This was one of those where the injustice will sting for a while, particularly if Everton miss out on Europe by a couple of points this season. If stoppage time in this one was the moment where the Blues could make up somewhat for not getting anything for their efforts at the Emirates last weekend, then it was doubly painful to have it ripped away by the officials… even if the celebrations were tempered immediately by the knowledge that the Video Assistant Referee was going to have the final say and that, deep down, you knew it wouldn’t go our way.
When the offside law was changed all those years ago so that players could be in line with the last defender, it was with favouring the attacker and boosting the chances of more goals being scored in mind. You know — goals, the be-all and end-all of this beautiful game we love but which is slowly being killed by VAR, that much-reviled introduction to the Premier League that appears designed to take goals away rather than protect them.
Retired referees are split on the incident involving Gylfi Sigurdsson and the deflected winner that was taken away from Everton this afternoon; even Carlo Ancelotti admitted that it was a difficult decision. But it’s depressing that the reflex is to disallow the goal rather than let the on-field decision stand. By the letter of the FA’s law, Sigurdsson was “obstructing the opponent’s line of vision” (in this case, goalkeeper David de Gea) but any common sense appraisal of the situation or application of the spirit of the law -- hah! That’s long since gone — would have led the VAR official to deduce that De Gea could see over Sigurdsson as he was sitting on the ground in the six-yard box and that, wrong-footed, he was never getting to the ball once it had irretrievably changed direction off Maguire and skidded over the line at his near post.
But then the VAR was Jon Moss, as despised a referee among Everton fans as any in memory for his consistent incompetence and that penalty decision at Brighton (*correction below), again in the booth at Stockley Park, that the Premier League was later forced to admit had been had erroneously gone against the Toffees on the day. Not only was it nailed on that Moss would rule out the goal against Manchester United, it was no surprise that if he even gave the reason why Sigurdsson was on his arse in front of the goal in the first place more than a cursory glance (it's doubtful he did – the review period was too short) , Everton weren’t going to get a penalty out of it either.
Because that’s the other aspect of the controversy that has largely been overlooked by the pundits — Sigurdsson was taken out by Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s desperate but late lunge after he had stabbed the ball goal-wards and should, by rights, have been awarded a penalty. The official line? Moss deemed it not to have been a “clear and obvious error” from Kavanagh, which is just a cop-out.
VAR nonsense aside, had Everton been awarded the goal, they might only have marginally deserved the three points because this was not a great performance, particularly in the first half. Dominic Calvert-Lewin had given them another perfect start, this time closing De Gea down and blocking his attempted kick downfield into the net with an outstretched boot with less than three minutes gone, but after the Spaniard had denied the striker a second with a fingertip save a minute later, United came roaring back.
In stark contrast to their performance in this game last season when they were thumped 4-0 and, to a lesser degree, their largely impotent display in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford in December, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men moved the ball sharply and with penetration and they almost equalised in the seventh minute then Nemnja Matic rattled Jordan Pickford’s crossbar with a speculative drive.
With Ancelotti having fielded a somewhat curious midfield that strung Sigurdsson, Tom Davies and the returning André Gomes across the middle, Everton struggled at times to contain United in that area of the field and Anthony Martial dragged an effort wide, Matic would strike another from distance that narrowly cleared the bar, and Fred out-stripped Leighton Baines down the visitors’ right before crossing for Mason Greenwood but his header also flew over.
United’s leveller in the 31st minute came, however, from Everton’s own failings at trying to play out from the back. Djibril Sidibé, a replacement for the injured Seamus Coleman just a few minutes earlier, played a loose ball aimed for Theo Walcott that was easily cut out and worked to Bruno Fernandes who advanced a couple of paces before rapping a bouncing shot past Pickford from 25 yards out. It was another moment to forget for the goalkeeper who really should have got both hands on it to push it away to safety.
Richarlison would have the only chance of note before half-time when Baines whipped an excellent ball in from the left that the Brazilian threw himself at but couldn’t get enough on it to do more than just glance it past the far post with his head.
