Match Report So, how long does this situation drift before it becomes completely untenable? It’s been apparent for weeks that Rafael Benitez is painfully clueless when it comes to the tactical needs of this Everton side and yet both he and his employer have effectively deflected his failings onto the shoulders of Dominic Calvert-Lewin. As the Blues slumped into this awful run of results that has now returned just six points from a possible 42 since the end of September, both the manager and Farhad Moshiri were insistent that injuries were the sole reason, with the subtext being that the return of the club’s only reliable goalscoring centre-forward would be the panacea.A fit and firing Calvert-Lewin — he returned today after a four-month lay-off but will need games to regain his sharpness — will be an important part of Everton’s bid to stave off relegation over the second half of the season but the team’s problems run far deeper than injuries to key players like Richarlison and Yerry Mina. Even with most of those important pieces in place, Benitez has, among a host of failings, displayed a deeply concerning lack of imagination, tactical acumen, player-selection nous and effective substitution policy.Whatever it was that Moshiri saw that persuaded him to make the most controversial appointment in the club’s history, there’s been precious little evidence of what lay behind Benitez’s past successes; instead, the former Liverpool boss looks utterly out of his depth and were it not for the fact that there are three clubs at the bottom of the Premier League who look a shade worse, Everton might already be in the bottom three.The supreme irony, of course, is that while the Spaniard has been bleating about the absence of his best players, he has frozen out the reigning World Champions’ left-back and one of his most effective attacking outlets amid an ill-timed and ill-advised battle of wills with Lucas Digne. Given the run of form that he has overseen over the past few months, Benitez can ill-afford to be cutting off his nose to spite his face but that’s precisely what he did today against Brighton.The Frenchman made the bench this time as opposed to being left out of the squad altogether but rather than swallow his pride for the good of the team, Benitez left Digne on the bench, pushing Seamus Coleman, a patently out-of-form right-back, into an unnatural left wing-back role and playing Jonjoe Kenny, a player long ago deemed unfit for the team’s needs, on the opposite flank.That also meant using Mason Holgate, another player regarded as surplus to requirements, at centre-half as Benitez persisted with a five-man back line in “well, it worked last time out” fashion and, predictably, with the team short on numbers in midfield against a team that likes to dominate the ball in that area Everton looked a mess from the outset. It took Brighton less than three minutes to capitalise. Coleman had drifted too far off Brighton's right flank which allowed the cross to come in from the right which Neal Maupay cushioned with his head into the path of Mac Allister who fired past Jordan Pickford.18 minutes later, with Everton yet to register a shot on target, Yves Bissouma was ushered into the box on a driving run that ended with Allan deflecting his cross behind but the hosts well-documented inability to consistently defend set-pieces undermined them again.The resulting corner was flicked on at the near post by Maupay and the unmarked Dan Burn had the simple task of heading home at the back post to double the visitors' lead.Given Everton's form in recent months, it represented an almost impossible mountain to climb but they were gifted a way back into the match in the 23rd minute when Gordon went down in the box under Enock Mwepu's challenge and, following a check of the pitch-side monitor by referee John Brooks on the advice of VAR Stuart Attwell, the Blues were awarded a penalty.Unfortunately, Calvert-Lewin, playing for the first time since scoring from the spot in the reverse fixture against Brighton at the end of August, spurned the opportunity, lifting his spot-kick over the crossbar searching out the top corner of Robert Sanchez's goal.It was almost 3-0 when Coleman's poor clearance fell straight to Adam Lallana but Jordan Pickford did really well to dive to his right and smuggle the midfielder's shot around the post before Gordon worked Sanchez for the first time at the other end and Maupay smashed narrowly over in front of the Gwladys Street on the stroke of half-time.Everton needed to respond quickly in the second period and they began in positive enough fashion when Gray crossed low and Calvert-Lewin had the ball taken off his toe at the near post and Burn did enough to prevent Abdoulaye Doucouré from scoring from the ensuing corner.It was Gordon's persistence, however, that created the lifeline seven