Sheffield United 0 - 1 Everton
There are few things as frustrating as when you know a team is there for the taking but Everton just can’t seem to get enough together in the final third to take advantage. This game, a horrible one played in sodden and blustery conditions at Bramall Lane, felt like it was going to be one of those games, reminiscent at times of annoying performances under the likes of Ronald Koeman and Marco Silva that petered out into draws or saw the Blues throw away the points late on.
Even accounting for the vital players unavailable to Carlo Ancelotti after Richarlison became the latest star to be ruled out, Everton should have had enough to edge their way past a willing but increasingly desperately-positioned Sheffield United. How many times have we thought that over the years, though? Thankfully, with 10 minutes left on the clock and the Evertonian collective just willing the team to somehow fashion the one goal it seemed would be necessary, the visitors produced that key moment they needed.
That it came from a moment of poise from Bernard, was assisted by Abdoulaye Doucouré and finished by Gylfi Sigurdsson was vindication for the Brazilian’s introduction by Ancelotti in the 55th minute and reward for the sheer industry from the Frenchman and Icelandic international, not just this evening but over the past few matches as well.
In truth, Sigurdsson had not had his best afternoon; routinely wasteful with his set-pieces and unable to create the kinds of chances you feel he ought to be able to, he was a symptom of the shortage of guile that has plagued Ancelotti’s side while James Rodriguez and Lucas Digne in particular have been sidelined. But when his moment came, Sigurdsson scored the winner with aplomb and all Everton had to do was hold on for 15 minutes and ensure that they collected their fourth win on the bounce and move into second place in the table heading into the last fixture of 2020.
Credit should go to the manager, too, for substitutions that capitalised on a shift in the contest to a more open and attacking game after the attrition of the first half. Bernard provided the kind of much-needed ball retention and movement that was hoped for against United in the cup but never materialised, while Seamus Coleman helped stretch the game down the right after replacing Michael Keane 20 minutes after half-time. Even André Gomes, a deeply concerning non-entity in midweek, came off the bench to offer a reliable presence on the ball and the Portuguese should have — and had he been wearing the red of Liverpool, probably would have — been awarded a penalty in stoppage time.
With one eye on another, more difficult game in just 48 hours’ time, it wasn’t obvious how many changes Ancelotti would make but he went for a strong side that included the likes Doucouré, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Keane, despite all three players having played non-stop for weeks. Keane would get a break in the second half as his manager opted to withdraw him instead of Mason Holgate but Doucouré and DLC, indefatigable as ever would play the full 90 minutes, eventually getting their reward for another impressive shift.
The most eye-catching addition to the line-up was Anthony Gordon as Richarlison’s replacement, a change that was hoped for by many when the Brazilian was suspended earlier this season but in the end the teenager only made one substitute’s appearance over those three games.
This evening, without the partnership of a natural full-back to create space and make over-lapping runs, Gordon had a hard time justifying the expectation and he was the obvious player to come off when Ancelotti plotted his first change of the second half. He was dogged in doing the defensive work had a few promising moments going forward but in the end in difficult conditions and a team generally struggling for offensive cohesion, it wasn’t his day.
Indeed, Everton were fairly aimless in their approach play for most of the first half. Unable to consistently beat Sheffield United’s press, they resorted to a succession long, raking passes from the back that, if they didn’t skip off the wet turf out of play, were handed back to the opposition when Calvert-Lewin’s knock-downs weren’t picked up.
It didn’t help that there were two centre-halves in the full-back positions; it’s a system that worked impressively in the previous three wins but when a bit more imagination and adventure was required, the Blues found it hard going. Both Holgate and Ben Godfrey frequently found themselves turning back and having to pass back to Michael Keane or Yerry Mina.
Perhaps it was no surprise, then, that Everton’s best chance of the first half came from another of this sublime balls over the top from Keane that Calvert-Lewin met brilliantly on the chest and a steered volley that just missed the far post. It was a move and finish that deserved a goal but it wasn’t to be.
Either side of that, Alex Iwobi had looked like the most likely source of a goal, the Nigerian stretching the Blades’ defence with a couple of tricky runs, the first of which ended with a save from Aaron Ramsdale while with the second he ran into one defender too many despite some mesmeric footwork.