From a footballing perspective, United had been the better side on balance. Walcott looked rusty on his return to action following a brief lay-off with a knee injury, Davies was workmanlike but short on inspiration and the same went for Sigurdsson who again looked ill-suited to a wider on the left. Gomes, meanwhile, was combative but a little subdued as the nominal holding midfielder when you felt that he could just easily provide the kind of cohesion and attacking impetus that his compatriot, Fernandes, was giving to the visitors.
Nevertheless, supported by a terrific centre-forward’s performance from Calvert-Lewin who led the line superbly and almost without fault all afternoon despite being starved of service in the box, Everton gradually began to impose themselves as the second half wore on.
Sigurdsson planted a direct free-kick off the post from 20 yards after Calvert-Lewin had prompted Victor Lindelof to trip him on the edge of the box and Richarlison couldn’t react quickly enough to turn the rebound home.
That was followed by another free-kick opportunity that the former Swansea man fired off the defensive wall and then a steady stream of corners that usually found the head of Maguire rather than presenting the hosts with any clear scoring chances.
Having soaked up that pressure from dead-ball situations, United almost won it themselves in the 90th minute and probably would have done had it not been for another redemptive moment for the mercurial Pickford. Pawing Fernandes’s side-foot effort out of the air but only as far as substitute Odeon Ighalo, the keeper somehow made an instinctive save with his foot to divert the Nigerian’s goal-bound shot into the Park End from point-blank range.
Then came the elation of an injury-time winner and the agony following refereeing shenanigans as it was disallowed. The chance that led to the “goal” came about from one of Everton’s best moments of the game. Bernard lofted a superb pass into the penalty area to find Richarlison who had the presence of mind to control it and lay it into Sigurdsson’s path in a central position in front of goal.
The Icelander really should have scored before he was flatted by Wan-Bissaka; instead, his prodded shot was too close to the keeper and De Gea kicked off the line. Calvert-Lewin picked up the rebound, engineered space for a shot, Maguire stuck a foot out and deflected it heavily towards the other side of the goal than the one to which his keeper was moving and Sigurdsson, still sitting on the turf, simply pulled his legs out the way to allow the ball to roll into the net. You know the rest…
The takeaway, as has been the case for most of the past few weeks, is that Everton under Ancelotti continue to provide plenty of optimism for the future as the Italian’s methods take hold and for when he and Marcel Brands can add a few quality names to the squad. They continue to go head-to-head with the teams around them with confidence and purpose — that despite still being weak in midfield — and while they haven’t got the results they would have liked, progress is clearly being made.
That should be the focus even if it’s frustrating having the top five or six places in the Premier League and a chance to unexpectedly qualifying for Europe this season remain tantalising out of reach. It’s still not beyond the realms of possibility but with points likely to be very hard to come by in the next two games, it’s a dream that will probably have to wait until next season.
Correction: Lee Mason was the VAR for the Brighton game, not Jon Moss
Everton play the second of four successive games against so-called “big six” clubs as Manchester United come to Goodison Park on Sunday.
Ancelotti makes five changes for the game. Sidibe, Delph, Mina and Iwobi all step down to the bench with Kean now partnering Holgate, with Walcott, Gomes and Davies starting in midfield. Lucas Digne is still out injured, and Morgan Schneiderli on the path to recovery after his knee operation last week.
Everton kicked off towards the Park End and tried to press, Richarlison getting an early knock on his knee in a strong challenge. As De Gea dawdled a little long on a clearance, Calvert-Lewin ran in and the ball banged off his raised ankle and straight into the net. Fantastic!
Keane spotted Calvert-Lewin from the restart and launched a perfect pass for him to run onto, but as ever, true to form, Calvert-Lewin tried to sidefoot the ball past De Gea when a firm and purposeful shot was required. Such a poor miss after such a brilliant piece of work for the opening goal.
At the other Matic lashed a shot onto the bar with Pickford well beaten. Richarlison was next to make space in behind the red-and-black lines but Walcott's path to the ball was blocked.
Martial was allowed time to collect and turn in the Dee but drove the ball across goal and well wide. However, Everton insisted on playing dangerously in defence, Matic lashing a fearsome ground shot that Pickford was well equal to with a fine diving punch away.