minutes after the interval. Cutting in from the right he eventually got a shot off from just outside the penalty area that took a heavy deflection off Lallana and bounced past Sanchez to register the youngster's first senior goal.Gordon had another claim for a penalty waved away 10 minutes later when he collided with Marc Cucurella but the ball remained alive for Gray who forced a parrying save from the goalkeeper before Brighton hacked it clear.Sanchez was called into action again in the 68th minute when he tipped Allan's crisp drive from distance over his bar but Everton's comeback was cut off at the knees three minutes later when the Seagulls scored again.Mason Holgate had done very well to prevent Maupay bearing down on Pickford on the counter-attack with a last-ditch challenge but Michael Keane gave the ball straight back to an opposition jersey and when it the ball was pinged to Mac Allister outside the box, he drilled an unerring effort into the top corner.Again, Everton were given hope five minutes later when Calvert-Lewin played Kenny in on the overlap with an excellent slide-rule pass and his low delivery was turned in by Gordon's first-time finish.The Toffees' attempts to salvage a point were a little ragged, however, even though Benitez had finally opted to break his starting formation with the introduction of Salomon Rondon for Kenny after Everton's second goal. Bafflingfly, Andre Gomes, the man who helped spark that memorable win over Arsenal last month, didn't make an entrance until the final few minutes.The Venezuelan came close to registering an assist when he crossed for Gordon close to Sanchez's goal but the goalscorer couldn't guide the ball on target for his hat-trick before Rondon himself wasted the last opportunity by skying a volleyed effort over the bar in stoppage time.Understandably, Everton were booed off the field at the end of both halves having become the first team to allow Brighton to score more than two goals away all season and it remains to be seen how much longer things remain apathetic rather than return to being openly hostile. Benitez was rescued in the Arsenal game by the sheer crowd-backed drive of the players and some moments of individual brilliance. Today, he only had a hope of salvaging an unlikely point in the closing stages because of the determination of Anthony Gordon, a player who has been a shining light in a dysfunctional team for weeks and who deservedly broke the scoring duck that has dogged him since he rose to prominence as one of the Blues’ most effective players.Seemingly in the absence of any ideas or strategies of his own, it’s on players like Gordon, Gray and Richarlison that Benitez is increasingly relying on to provide the moments that give the team any hope of picking up points. The trouble is that the failings of his approach and inability to inspire his charges to begin games on the front foot means that Everton are all too often finding themselves having to dig themselves out of an early hole.The Premier League is difficult enough without handing the initiative to the opposition every week and Everton are neither good enough nor coached well enough to overcome not being difficult to beat. And if performances like this continue, that small gap between ourselves and the bottom three will begin to close in ominous fashion. The worst-case scenario doesn’t bear thinking about but without decisive change, it remains a very real danger. Lyndon Lloyd top Matchday Updates Everton gave up another priceless 3 points when finally back in action again after an enforced break for the last 2½ weeks and three matches postponed as they lost to Brighton & Hove Albion at Goodison Park this afternoon. The break had allowed additional time for Dominic Calvert-Lewin to get back to full fitness and was in the starting XI for the first time since August, but would miss a crucial penalty in the first half. Seamus Coleman and Allan were back in the starting XI but Richarlison, Yerry Mina, Tom Davies and Andros Townsend were all out injured for this one. New signing Vitalii Mykolenko was not eligible to play per Premier League rules. Lucas Digne returned to the squad despite his widely reported spat with manager Rafa Benitez. Everton kicked off but managed only to put themselves on the backfoot with lots of daft head-tennis that only conceded possession to Brighton. And MacAllister nipped in to beat Pickford with a ridiculous finish to a looped header. Abysmal start. Gray tried to feed Calvert-Lewin but he was being easily shielded and Brighton were soon on the attack again, with DOucouré looking particularly inept in defence. Kenny was in a bit too hard with his studs showing, earning an early yellow card. Gordon had a chance to play in a free-kick but it was too straight with the line of play and easily defended. Gordon then gave away a free-kick