Sheffield United, meanwhile, were having problems of their own breaking Everton down but after Sigurdsson’s blind heel flick went straight to a Blades shirt, the home side looked like they were set to score until Godfrey got back to clear David McGoldrick’s effort away from near his goal line. In any case, the striker would have been adjudged to have been well offside by VAR.
The half concluded with Sigurdsson curling a shot narrowly wide and Oliver Burke giving the visitors a scare when he flashed a shot across the face of goal on the stroke of half-time.
The pattern continued into the second half and with Everton constantly being forced backwards, it was hard to see where the guile was going to come from to make the breakthrough. There were some promising individual performances here and there, not least from Tom Davies who had his best game for a long while sitting in front of the back four, but it wasn’t until Bernard and Coleman were introduced as the game started to open up that paths to a Toffees victory started to materialise.
Set-pieces, so often dangerous situations for Ancelotti’s side, had proved to be fruitless — Godfrey had had a half chance from a corner in the first half and Holgate was the only one to get close to making decent contact on a dead-ball delivery on the hour mark — but Everton’s gradually increasing pressure in the closing stages bore fruit with 10 minutes left of the 90.
Bernard had been a productive outlet without really being able to carve Sheffield open but when Coleman clipped the ball into the box and Chris Basham’s clearing header dropped to just inside the 18-yard line, Bernard deftly knocked it to Doucouré and he, with his back to goal, laid it off to Sigurdsson who took one touch and banged it into the far corner.
Chris Wilder’s side pushed as you would expect in search of an equaliser but apart from a sliced cross from John Egan that he had to bat over his own crossbar, Jordan Pickford’s goal wasn’t really threatened. Stevens ballooned a shot over and Ollie McBurnie will rue not getting proper contact on a cross from the Blades’ left but Everton were worthy of their third clean sheet in four games.
And fair dues. There were plenty of “Everton, that” omens about this game just waiting to trip to the Toffees up: Sheffield United were winless this season coming into the game, Rhian Brewster was yet to score his first goal for them, and the Blues had never won without Richarlison.
None of that ended up being factors. Further proof that Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton is going to be very different to the Everton of old and hints of a good side continuing to win ugly in the face of depletion through injury? Let’s hope so…
Reader Comments (38)
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1 Posted 27/12/2020 at 07:33:55
Considering all the years of failure and upset. I look at the table and don't give a flying.
Good report, Lyndon.
2 Posted 27/12/2020 at 07:53:37
3 Posted 27/12/2020 at 08:00:10
Winning ugly on diabolical mid-winter nights, against a physical side and us with four or five first-team injuries, deserves a lot of credit.
In these circumstances, any win is a good win, and in those conditions, not many teams will be playing Brazil ‘70 football.
A few have said that they enjoyed last night's win more than any this season; me too, it's right up there. It's strange but I am buzzing about us grinding it out and finding a way to win.
We will now have important players coming back into the squad week after week. We will get stronger, we'll play a bit more creatively and will have the ammunition to kick on in the second half of the season.
Also, the window opens in a few days and Bolaise, Tosun and Besic will hopefully find new clubs. Kean is unlikely to return and Walcott will sign permanently for the Saints.
All this gives Carlo an opportunity to strengthen and bring in some overdue striking support for Calvert-Lewin, and essential cover for Allan, initially on a six-month loan if Gbamin has another set back or is not ready. Then plan for permanent solutions in June.
The future is looking bright.
4 Posted 27/12/2020 at 08:07:29
No more injuries (not that we know of anyway)
A 3rd clean sheet in 4 games. No goals have been scored against us in open play in the last 4 games.
We won without Richarlison (a first?)
Anthony Gordon seemed a bit overawed initially, but he came back into the game – that would have pleased Ancelotti.
Tom Davies! What a performance – my MotM. Very tidy and assured in possession, protected the back 4 superbly until he tired.
None that I can think of.
Everybody played well. I thought Mina was very impressive – I have been critical of him, but today he was calm and composed. The back 4 is looking rock solid, and Pickford hardly had anything of note to do.
Very, very pleased with the performance and result. Perhaps Carlo knows a thing or two about managing football teams, eh?