Gomes and Davies were looking to play some lovely 'vertical' passes to break through the lines but they weren't going all the way through. At the other end, a fine cross in by Fred bounced high off Greenwood's head, but could have posed more danger.
Gomes did brilliantly to pick the pocket of Fernandes and dribble well into the Man Utd area, only to be thwarted by Matic. Baines was tested by Wan-Bissaka but came off best.
A Baines free-kick found Richarlison but he was powerfully blocked by Shaw. There was not much happening but Coleman went down with a knee problem and signalled a change immediately, Sidibé replacing him.
Martial was found very easily but Sidibe was across well to block it out for a corner. But for far too long during the first half, Man Utd were dictating the game in Everton's half. Pickford did well on a couple of aerial balls, Maguire trying to do an Origi. But Fernandes picked the ball up off a poor bit of play out the back from Sidibe and, from a long way out, lashed it past Pickford at the near post far too easily.
Richarlison felt his knee again and stayed down while the play carried on, then needed plenty of treatment before he hobbled to the side. When he finally returned to the field, Lindelof bundled into him heavily.
Calvert-Lewin got booked for sliding in on Luke Shaw, Davies then got involved and Shaw got booked for his reaction. Davies then saw a yellow due a late challenge as it all became a bit scrappy and a bit silly. Maguire was next to see yellow, catching Calvert-Lewin.
A moment of quality from Baines who launched a fantastic cross, Richarlison's track 'adjusted' sufficiently by Shaw to deny the Everton man scoring.
Sigurdsson gave away a free-kick that did not threaten, as Everton struggled to impose themselves on proceedings, Fernandes getting another look at Pickford's goal. Calvert-Lewin did well to force a corner out of Lindelof, but what was in Sigurdsson's mind with his ridiculous lofted corner was anyone's guess.
Walcott tried in vain to make something of an attacking ball, as little to nothing was clicking for the Blues. When they did get the ball, it was sporadic and disjointed, rather than fluid or smooth.
But Calvert-Lewin did very well to draw the foul off Lindelof, off the corner of the Man Utd area. Sigurdsson casually smacked the post and Richarlison was off-balance, unable to follow up.
But some more coherent play saw Sidibe win a corner that Baines rather wasted with a low delivery. Calvert-Lewin cashed a good ball forward but this time Lindelof had the measure of him. Retreating, Keane did well to block Martial. Fernandes almost dribbled through half the Everton team until Davis blocked his goalbound shot, with Bernard replacing Walcott for the last half-hour.
Richarlisonstruggled to shoot on goal but won a corner that Maguire put behind, but none of Everton's corners could be described as 'threatening'. Calvert-Lewin got a chance to chase down a ball over the top but drove his shot at the near post and De Gea's outstretched leg.
Fred was livid when called for handball for a ball that rolled up his thigh, screaming at the ref for giving him a very wrong yellow card. But it was another chance for Sigurdsson from a set-piece in a perfect position, clipped casually off the top of the wall and away this time.
Gomes won another corner off Matic, Baines this time delivering it very well but somehow it was cleared behind. His next corner was headed away by the commanding head if Maguire and it was a footrace up the other end where Baies did very well to put a fine cross from Fred into the Park End.
Sidibe then went full tilt into the advertising signage. At the other end, Fernandes had a soft pop at goal. Sidibe came back on without the referee's permission and the play was stopped to give him a yellow card. Kean then replaced Gomes, who had shown some nice touches now and again.
Everton won yet another corner but this time Maguire kept Kean down with his arms. apparently allowed if you are wearing a red shirt. Richarlison rounded two defenders but could only win another corner, Lindelof claiming this one as Davies fouled De Gea.
Fernandes got loose but somehow Ppickford pawed it away, only into the path of Ighalowho had an open goal but amazingly Pickford threw himself infront of Ighalo and saved the certain goal.
