We knew it was coming. Everton had largely been spared travesty via VAR over the first nine games of the season but football’s consuming controversy finally enveloped the Toffees in typical fashion yesterday afternoon, precipitating another late collapse in Marco Silva’s side.
Prior to yesterday, there hadn’t been an instance of a Video Assistant Referee overruling a decision made on the pitch to award a penalty but the Premier League’s ”high bar” was lowered just in time for Everton to be penalised by a familiar nemesis in Lee Mason, up there with the worst officials in the country. Mason’s verdict handed Brighton the chance to level the match again at 2-2 and then go on and win it in cruel fashion through Lucas Digne’s own goal.
Unfortunately, the VAR bar wasn’t low enough for clear grappling on Richarlison at an earlier corner to be deemed worthy of a spot-kick in Everton’s favour; just one more injustice for a club once penalised in farcical fashion by new rules two seasons ago when the Football Association retroactively banned Oumar Niasse for trying to deceive the officials… and never applied the regulation again.
The “VARce” at the Amex Stadium was only part of the equation, though, because there are deeper-seated issues at play in this Everton side behind why they didn’t leave Brighton rueing being deprived two points and instead spent the long journey north mulling yet another defeat, the Blues’ sixth in nine Premier League games.
Like many of its predecessors, this Silva side can be pitifully weak mentally, a trait that underpinned that dreadful run of form after what happened in the Anfield derby and is playing itself out now in some dreadful performances and results since the start of the season. Rather than regroup, dig in and first ensure that they were set up to claim at least a draw from yesterday, Everton allowed Brighton to seize the initiative and earn in stoppage time a win that had looked well beyond them 15 minutes earlier when Dominic Calvert-Lewin had put the visitors ahead. That the winner came via a Lucas Digne own goal just seemed fitting under dark clouds and soaking rain inside the Amex.
That really was what made this such a punch to the gut for the 2,800-odd Evertonians massed in the South Stand of Brighton’s new ground — the Blues were on course not only for a rare victory but a first win under Silva where they had recovered from going behind. Having shot themselves in the foot with another of André Gomes’s brainless, unnecessary fouls outside his area and conceded in the 15th minute from a free-kick, Everton fought back and had the lead going into the last quarter of an hour. VAR, Mason and another scandalous officiating decision will be blamed for costing them that win but for the defeat they can blame only themselves.
Silva had answered fervent Evertonian hopes and retained all of the side from the win over West Ham as he was able — the one enforced change came in the form of Mason Holgate for the injured Yerry Mina — but over the course of the game, thanks to injury to Bernard and the manager’s substitutions, this gradually reverted into a very familiar Everton setup to the one that had under-achieved prior to last weekend.
The start was uneventful from both sides, with Brighton testing the foot-speed of Everton’s centre-halves early on with balls whipped over the top or down the channels, a challenge that Holgate in particular met well. Neal Maupay had lashed an early effort high over Pickford’s bar from the angle but the hosts weren’t really threatening until they were gifted an opportunity to score the opener by Gomes.
The Portuguese was cited as a liability outside his own box in last week’s match report and he proved to be so again after Tom Davies was nearly caught trying to dribble his way forward, Gomes couldn’t control his stabbed pass forward and in trying to retrieve the situation, lazily tripped Aaron Connolly a couple of yards shy of the 18-yard line.
Pascal Gross sized up the resulting direct free kick and hammered his shot past the partially ducking head of Richarlison and off the fingertips of Pickford who had initially made a move in the other direction.
The prospects of Everton being be able to recover from a losing position to win under Silva for the first time were boosted just five minutes later from a corner on the Blues’ left. Digne swept it in, Richarlison and Andy Webster challenged for it and the ball flew inside Mat Ryan’s near post. The Brazil international took the plaudits but the defender was eventually charged with an own goal.
That energised Everton and they pushed for a second, with Bernard combining with Richarlison a few minutes later where the latter drove into the box and crossed low for Walcott but the winger’s control was poor and the goalkeeper was able to block his eventual shot.
The momentum they were trying to gather was checked soon afterwards, however, when Bernard was lost to injury. Not known for traction in his boots at the best of times, the Brazilian slipped awkwardly on the wet pitch after half an hour and went down gesticulating in agony for the trainer. We can only hope it’s not that serious but it bore all the hallmarks of an ACL or medial knee ligament injury and he was replaced with the much-maligned Gylfi Sigurdsson.
The Icelander had a pop from distance shortly after coming on but his left-footed effort bounced through to Ryan before Richarlison turned Lewis Dunk superbly down the right flank and ultimately cut the ball back for Walcott but the winger’s shot was blocked well by the Brighton defender. Everton kept the ball and Iwobi’s shot took a heavy deflection off Webster and almost sneaked inside the near post before the keeper reacted to make the save.
Iwobi was also the recipient of the ball at the end of a short corner routine but his attempted curler drifted just wide of the upright as the Blues finished the half on the front foot.
The second half action initially moved back and forth between both ends. Steven Alzate despatched a shot over the bar after cutting inside for Brighton while Iwobi tested Ryan with powerful left-footer from 25 yards but, unfortunately, his effort was straight at the keeper.
Meanwhile, an incident that would become a huge bone of contention in light of the VAR controversy to come, either went unchecked or dismissed by Mason miles away in Stockley Park. Shown to be clearly held as an Everton corner came in from the right, Richarlison went down under the overly-physical attentions of Dunk and took a boot to the head for his troubles but nothing was given. Of course, it didn’t help his case that he also appeared to go to ground too easily and that will continue to go against him.
Brighton had a goal chalked off for offside and Pickford fisted a deep cross away as Silva prepared a double change to bring Calvert-Lewin and Delph on for Iwobi and Walcott. On its face, it appeared a strange decision to once again sacrifice the Nigerian’s superior movement and ideas but Silva was seemingly vindicated in that change at least when the striker put Everton ahead just two minutes later.
Holgate enjoyed a rare foray forward, slipped a beautifully-weighted ball through the home defence that drew Ryan off his line and Calvert-Lewin expertly stroked a left-footed finish past the keeper and in from the angle.
That could have been that but VAR would rear its had just five minutes after that. Connolly went down in a heap after an apparently innocuous coming together with Keane in the the Blues’ box and referee Andy Madley, who had otherwise been terrible for most of the match, rightly took no action. Following word in his ear-piece that the incident was being reviewed, however, the official made the dreaded square “TV” signal with his hands and awarded a penalty to Brighton, to the incredulity of Silva and his players. Replays would show that Keane accidentally stood on Connolly’s foot while both players had their eyes on a ball the attacker was never going to win.
Maupay took responsibility for the spot-kick, drove it confidently down the middle and the match turned back in the home side’s favour because Everton went to pieces. Brighton, who had attacked at times with zip and purpose under the stewardship of their enterprising new manager, Graham Potter, upped the tempo and went for the jugular, slicing through Everton’s exposed shape in the closing stages.
Alzate was played in on one such attack but shot straight at Pickford and Maupay was chopped down by a late sliding tackle by Holgate that earned the defender a booking, Pickford beating Dunk’s driven free-kick away awkwardly before snatching up Trossard’s shot from the rebound.
As Everton pushed for a winner at one end, however, they were caught out badly on the counter-attack at the other. Sigurdsson’s cross was too close to the keeper who caught the delivery and set the hosts on their way to a fast-breaking move that carved through the visitors’ exposed midfield and ended with Dan Burn finding Trossard overlapping on the left and Digne turning the ball into his own net trying to intercept the Belgian’s cross.
Even for a fanbase so accustomed to the pain of defeat, this was a hard one for the travelling Blues to come to terms with as, led by Holgate, just three of their team made their way disconsolately to the away end after the final whistle to thank them for their support.
The burning injustice of VAR will linger and it will be no doubt be held up by Silva as the reason for yet another away defeat and also protect his job for another few days at least. But the match exposed problems with Everton’s shape, their fragile psyche and a manager who continues to err on the side of caution and players with supposed experience like Sigurdsson and Delph rather than preserve the formula of pace, exuberance and quick movement that helped defeat West Ham a week ago.
Those latter qualities were ultimately deployed against him by Potter whose side looked unlikely winners and there for the taking at 2-1 but who rallied after being gifted a route back into the game and took advantage of some wide open lines to grab a late winner. It was they and not Everton who came back from a goal down to win.
Everton's visit to Brighton in Week 10 of the Premier League features in live commentary on BBC Radio 5.
With all eyes on Marco Silva's line-up, the chances of him sticking with the winning team from last weekend after dropping both Schneiderlin and Sigurdsson for the victory over West Ham always seemed remote. But he did his best in the end, the only change from last week's winning team being a forced one: Mason Holgate in for the injured Yerry Mina.
That means Coleman, Delph, Schneiderlin, Sigurdsson, Kean, and Calvert-Lewin are all on the bench as Everton took the field in their lurid salmon strip.
A nice early attack down the right saw Iwobi feed Walcott but his cross was really poor in the circumstances. Azate made a rather nasty-looking late challenge on Davies, but no complaints as the tempo of the game slowed.
Everton seemed stymied and resorted to the long ball, Walcott called offside. Brighton replied in kind, Maupay marshalled away from goal, where he fired well high and wide. But Everton played themselves into trouble, Gomes giving away a dreadful free-kick just outside the box. A brilliant very powerful strike but what on earth was the Pickford doing, it went straight through his hands?
So Everton now with a massive mountain to climb, knowing their abysmal away record and their abysmal non-record coming back from conceding the first goal. Sidebe was next to give up a free-kick, but Pickford grasped this one out of the air and almost let Bernard loose at the other end, winning their first corner, Richarlison driving home with his head at the near post!
Walcott then had a fantastic chance but Ryan was out quickly to make it difficult for him. However, the Everton equalizer, somehat put of the blue, had enlivened the game a little. It was eventually given as an own goal by Webster.
Off the ball, Bernard slid and overstretched his knee, Sigurdsson coming on in his place. Sigurdsson soon had a chance but with his left foot, too weak. Everton finally mounted a break, Richarlison running well down the right and Iwobi almost forcing another own-goal off Webster.
Walcott got another chance but this time it came off a defender's midriff, as Everton failed to generate the intensity of effort they had showed last week and the sides drifted into the half-time break.
Digne went to ground hard after the break but soon recovered to take a fine free-kick to the far post where Davies was lurking. The resulting corner was attacked by Richarlison, winning another corner that was hit low and seemed to go right through everyone.
Walcott looked to get past his man off a nice cross-field ball, but won another corner, the ball coming out to Iwobi who fired it back straight at Ryan. Richarlison felt a feather stroke his hair and collapsed in a heap.
Everton were largely in control of the game without really imposing themselves where it mattered, with a lack of quality sadly evident as they huffed and puffed, simply not good enough to really break through against the home side.
But a clever move say Brighton score at the near post only for it to be called offside while VAR went into action, confirmed. Brighton made a double change on 65 mins, prompting Marco Silva to consider his options: Calvert-Lewin readied to enter the fray in place of Iwobi, and Fabian Delph in place of Walcott, the changes delayed interminably by a dosier of verbal instructions.
A clever piece of play by Richarlison was wasted, Walcott a victim of his lack of physicality throughout. At the other end, Trossard crossed very well for Maupay but his execution was thankfully poor at the far post.
Pickford made a dramatic dive to punch away a cross. Holgate drove forward unhindered and played a beautiful ball through to Calvert-Lewin who turned well and slid home a quite exquisite finish with consummate aplomb.
But minutes later, Brighton got a penalty, thanks to VAR, Michael Keane adjudged to have trodden on the foot of Aaron Connolly, and Maupay slammed the spot-kick through where Pickford was standing to make it 2-2.
With Everton thinking they had done all the hard work, the impetus now swung to the home side, who pushed forward with pace and intention, testing Pickford and his defence.
Holgate was the next Everton player to dive in wrecklessly, this time on Maupay, to earn a yellow card and give away another extremely dangerous set-piece... Dunk fires it a Pickford who palmed it straight to Trossard and was very lucky not to concede a winner to the home side.
Brighton were now pushing hard, with the crowd well behind them, going into 6 minutes of added time. Propper caught Davies, Digne's free-kick too easily repelled. Sigurdsson tried to get the ball past Ryan from a narrow-angle.
But Everton then threw the game away as seemingly only they can, Lucas Digne sliding in to convert a low cross into his own net like a seasoned striker in the 5th minute of added time and Silva's incredible record remained intact.