5 Posted 27/12/2020 at 08:27:51
We are lacking something from an attacking point of view with Digne and James missing and that's to be expected but we seem to have gained something defensively. We are very hard to break down and score past now.
As is obvious from my posts on here, I'm not Tom Davies's biggest fan, not because I dislike him, I just don't think he's consistently good enough to be in our squad, let alone first 11. I do have to say though, that tonight, he was head and shoulders the best player on pitch until he had to come off. He needs to watch tonight's performance back and study it. That's what type of midfielder he is. He sat, he's showed for the ball and was always available and he was calm on the ball, he took in his surroundings and made us tick. Well done young man, more games like that and he could absolutely play in our midfield but he needs to show in consistently.
Special mention too for Gylfi. Not just for the winner, which was a sublime move and finish, but for his overall game. He worked his arse off and never stopped running. Also Michael Keane, absolute Rock. Mina as well.
Well done Carlo and well done Everton. 2nd in the league at Christmas. Brilliant.
6 Posted 27/12/2020 at 08:37:10
Every player made a contribution. Ancelotti substituted to win the game.
This is the type of game that keeps Everton consistently challenging in the Premier League.
7 Posted 27/12/2020 at 08:46:12
8 Posted 27/12/2020 at 08:48:30
Credit to him for fighting for his place. He has a good attitude and never seems to sulk or moan. If he can continue his good form and improving he can save the club a fortune by being that tenacious midfielder we need to fill in when needed, complement and challenge Allan.
9 Posted 27/12/2020 at 09:03:27
This is the type of game under previous managers we wouldn't even have managed a point, let alone three.
And those saying the football isn't great to watch, when Man Utd were winning all those titles with Fergie, they didn't play brilliant football every week. They ground out loads of 1-0 wins with late winners.
Are we the finished article? Does Carlo get everything right? Clearly not, but he's the best manager we could have right now.
10 Posted 27/12/2020 at 09:13:29
Absolutely mate. I will him to improve every game because he's one of our own but he's never found any consistency. In his own interviews, he fancies himself as a box-to-box midfielder but he doesn't have the physical attributes to do that role in my opinion. Compare him to Doucouré who's tall and quick and who's engine is almost freakish; I don't see Tom in that mould.
What I do see, though, is a lad who has a heart as big as a lion, despite the stick (from myself included), he never hides and always tries his best, whether it's good enough or not. I remember Barkley melting when he was getting the stick for his bad spell.
Maybe with age, he's gaining something; tonight, he was absolutely superb. He carried the ball when he had space in front of him but, if he never, he moved the ball on quickly and made space for himself to accept the ball again.
He was brilliant. It's his decision-making that needs improvement and tonight he never made a bad decision once, in when to go and when to sit and what to do with the ball. He had a swagger about him tonight and it suited him.
That's what I want to see more often. He's 22 years old and has played over 100 games in the Premier League already. Quite incredible really.
You're right about Allan. That's the type of midfielder he is. Allan is 29 and Tom can certainly slot in for him when Allan's age catches up with him. If I was him, I'd study Allan because Tom can do that role. Allan's work rate and tenacity is what sets him apart and that is something Tom can do.
I'm made up with us.
Up the Toffees!!!
11 Posted 27/12/2020 at 09:36:21
In Everton's other 4 wins on the trot, Everton conceded 5 goals, but Everton only played against one of the top sides, while goals did flow but against teams in the bottom 4.
So, if Everton can churn out results with the same back 4, defence should not be changed unless forced to.
12 Posted 27/12/2020 at 09:44:11
Might have to stop watching entirely coz the same happened when I was watching the last game on amazon
I officially am no longer allowed to watch any more games this season
Up to second again, god these other teams are shite arent they?
13 Posted 27/12/2020 at 09:55:59
2nd was there for the taking, Sfeffield Utd winless, us with 3 wins on the bounce, surprisingly won there last year, wet night in Sheffield. Absolute certain home win. We are Everton and this is Christmas.
Turned off the phone as it was Boxing Day and I can wait to 10pm to get depressed and don't need to be told we were losing at 8:15. Deep joy at 10:10 when I turned the phone on as my son had not rung at 10:00 to tell me we won, so I knew we had lost. He knows the reaction if he rings to tell me we lost so he never does.
Was worried that Keane had picked up an injury but no – a tactical change from Carlo! Switch Holgate inside and bring on a more attacking full-back. For that insight alone – what a manager!
Yes, I screamed at the MotD coverage. Clear penalty when Gomes went down. How they did not give that, I do not know. But equally, if it wasn't a penalty, it was a dive and he should have been booked. A few more VAR observed bookings would be welcomed.
Wonderful we are 2nd. Can I be the first to mention – about 8 points from not having to worry about "R". Back to those days after 2007 when it was would we make Europe. Still a lot to do. Even with last year's results for the fixtures we have played, we would be 4th in the table. So we have a lot of improvements in results to pick up over the next 23 games.
I worry about the team running out of gas by the end of the season. 23 games still to play and 6 games in the FA Cup. It is not a very deep squad although much to all of our delight the players many on here thought useless (Davies, Iwobi, Sigurdsson, Gomes) are turning out to be real grafters and getting results while the likes of James, Digne, Allan, Gbamin, come back from injury. And there are 3 high earners (Walcott, Besic and Bolasie) leaving in the summer, so chance for some more quality incomings.
It just feels we are back to where we were – and just now that final push.
14 Posted 27/12/2020 at 10:08:17
A very valuable win, in poor conditions, with lots of first picks injured. Great that Mina and particularly Davies had good games. Calvert-Lewin is still being starved of service and chances, it's a miracle he hasn't picked up an injury with all his hard work.
There were a few underwhelming performances, but not an easy night to shine, so any criticism would be unfair. Many positives.
15 Posted 27/12/2020 at 10:12:41
Phil, #13. Only saw the trip on Gomes on MtD, but it appeared to me that the foul occurred right on the edge of the box, and the biased referee should have given a direct free-kick and a yellow card to the defender (Egan?).
16 Posted 27/12/2020 at 10:30:57
Davies was outstanding, great to see after the amount of stick he's had on here.
2nd at Christmas, who would have predicted that 12 months ago? We're still in progress but we're going in the right direction. COYB!
17 Posted 27/12/2020 at 10:33:41
18 Posted 27/12/2020 at 11:19:23
My line up would be:
Pickford, Coleman, Holgate, Keane, Godfrey, Davies, Doucouré, Sigurdsson, Iwobi, Bernard, Calvert-Lewin
We have to win the game, come what may.
19 Posted 27/12/2020 at 11:53:48
A rock, definitely yes... now turning into a sublime rock with his passing range and vision. He has also been near faultless so far having faced almost the entire battery of pacy forwards over the last 20 games or so... Not bad for someone who was likened to a Tram!!!
One word... Respect!!! And thanks, Don Carlo, for turning him into something we all never knew he was even half capable of!!
20 Posted 27/12/2020 at 12:25:31
With 2 games to go last season, Sheffield United had 54 points. They had a trip to St Mary's but a home game first. That really was a home banker. Team in mid-table with nothing to fight for but they had a chance of Europe. The team they were playing had lost an equivalent fixture last seasn, losing at the club that The Blades had replaced. They were far superior to the West Brom side that got relegated.
In the end, a goal from Richarlison meant they lost. A second loss on the trot and it has been downhill since then. Did losing to Everton hit their confidence that hard?
21 Posted 27/12/2020 at 12:32:42
Tom Davies, Michael Keane, Sigurdsson; all in recent weeks have shown they can actually step up. Maybe finally it is competition for places. Sigurdsson knows he is likely to be back-up to James. Tom knows he is in because Allan is out. Keane and the remainder of the Everton defence are looking much better now we have a midfield that actually protects them.
The players are performing and we are where we want to be at this stage of the season but, if we are genuinely going to challenge, the standard of player needs taking up a level, just as we did in the summer. Progressive improvement of the squad.
Long shot, but I noted that Tottenham are linked with RB Leipzig's Marcel Sabitzer this morning. I watched him in February and would love him at Everton but suspect Champion's League football would be a pre-requisite. Unless Ancelotti and Brands can work their magic and convince him of their Everton project. Only 26 as well so about to peak.