that was countered by a foul on Calvert-Lewin. But the game was very scrappy and Everton were ponderously trying to get forward but without creating a real chance, Calvert-Lewin being well marked. Bissouma fouled Gray to set up another free-kick for Gordon but the delivery was shocking and his follow up was no better, while Bissouma was able to run almost all the way to the goal area, winning a corner that Dan Burn was able to finish off all alone at the far post, where was all that fine zonal marking? As Everton furnished a ragged attack, Gordon was barged over on the side of the Brighton penalty area and VAR said it should be looked at… and a rather fortuitous penalty was granted for Calvert-Lewin to completely miss, lashing it confidently over the bar! Astounding!!! At least Everton got a looping header on target from Calvert-Lewin, winning a corner that was then wasted by Gordon, putting it cheaply behind the goalline. Everton pressed forward again but it was sloppy and the ball was lost. Coleman advanced again but Gordon got himself offside. Nothing seemed to be working for a very sorry looking Everton side. Gordon got a chance for a strong run after treading on Lallana's foot and he got a good cross to the far post where Calvert-Lewin was on the wrong side of the defender. At the other end, a good shot from Lallana forced a great save from Pickford, at the expense of some more corners that were well defended. Gordon tried to do it all with a bold run from the half-way line but his final shot was scuffed and deflected and easily saved. More ponderous attacking from Everton ended when Gray allowed a pass to role under his foot and out of play. Doucouré gave away the ball and Maupay found his way forward too easily before lashing a shot just over Pickford's bar. Three added minutes did little to improve what had been an absolute shit-show of a first half from Everton. No changes by the embattled Everton manager, his side looking plainly embarrassing trying to play ut from the back. But they did get forward down the left and a ball in to Calvert-Lewin looked promising but Burn was in quickly to block his shot. Gordon was finally rewarded for his enthusiasm, his shot tacking a wild deflection off Lallana's foot and into the Brighton net for his first Everton goal. A ball in to Calvert-Lewin was also inviting, before Gordon was wiped out in the Brighton area but it was deemed a nothing push in his back. Everton looked more effective from the ensuing corner but Doucouré could not fashion a shot. Gray then produced a decent shot that was saved by Sanchez. But Brighton were pressing forward again and Kenny made some important interventions. Gray was bundled over by Webster. The dangerous free-kick by Gordon was taken short to set up Coleman for a ridiculous shot that was way off target. Another Gordon corner was curled behind by him, doing it a second time is an unforgivable error really. Allan pulled out a tremendous shot that Sanchez tipped over. Gray floating the corner this time that was easily defended. Maupey got through but Holgate did brilliantly to stop him. But the Everton defence were pulled all out of shape after a terrible Keane clearance and MacAllister was able to pull out a wonderful strike that Pickford had no chance stopping. A better spell of attacking finally saw Kenny cross a nice pass out from Calvert-Lewin and Gordon met it perfectly to put it inside the post. Rondon then came on for Kenny as Everton looked to get back into the game. MacAllister tripped Gray and set up an Everton free-kick but Brighton repelled it. Everton tried to up the pace but they kept making stupid mistakes in midfield. However, Gray battled hard to win a corner, before Rondon came on for Kenny and a crescendo of boos from the Everton crowd. But the changes seemed to have disrupted the tempo and Everton were no longer getting into the Brighton area as Gomes replaced Allan with a few minutes to go. But Rondon looked to see up Gordon for his hat-trick but it wouldn't go in. Approaching the final minutes a good Gordon cross forced a corner that came out to Gomes and then floated back in to Rondon who showed how awful his shooting could be, lashing it way off target. As Everton were attacking, Keane was foolishly tempted to fire a weak shot from 40 yards and well off target. Gray tried to set up Calvert-Lewin at the far post but it wasn't going to work. And another dreadful result for Everton under Rafa Benitez was received with another round of boos. Kick-off: 2:00 pm, Sunday 2 January 2022 Everton: Pickford, Kenny [Y:9'] (71' Rondon), Holgate, Keane, Godfrey, Coleman, Allan (87' Gomes), Doucouré, Gray, Gordon, Calvert-Lewin. Subs: Begovic, Digne, Iwobi, Gbamin, Simms, Dobbin, Onyango. Brighton: Sanchez, Veltman (61' Duffy), Webster [Y:63'], Burn, Cucurella, Bissouma, Mwepu, Lallana (61' Lamptey), Trossard (81' Moder), Mac Allister, Maupay. Subs not Used: Steele, Gross, Alzate, Welbeck, March, Richards. Referee: John BrooksVAR: Stuart Attwell Michael Kenrick top Match Preview After their festive programme was almost completely wiped out, Everton are in action for the first time in 2½ weeks as they host Brighton & Hove Albion at Goodison Park on Sunday. The postponement of the matches against Leicester, Burnley and Newcastle because of injuries and an increase in positive tests for coronavirus, either at Finch Farm, in the opposition camps, or both, has allowed some of Everton's other injured players to regain their fitness, none more so than Dominic Calvert-Lewin could be back in the starting XI for the first time since August. The England international has been sidelined with, first, a toe problem and then a serious thigh muscle injury since the last time these two sides met on the south coast 15 games ago but he has been back in full training during the Blues' recent Covid-enforced hiatus and is fit to play. Manager Rafael Benitez suggested during his pre-match press conference that Calvert-Lewin could start but questioned whether he would have the match fitness to last the full 90 minutes after so long out. "Dominic is training with the team," Benitez said. "One thing is match fitness, which you can improve playing games. Match fitness, we will see. Maybe he scores three goals in the first half and we don't need to worry about his match fitness! “He's really happy, he's ready to play and to score goals.” The unexpected break in the fixture calendar since the stirring 1-1 draw at Chelsea means that Benitez will have more options than was the case at Stamford Bridge on 16 December. The Spaniard wasn't forthcoming with which players will be available — Fabian Delph and Jarrad Branthwaite, for instance, could be missing due to Covid-19 — but Tom Davies was among those pictured in full training at Finch Farm today. The midfielder has been out of action for a while now but looks likely to add to the manager's options. “We cannot give you names, and we cannot give numbers [but] in terms of Covid, we have less problems and, in terms of injuries, we are bringing players back," Benitez explained. "In terms of other players that were injured, little by little they're coming back. We don't want to take a risk with some of them, but they're nearly there." That could be an allusion to the likes of Seamus Coleman and Allan who were named on the bench as emergency options despite carrying knocks but Richarlison (calf) is definitely out as he, like Yerry Mina, remains a way off and though Andros Townsend is keen to feature, his foot fracture will need a bit more time to heal. New signing Vitalii Mykolenko will not be eligible to play. For Brighton Potter, Graham Potter could have both Jürgen Locadia and Leandro Trossard available after the latter was able to train today and but Lewis Dunk looks likely to be out of action until late January, and Jeremy Sarmiento faces an even longer lay-off following surgery on a hamstring. The Seagulls' ability to consistently score goals remains a problem but they are also a difficult side to beat. They started the season in flying form and three straight wins before Everton ended their 100% record with a 2-0 win at the Amex Community Stadium and they have found victories hard to come by since, picking up nine draws overall, including three in their last five games. Like Everton, their most recent game was a 1-1 tie at Chelsea but their 2-0 victory over Brentford on Boxing Day was the only time they have picked up all three points since mid-September. For Benitez, much will depend on how much belief and momentum his side can carry into the game from the draw against Chelsea, not to mention the potential impact of having Calvert-Lewin back in the side. Even when the striker was fit and firing at the start of the campaign, the Blues found it hard to dominate games and dictate the tempo and with Brighton being such a possession-focused outfit, it could be another case of Everton waiting for their opportunities on the counter-attack or relying on Calvert-Lewin's presence as the target man for more direct play and set-pieces. Certainly, if they can pick up what would be just a second win in 12 matches, it would get supporters looking up the table in hope for the second half of the season rather than nervously over their shoulders at the relegation zone below. Kick-off: 2pm, Sunday 2 January 2022Referee: John BrooksVAR: Stuart AttwellLast Time: Everton 4 - 2 Brighton & Hove Albion Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Holgate, Keane, Godfrey, Allan, Doucouré, Gomes, Gordon, Gray, Calvert-Lewin Lyndon Lloyd top * Unfortunately, we cannot control other sites' content policies and therefore cannot guarantee that links to external reports will remain active.