Scorers: Gross (17') ; Webster (og), Calvert-Lewin (74')
Brighton & Hove Albion: Ryan, Montoya (66' Trossard), Webster, Dunk, Burn, Gross (65' Schelotto), Propper [Y:90+3'], Stephens [Y:34'], Alzate, Connolly, Maupay.
Subs: Bissouma, Balogun, Murray, March, Button.
Everton: Pickford, Sidibe, Keane, Holgate, Digne, Gomes, Davies, Walcott (72' Delph), Iwobi (72' Calvert-Lewin), Bernard (30' Sigurdsson), Richarlison.
Subs: Lössl, Coleman, Schneiderlin, Kean .
Referee: Andy Madley
Everton travel to the south coast this weekend for a clash with Brighton that will be intriguing in the wake of the Blues' 2-0 victory over West Ham last Saturday.
The changes in personnel and approach that Marco Silva made against the Hammers yielded a hugely promising performance and three precious points that point the way forward for a Toffees side that looked bereft after four successive defeats in the Premier League.
Having established what could now be a blueprint for an assault on the top six that looked fanciful just a week ago, Evertonians will be waiting to see if the manager breaks up a winning team by restoring some of the previous guard to the team or trusts the players that dominated and triumphed over West Ham to take the club forward.
Silva's line-up will be instructive when it comes to his willingness to keep some highly experienced and very well-compensated individuals on the bench despite their availability or late exploits last weekend. In addition to Gylfi Sigurdsson, who made a statement regarding his potency from 20 yards as a substitute in the closing stages against West Ham, Morgan Schneiderlin and Fabian Delph will be available again after they recovered from minor injuries, while Seamus Coleman is eligible again after serving a one-match ban.
To reinstate any of those players would be harsh on Djibril Sidibé and Tom Davies who both put in excellent displays, while taking Iwobi out of the No 10 role after he looked so dynamic and effective in it would be an enormously disappointing retrograde step.
It's a long season and Silva will need to draw on the depth of his squad at times because of injury and suspension so he can afford to keep faith with a winning XI for now, allow Delph to fully reover and risk the frustration of some of the egos in the meantime.
Silva might not have a choice but to leave out of his star performers at the Amex Stadium, though. Everton look likely to be without Yerry Mina after the Colombian sustained a minor knee injury late in the game against West Ham and hasn't yet trained fully with the first team this week because of the problem.
Silva remained hopeful that he might improve sufficiently in the next 48 hours to be able to play but indicated his confidence that Mason Holgate would be able to confidently fill the void.
"It's not such good news at the moment," Silva said of Mina who has arguably been the Blues' best player so far this season. "Of course, we have two more days until the game, so let's see how he is tomorrow and on matchday as well.
"It's not a serious, serious injury but it's something that until now hasn't put Yerry ready to work with the team in a full session.
"Mason is ready and prepared. He's showed me every single day that he's working hard to achieve and get his chance.
"He already did in two Carabao Cup matches. He did well, performed well and, in the game against Sheffield Wednesday, he did a very good game.
"I'm 100 per cent sure if he gets the chance he'll be ready to perform at his level because we believe in him."
For their part, Brighton promise to be a very different proposition under Graham Potter this season than they were under his predecessor, Chris Hughton. The former Swansea boss has revolutionised the way the Seagulls play, ushering in a passing and possession-based game that aims to beat the press of modern Premier League teams, pass their way through the lines and exploits nominal centre-halves as fullbacks.
It makes for a less predictable foe than Hughton's more rudimentary style and with Everton's high line already shown to be susceptible to movement and incisive through-balls this season,Silva will need to be wary of Brighton's new strengths.
Potter will be without Aaron Mooy who serves a suspension following his dismissal for two bookable offences in a 2-1 defeat at Aston Villa last Saturday but he will be looking for a repeat of his team's 3-0 shock of Tottenham a couple of weeks ago when Everton come to town.
Kick-off: 3pm, Saturday, 26 October, 2019
Referee: Andy Madley
Last Time: Brighton 1 - 0 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Holgate, Digne, Gomes, Davies, Iwobi, Bernard, Walcott, Richarlison