22 Posted 27/12/2020 at 12:44:24
We'll have good performances against strong sides, and mediocre (if rewarding) performances against struggling sides, as yesterday. It happens to all teams and thank god for that – when the game becomes predictable, it's time to go back to my knitting.
Carlo continues to weave his spell. Davies gave an impressive performance for a full 90 minutes, driving the band of blue boys forward. And as for Keane, I don't know what Carlo has done to orchestrate such a sweet tune these days.
The "quiet" / undemonstrative but highly effective Doucouré performance seems typical of him. Will this in the long run be a better signing than even the more eye-catching James and Allan signings?
I'm one who, in the past, had commented on Calvert-Lewin's ineffectiveness. But in the last year or so there's been a lovely tune coming from him.
I still can't believe we signed Carlo. Keep waving that baton.
23 Posted 27/12/2020 at 13:43:27
Too often on these pages I read comments solely based on the immediacy of the last game (or even a single play in a game), rather than taking into consideration a longer time frame and many mitigating circumstances about performances, formations and tactics.
Carlo himself has described what he is undertaking as evolution, not revolution.
I read one comment this week following the United defeat that 'this feels like the start of another slump'.
Pessimistic much? Comfortable wins against Chelsea, Leicester and Arsenal. Losing very late to United and it 'feels like the start of another slump'..?
Get a grip.
I'll paraphrase again a comment Lyndon used in our 7-match winning start to the season because it was such a pertinent and memorable one:
'The improved standard of players recruited by the club has resulted in better performances and results on the pitch. In turn, the performance of players they have replaced and other marginal squad members has also improved on this rising tide.'
Then, it all stopped. Just like that. Injuries and suspensions played their part, but those bit-part players who had recaptured some form, when asked to regularly replace the missing new players or our best players, reverted to playing poorly again. A 7-game slump followed in which we took just 5 points from a possible 21.
These are the players Carlo has identified as needing replacing, thus the recruitment we made. He cannot trust them as many a Blue doesn't trust them to perform consistently to a good standard.
And yet, here we are, 2nd in the league on merit. On another 4-game winning streak. Many key players missing. The manager relying on those underperforming to get him results. And manager and players alike are doing just that.
Siggy has had quite a renaissance, playing in his preferred role. He is creating and scoring goals again. He occassionally shows real craft on the ball. Yesterday, he grafted and chased back as much as anyone else on the pitch. His goal, beautifully crafted, was clinically dispatched.
Can he be ponderous and easily caught on the ball? Yes.
Can his passes go astray? Yes.
Can some of his corners and free kicks be woeful? Yes.
But right now, he is giving the team a lot more than he is costing us.
Iwobi. Another much maligned player. Similar things can be said of him as are rightly said about Siggy. But since he was subbed off at half-time v Saints, he is another that offers more that benefits the team, rather than cost us.
Michael Keane. Until his substitution yesterday he was the only player to have played every minute of every game this season. Michael has arguably been Everton's best player since 'Project Restart'.
His fellow lighthouse Yerry Mina now looking like the player who first caught my eye playing for Palmeiras here in Brazil. He was immense yesterday.
Tom Davies, as many have called for when Allan is not available, looks such a natural replacement for the Brazilian.
Deservedly (IMO) maligned Gomes and Bernard came on and did a fine job yesterday.
The manager and his coaching staff have found a way to stop the rot and get us winning again, hamstrung as we are by depleted numbers and missing key players.
The dense December fixture list looked exceedingly daunting. And it has been...for better resourced teams seriously considered as genuine title contenders like Spurs and Chelsea. We, by contrast, seriously depleted, have twatted it out of the park.
Good things are happening at Everton.
Start recognizing and enjoying them a bit more, Blues.
24 Posted 27/12/2020 at 13:50:39
Are we allowed to ask if you're feeling better, and if your family is well? Hoping you and yours are healthy as a horse.
25 Posted 27/12/2020 at 14:07:54
Maybe many of us (including me) are guilty at questioning one of the few managers in our entire history that other teams would want. With the many injuries in the first team squad, I honestly can't say any other manger would currently have us 2nd or do any better.
26 Posted 27/12/2020 at 14:09:23
I said it earlier about Arsenal fans. They are (as a collective bunch) dreadful. It may be entertaining for the neutral, but AFTV really demonstrates the fickleness of the modern fan. I don't believe the Everton fanbase to be collectively as bad, but we are not immune to it.
