleman, allowed the Irishman to send a cross to the back post that Richarlison helped back to Walcott but he couldn't readjust in time to get a shot on goal.
Everton stuck at it, however, and when Tosun cleberly flicked the ball to Richarlison in space just inside the box, the Brazilian strode forward and bent a shot past the 'keeper and inside the far post to restore Everton's lead.
Everton's 10 men couldn't withstand Wolves' pressure as they pushed for an equaliser, though, and after a succession of crosses was repelled by the Blues' defence, Neves took advantage of space on the home side's left and his curled cross was nodded home at the back stick by Jimenez.
Silva responded by withdrawing Tosun in favour of Oumar Niasse for the closing stages and when the Senegalese striker romped forward in a two-on-one break, ready to receive the return pass from Coleman, the fullback squandered a gilt-edged chance to win the game by making a horrible mess of the centre.
Richarlison's hopes of grabbing a winner were ended by injury with five minutes left and he was replaced by debutant Lucas Digne.
Scorers: Neves (44'), Jimenez (80'); Richarlison (17', 67')
Wolves (3-4-3): Rui Patricio; Bennett, Coady, Boly; Doherty, Moutinho (85' Gibbs-White), Neves, Jonny (76' Vinagre); Jota, Jimenez, Costa (71' Bonatini).
Subs not Used: Ruddy, Hause, Saiss, Enobakhare.
Everton (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Coleman, Jagielka [R:40'], Keane, Baines; Schneiderlin, Gueye; Walcott, Sigurdsson (43' Holgate), Richarlison [Y:14'] (86'Digne); Tosun (81' Niasse).
Subs not Used: Stekelenburg, Davies, Sandro, Calvert-Lewin.
Referee: Craig Pawson
Everton's 2018-19 Premier League campaign begins in front of the BT cameras in the late-afternoon kick-off at Molineux against newly-promoted Wolves.
With a succession of pre-season defeats sowing nagging fear into the hearts of Evertonians and the bulk of the Blues' summer transfer business going right to the wire, this fixture had been taking on an ominous air.
The new players drafted in by Marcel Brands and Marco Silva on deadline day might not feature but the arrival of Bernard, Andre Gomes, Yerry Mina and, perhaps, Kurt Zouma has transformed the outlook for the season and hopefully given a timely fillip for fans and players alike on the eve of the new season.
It's a good thing, too, because while Everton avoided any of the top six in their first game, the impressive manner in which Nuno Espírito Santo has bought this summer promises to make the Midlands side a very difficult opponent than normal.
The promoted teams, hopped up on the adrenaline and enthusiasm of coming up, often get off to a flier anyway but Wolves have conducted their summer business like an established top-flight side, actually outspending Everton in their bid to stay up on their return to the top flight.
Diogo Jota, Willy Boly, Ruben Vinagre and Leo Bonatini, loan players who were instrumental in Wolves' promotion push last season, have all been tied down with permanent deals.
Full-back Jonny and striker Raul Jimenez have come in on season-long loans this time from Atletico Madrid and Benfica respectively, while Rui Patricio was snapped up on a free transfer in the wake of the controversy at Sporting that prompted the goalkeeper to cancel his contract with the Lisbon club.
Adding pacey winger Adama Traore and one-time Blues targets Joao Moutinho and Leander Dendoncker, it makes for a well-rounded transfer policy well executed. There are no guarantees that those new ingredients will all gel perfectly on the opening day but, again, they make for a tougher game than was perhaps anticipated when the fixture list was first published in June.
Prior to their deadline-day spree meanwhile, Everton looked worryingly ill-equipped for the many tests that lie ahead and, barring a turnaround in form, confidence and fitness from the central defensive pairing, they will carry some of those frailties into this game. Again, it's unlikely that either of the new recruits in that position will play much, if any, part in this game. Mina only returned to Barcelona from his post-World Cup break a week ago and while Zouma is probably further down the road in terms of readiness, neither player will have had any time to mesh with their new team-mates and take on Silva's plan and instructions.
That leaves Phil Jagielka, a player who finally started looking like his 36 years were catching up with him in pre-season, partnering Michael Keane who is still lacking confidence and adequate positional sense. It may be a case of either hoping they have used the past week to focus their minds and bodies or trying to simply muddle through at Wolves until further changes can be rung at the back. (It would not be a surprise to see Silva impose his desire to usher in the new era by replacing Leighton Baines with new signing Lucas Digne.)
Morgan Schneiderlin carries similar concerns. At one point almost nailed on to leave Everton this summer — he still might if he can secure the return to France he admitted privately that he craved at the end of last season — the midfielder looked better against Valencia but not completely assured. He is a good bet to start alongside Idrissa Gueye in the middle of the park at Molineux, with Gylfi Sigurdsson deployed in front and Cenk Tosun leading the line flanked by Richarlison and Theo Walcott.
If they can keep the door closed at one end, then it's that front line and the changes in approach that Silva has been trying to impose that hold the key for Everton against Wolves. Tosun looked sharp last weekend, bagging a poacher's goal with a very nice finish across the goalkeeper, Walcott seemed to hit the ground running despite not having played much of the pre-season programme, and Richarlison has been the pick of the Blues' players in the last couple of games, often by some distance.
Summer friendlies can often be very false indicators of what is to follow when the serious action of the Premier League gets underway. It wouldn't be the first time Everton have struggled through an abysmal pre-season, only to come to life when required.
Hopefully the shot in the arm provided by the new signings and the excitement of the big kick-off will see that happen again. Of course, if it doesn't, it won't be the end of the world; it's just the opening game and you get the sense that Marco Silva is only just getting started in his project to turn Everton around.
Kick-off: 5:30pm, Saturday 11 August 2018
Referee: Craig Pawson
Last Time: Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 - 0 Everton, May 2012
Predicted line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Jagielka, Keane, Digne, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Sigurdsson, Walcott, Richarlison, Tosun