Forest 2 - 2 Everton

With Everton having lost at home to Aston Villa and failed to get anything from their trips to Liverpool and Arsenal, an awful lot had been placed on this fixture at the City Ground. In the context of the need to keep as many clubs down there with them in the relegation dogfight, this was a game the Blues could not lose; in view of their need for points, particularly having played a game more than anyone else around them, it was one they really needed to win.

It’s very difficult, then, not to feel massively disappointed and frustrated that, having twice been ahead, Everton passed up this chance to collect a precious victory against a rival to beat the drop. Everton don’t score twice very often (indeed, they hadn’t managed more than one in a game since October) but today, on the back of a pleasingly up-tempo and tenacious first-half performance, they got their noses in front on two occasions. Unfortunately, they couldn’t either kill Nottingham Forest off or, at least, see the game out at 2-1.

Instead, while there was much to admire about the Toffees going forward, worrying defensive shortcomings persist, regardless of the personnel involved. Once more, they were the architects of their own downfall with 13 minutes to go as Abdoulaye Doucouré, the scorer of the winning goal to that point, attempted a sloppy blind pass in his own half, the ball was picked off and Brennan Johnson scored for the third time against Everton this season to grab a point for the hosts.

It provided, sadly, another reminder of the kind of quality and clinical finishing that Everton are lacking in forward areas. Where Johnson steered an impressive finish well beyond the reach of Jordan Pickford for his second equaliser, Demarai Gray, so composed when he had originally put the Blues ahead from the penalty spot in the 10th minute, snatched at a terrific chance in first-half stoppage and wasted the opportunity to make it 3-1.

On the whole, though, Gray’s inclusion at the expense of Neal Maupay, was the right one regardless of the Frenchman’s fruitless industry in the previous two games. The Blues’ #11 is quicker, more skilful on the ball and, importantly, is able to take the ball forward even if he isn’t quite as strong holding it up. And he takes a decent penalty.

What appears to be the imminent return of Dominic Calvert-Lewin will make for an interesting selection dilemma for Sean Dyche in terms of his attack but at the back he is still searching for a reliable partnership and some solidity in front of his back four.

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He persisted with Michael Keane alongside James Tarkowski but the former got sucked into the hole left by Idrissa Gueye and Amadou Onana outside Everton’s box which allowed Forest to play around him and engineer their first leveller. And Keane dropped too far towards his own goal as Johnson collected a cross from the right which gave the young Welshman the space he needed.

Perhaps the biggest question on the day, though, was why Dyche waited so long to replace some visibly tired legs and minds in the closing stages. Maupay and, inexplicably, Tom Davies weren’t introduced until the 89th minute, by which time the lead had irrevocably been lost. The manager would, no doubt, cite a shortage of quality options but the “Moyes sub” — or even the Ancelotti move — option of throwing Yerry Mina on as a third centre-half to shore things was there but it wasn’t taken. Perhaps he felt his team were comfortable but one of Steve Cooper’s changes reaped dividends for him.

Everton started on the front foot, looking the more confident and assured of the two teams in the early going and after Dwight McNeil had fired a speculative effort well over, Gray was handed the chance to put the visitors ahead in the 10th minute from the penalty spot.

The ball wouldn’t drop for Doucouré in the box but it fell to McNeil who was tripped by Jonjo Shelvey just inside the penalty area and referee John Brooks pointed to the spot, from which Gray made no mistake, sweeping it past Keylor Navas from 12 yards.

The lead last just nine minutes, however, as Everton were carved open through the middle by a one-two exchange between Morgan Gibbs-White and Chris Wood, with Pickford making a smart one-handed save but he was only able to push the former’s shot into the path of Johnson who turned it past the prone goalkeeper.

A minute later, a header by Woods deflected off Tarkowski and dropped onto the roof of the net while at the other end, vociferous appeals for a penalty from Seamus Coleman were waved away after Jack Colback stepped across him in the box and forced the Irishman to kick the former Magpie’s standing leg as he tried to make contact with the ball.

The Toffees restored their lead in the 29th minute, though, with a nicely-worked set-piece move that saw a free-kick driven out to the right flank where Tarkowski headed it into the area, Keane nodded it on and Doucouré stole past his man to head it past Navas and make it 2-1.

McNeil prompted Navas into finger-tipping a rasping effort over the bar five minutes before the break but Everton had an excellent chance to make it 3-1 in stoppage time but Gray lacked conviction when the ball sat up for him in front of goal, and he could only side-foot weakly at a defender who easily blocked the shot.

Where Everton had been fairly impressive at times in the first half despite a curiously anonymous performance from Amadou Onana, they allowed themselves to get dragged into a scrap in the second period and they didn’t really threaten Forest’s rearguard until 20 minutes from the end when a much-improved Idrissa Gueye had the chance to cut it back from byline but his pass was comfortably cut out.

In the interim, a rash of yellow cards had threatened to see at least one side end the contest with fewer men than with they had started and Forest’s only threats seemed to come from set-pieces with which Everton were dealing comfortably despite the aerial presence of Wood.

The Blues failed to adequately manage the game, though, and when Doucouré’s all-advised pass inside was intercepted and substitute Andy Yates fed the ball to Johnson, the young Welsh winger stroked a shot into the top corner with his left foot that gave Pickford no chance.

The Everton keeper had to be alert in the 82nd and 84th minutes to, firstly, save from sub André Ayew and then divert a Johnson cross away from danger with an out-stretched leg while Dyche threw Maupay on for the final few minutes of injury time but there would be no further chances to collect what would have been three precious points.

There is obviously mounting concern among Evertonians that the team is rapidly running out of games from which to pick up the points that will save them from relegation for a second season running and that this was another failure to win a “six-pointer” down the bottom against a poor side.

While the defensive weaknesses are worrying, there were positives to take from this performance to go with a point on the road that keeps Forest within four points. On this evidence, the Blues are without question playing for themselves, the fans and the badge and with more belief. They are also getting more often, putting more men in the box and generally threatening the opposition goal more than at any time during the last three months of Frank Lampard’s tenure.

That is a platform from which to continue getting better from an attacking viewpoint, being more clinical in front of goal and more purposeful in the final third, particularly when trying to increase a lead, something that continues to elude the players.

Next weekend’s visit of a very tricky Brentford outfit appears a little daunting given the two points dropped today against an inferior team to the Bees — albeit one that hasn’t lost at the City Ground since September — but, as Dyche is no doubt reminding the players on a weekly basis, it’s one game at a time.

Reader Comments (7)

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David Bromwell
1 Posted 06/03/2023 at 08:19:15
Okay, we got a draw but we clearly could have won this game had we played with a little more composure at both ends of the pitch.

For me, there were also too many avoidable issues; once again, a flurry of yellow cards for silly handbag antics. The manager needs to put a stop to this – inevitably it will result in an unnecessary sending-off and distracts our players from playing to any pre-determined game plan.

Onana, who I think had a generally poor game, has also taken to feigning serious injury in every game. He is a talented player but this silly nonsense is spoiling his game and reducing his potential.

Finally, I also think the manager failed to respond when we were clearly looking tired in the second half. We needed to give Forest something different to think about and the eventual substitutions were quite frankly ridiculous.

So the hope continues, but we are so clearly very poor in all areas and we are running out of chances. Finally, just a shout-out for Captain Coleman, who I thought was an example to all at both ends of the pitch and, on the day, our best and most effective player.

Steve Shave
2 Posted 06/03/2023 at 08:23:30
I agree, David, we should have won this. However, this is Everton – we have been abysmal for years and utterly utterly awful away from home since Ancelotti.

I liked the synopsis in the Echo of Dyche's post-match interview:

"Dyche acknowledged Everton need points to climb away from trouble but stressed survival is dependent on creating a team that knows how to win and not one that simply hopes for success."

I like Dyche and what he is trying to do with a bunch of misfits and no attacking threat; this is the correct message to give a team so low on confidence. We will need an away win or two I think to get out of this mess.

Jim Bennings
3 Posted 06/03/2023 at 08:30:20
Another game that we should have won away from home slipped away.

Until we learn how to manage being in the lead away from home (it doesn't happen much, does it?) then we will never progress.

Leeds and Brentford – two other games this season that we were in control of but let it slip.

Failure to win yesterday will probably tell us more if we fail to beat Brentford on Saturday at Goodison where supposedly we are meant to be stronger (even though we've lost 4 of the last 6).

With 12 games left, it's hard to see more than about 34 points being reached now; I doubt that will be enough to stay up. So, for a second season in succession, we are sitting here awaiting the results of our rivals.

And people have the audacity to question why people rebel and protest against this board.

Rennie Smith
4 Posted 06/03/2023 at 09:11:33
It does feel like 2 points dropped more than 1 point gained, but Forest are decent at home so I would have taken a point before kick-off.

We were in control at 2-1, of course we didn't look like scoring another (I'm still shocked we scored 2), but neither did Forest. I still can't believe Doucouré couldn't find at least 1 of 4 breaking Everton players with a simple inside pass for their second goal.

I like Godfrey, I can see why he was picked to counter the pace of Johnson, but his positional play is all over the place. He needs a decent defender to coach what's between his ears, you could hear Tarkowski trying to help him out but I'm not sure he listens.

A mention as well for Seamus, who's been brilliant since Dyche has come in. Leads by example and hasn't been shown up by younger opposition.

Despite the disappointment, it's still a step in the right direction. I said last week we'd get 4 points from Forest and Brentford. Don't let me down, Dychey!

Mal van Schaick
5 Posted 06/03/2023 at 09:57:13
I don't know why Godfrey was drawn into centre of defence, leaving Johnson unmarked on the second goal. Dyche has to work with the defenders on ball-watching.

We are two wins from 12th or at least one good win from 15th. With the effort that we have put in recently and a bit of luck, it would be a boost for the squad to be out of the Bottom 3. Let's start by beating Brentford.

Kevin Naylor
6 Posted 06/03/2023 at 11:03:56
I believe Brentford on Saturday is the first of many cup finals but I think, if we fail to win, then with what's coming up, that I believe that will be that.

Momentum is everything in sport and we need some immediately.

Jerome Shields
7 Posted 07/03/2023 at 09:07:45
Yes, it is going to be like that in the run-in but other teams will be in a similar situation. Getting a point and getting it away from home is a positive. Getting positives anywhere at the moment is better than defeat.

Dyche has certainly improved the players' contribution to the team and it shows in improved performances. I am beginning to think he hasn't confidence in some of the players because it is the only explanation of why he did not make substitutions earlier.

Some of the players left on would not fill anyone with confidence. But imo substitutions to provide an alternative forward threat may have taken the pressure off habitual error-prone players.

So under Dyche, there has been steady progress based on 'factual' information. There are still games to play for Everton and games for the other relegation-threatened teams. There is also the raised possibility of changes in the management of the club, which is obviously needed.

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