Frustration and jubilation in the immediate aftermath of defeat or victory are totally understandable, but things should always be put into perspective.
I try to look through the result at the performance. Within reason, if you focus on performance, the results will come. If you focus on results, you are living one game to the next. It's the difference between thinking tactically versus strategically.
27 Posted 27/12/2020 at 14:47:29
It has been going on for years now, it has only been exasperated with the highly technical VAR system. How is it that every game there are so many inconsistent calls? And why is it always our club holding the shitty end off the stick?
If it's just me that sees this, or if it is just me being too sensitive, then I apologise for this comment. If it is actually true, that as with Niasse getting banned for diving, Digne banned for accidentally treading on the back off Walker-Peters's foot whilst running at full speed, along with many, many other incidents, then please could our club's media department, make a highlight reel of all the incidents over the season, with like-for-like comparisons, and keep on keeping on, until hopefully we get to the stage where eventually it's a fair match?
28 Posted 27/12/2020 at 14:53:31
How long has it been since we've been this high on Boxing Day? About 35 years, isn't it?
2nd. And well-earned, not luck, not chance, not oddity. 2nd even after that slump and all those injuries. 2nd even after the glowing artistry of September has become a hard-to-watch slog in December.
Brighten it up, Lyndon. We are having one hell of a season.
29 Posted 27/12/2020 at 15:02:23
We've got blathering idiots on there insisting that our manager is a coward who parks the bus and puts out stupid lineups and even needs sacking. Half the players are "passengers". Every error on the pitch produces an absolute avalanche of wailing posts and calls for substitutes in the 35th minute.
I used to believe, like you, that Everton fans weren't as bad as most. After the past two months on this board, I feel differently.
30 Posted 27/12/2020 at 15:10:04
I put ITV News on last night at 10 o'clock and the sports piece was just about Arsenal beating Chelsea and that Leicester and Man Utd drew. A game between 15th and 8th getting precedence over a game between a side that went up to 2nd from 4th against a team desperate for points.
Not a mention! Who the hell are the editorial team?
32 Posted 27/12/2020 at 15:23:10
Howard Kendall rightly labelled us the most knowledgeable fans in football because of our ability to appreciate and criticise the performance of the team regardless of result; look through the result. I've seen Everton criticised when they've won and applauded when they've lost. Sadly and increasingly, we too are being sucked into the Sky TV hype of "win at all costs"
I always used to single out Newcastle and Liverpool fans; trying to have a football debate with them was like having an argument in the playground when you were aged 6. Basically anything that plays for them at the time is really good and anything that doesn't is really bad. That's about as intelligent as the debate gets.
We used to be above that and many on here still are, which is why I enjoy coming here.
33 Posted 27/12/2020 at 16:52:19
Thanks Jamie (24),. The rest of the family is almost back to normal — one of the girls had a sore throat and stuffiness, the other just had occasional headaches that were probably more to do with mid-year exams and she tested negative anyway.
My wife was down for about a week with heavy cold-type symptoms but is much better now and I had flu-like stuff that has improved but is just lingering now. Fingers crossed it goes away because Im tired of being on my arse at this point!
34 Posted 27/12/2020 at 17:08:05
Good opportunity to wish you well and thank you for providing this platform for Evertonians to exchange views on one of the most important aspects of our lives; Everton Football Club. Regardless of how we see it, that bonds just about everyone who visits this site together.
Totally appreciate this takes time and effort and doesn't just happen, so thank you Lyndon and all those behind the scenes that make this available to us all.
35 Posted 27/12/2020 at 17:18:59
We will still have our ups and downs from here but we're finding different ways to win. Bodes well.
36 Posted 27/12/2020 at 18:23:40
37 Posted 27/12/2020 at 20:49:37
The improvement in Keane has been fantastic and the clever management of goalkeepers means Pickford knows that if he messes up then he will be out.
We have a proper manager at last. Now he needs to bring in players of his choice.
38 Posted 27/12/2020 at 22:05:18
39 Posted 31/12/2020 at 02:03:25
Many of us didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Perhaps the last few games have shown, that maybe this Carlo knows a bit about football, after all!
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