Chaos at the other end, as Richarlison misses a shot then Sigurdsson sees his shot saved but the Calvert-Lewin's shot deflected off Maguire, and rolls inside the post, with Sigurdsson on the ground, pulling his legs away to avoid it, but still adjudged to have been interfering with play in an offside position.
Yet another corner deep into added time again headed behind and summing up the second half in a nutshell, that too failed to find the net. Ancellotti was mad enough to challenge the ref and saw red for his understandable reaction to the crazy disallowed goal.
Scorers:Calvert-Lewin (1'); Fernandes (31')
Everton (4-4-2): Pickford; Coleman (28' Sidibe [Y:80']), Keane, Holgate, Baines; Walcott (63' Bernard), Gomes (81' Kean), Davies [Y:43'], Sigurdsson; Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin [Y:41'].
Subs not Used: Virginia, Delph, Mina, Iwobi.
Manchester United (4-3-3): De Gea; Wan Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire [Y:45'], Shaw [Y:41']; McTominay (72' Mata), Matic, Fred; Bruno Fernandes, Greenwood (72' Ighalo), Martial (89' Williams).
Subs not Used: Bailly, Lingard, Pereira, Romero.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
Video Assistant Referee: Tom Moss
Everton play the second of four successive games against so-called “big six” clubs as Manchester United come to Goodison Park on Sunday.
The Blues will be hoping for a result more befitting their performance than last weekend where they scored very early against Arsenal, conceded three times, then dominated the Gunners over the final third of the match but couldn't find an equaliser.
This time they will be on home turf against a United side that has been unpredictable and erratic at times this season but who nevertheless start the weekend in fifth place having won their last two Premier League games against Chelsea and Watford without conceding a goal.
That followed defeats to Liverpool and Burnley and a goalless home draw with Wolves but with new signing Bruno Fernandes having made a good start to life in England and a 5-0 thrashing of 10-man Club Bruges in the Europa League, there is a feeling that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer once again appears to have a handle on the task at Old Trafford.
As such, United would seem to be a more difficult proposition than the last time the two sides met in Manchester in December and this fixture is a little trickier than it looked only a couple of weeks ago.
While Solskjaer will likely be without the injured Anthony Martial, he will be able to hand Odeon Ighalo his first League start since his arrival on loan from China — thankfully, the Nigerian has already got off the mark for them — and Mason Greenwood, the young striker who netted in the reverse fixture against the Blues — is also available after being rested against Bruges on Thursday.
Everton, of course, will have the advantage of Goodison Park where they haven't lost in the League since Marco Silva's side went down to Norwich in November. Carlo Ancelotti will also have André Gomes as a likely starter following his return as a substitute against Arsenal last weekend and if that cameo was any indication, he will add a an entirely new dimension to a midfield that has held together under the Italian but has felt like the weak link since the Portuguese suffered his injury in November.
With Morgan Schneiderlin out for two months following surgery on his knee, the question becomes who between Fabian Delph and Gylfi Sigurdsson partners Gomes if he does start? Both were in the starting XI at the Emirates but with Theo Walcott available again after missing the defeat at Arsenal with a knee injury, it's possible that Ancelotti will revert to a more conventional formation with two central midfielders.
Then there is Bernard who has been a strong performer at home under Ancelotti but who also made a strong case for inclusion with his own display off the bench last Sunday. He could once again replace Alex Iwobi wide on the left.
A late decision will be made over Lucas Digne who was also sidelined last week with a minor injury while it remains to be seen if the manager feels that Seamus Coleman should come back for Djibril Sidibé at right back.
While United have found some form in February, this is the sort of game that can bring the best out of Everton and it should also prompt a raucous atmosphere from the crowd who will remember the 4-0 thumping the Blues meted out to the same opposition last season.
If, as Ancelotti says, they have worked sufficiently on tightening up at the back, they should have the platform from which to carve out the opportunities to win the match and close the gap to United in the table to just two points. That would put the Toffees right back in the hunt for Europe.
Kick-off: 2pm, Sunday 1 March 2019
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
Last Time: Everton 4 - 0 Manchester United
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Mina, Holgate, Baines, Delph, Gomes, Walcott, Bernard, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin