Everton took another vital step towards securing their Premier League status with a 2-0 victory over Brighton & Hove Albion.
A Gaitan Bong own-goal put The Toffees on their way to victory, Theo Walcott putting the defender under enough pressure from a Yannick Bolasie cross.
Cenk Tosun then made it 2-0 with a fine finish from inside the area after excellent play from Leighton Baines. It was the Turk’s second goal of the season; his first at Goodison Park.
Wayne Rooney still had time to miss a penalty in the final minutes, though Brighton ‘keeper Mathew Ryan pulled off a stunning save to deny him his 12th goal of the season.
The win takes Everton onto 37 points, moving up two places in the Premier League to 9th.
High tempo is the key
With less than a minute to go before kick-off, boos from the home crowd rang out. I don’t doubt this Everton side’s ability to generate boos before they’ve even kicked a ball, but thankfully these were the boos reserved for teams who force Everton to shoot first into the Gwladys Street. Whether the unfamiliarity of the direction of play, or the threat of imminent boos, something sparked The Toffees into life as they made a surprisingly positive start to the game.
Clear cut chances may have been hard to come by but a succession of corners and some incisive play down both flanks put the visitors under tremendous pressure. Bolasie got the better of Ezequiel Schelotto time and time again, and may have found himself with an assist or two had he been crossing with his favoured right foot.
Walcott also stretched left full-back Bong, racing clear to the by-line but seeing his cut-backs well intercepted. As on the opposite flank, the quality of the final ball was lacking, but the intent and drive was clear.
There was a lull in this tempo either side of half-time but Everton were at their best when they moved the ball quickly, involved their wingers and had willing runners beyond the man with the ball. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Hopefully the penny has dropped.
It takes two to make a pass
The Gwladys Street let out a spattering of groans about five minutes before Everton took the lead. Bolasie (somewhat of a Marmite player at the best of times) took up a promising position on the left flank, drove towards the Brighton penalty area and with teammates flooding into the box sent the ball to the back post where precisely no one was there to meet it.
Soon after, Bolasie took up a similar position and deciding to cross from a deeper position, sent the ball into the same area at the far post where Walcott was charging in. His presence did enough to ensure Bong diverted the ball beyond his own ‘keeper. Goodison erupts.
Both similar situations involving the same player; both received very different reactions from the crowd. But it seems obvious to me that it takes two to make a pass. Granted, had Bolasie seen the near post runs made by both players he should have picked them out. But part of the problem was that there was no one arriving at the back post which is – as Walcott would soon demonstrate – an area worth attacking.
Everton’s best back 4?
What a sight for sore eyes Leighton Baines was this afternoon. In fact, it was pleasing to see three of the most experienced Evertonians make up the back four, with Phil Jagielka also returning to the starting XI after a period of absence alongside Seamus Coleman.
Baines had not played a minute of Premier League football since the 4-1 embarrassment at Southampton in November. Coleman was playing just his fourth game since returning from his injury nightmare, while amazingly Jagielka was making just his fourth appearance this calendar year; his last coming on 31st January in the victory over Leicester City.
But for one or two misplaced passes, the contingent alongside Michael Keane and Jordan Pickford never really looked like conceding (admittedly this was a poor Brighton side). They all brought experience, composure and in the case of Baines and Coleman, they added much needed balance, not just in terms of left to right but defence to attack also.
The manager has been surprisingly quick to chop and change his defensive personnel; hopefully the clean sheet will convince Allardyce that this is a back four worth sticking with.
“Why isn’t Bainsey taking it?”
Would it be Everton if there wasn’t some kind of penalty drama? Whether it’s Kevin Mirallas, Romelu Lukaku or Wayne Rooney on the spot, the mantra of Leighton Baines should always take penalties is worth repeating.
Not that Rooney is a poor penalty taker (which wasn’t so easily said of the Belgian pair). He’s converted 37 of 48 penalties during his career, but he’s some way from beating Baines’ 90%-plus conversion rate, netting 20 out of 22 Premier League pens (23/26 in all competitions).
And it’s worth noting that Rooney’s penalty was by no means a poor one. It looked destined for the side netting but for an incredible intervention from the flying Mathew Ryan.
Yet the simple fact remains: Leighton Baines was on the pitch, he should have taken the penalty! Here’s another simple fact courtesy of EFC stat man Steve Johnson:
Wayne Rooney has now taken 7 penalties for #EFC and scored 3 of them.
— Steve Johnson (@stevejohnson95) March 10, 2018
Hopefully Cenk doesn’t disappear Tosun
Having being touted by Allardyce as “the best out there” upon his arrival, only to be swiftly told he’s not good enough to start games for Everton (despite 41 goals in 96 games for Champions League playing Besiktas), you’d forgive Cenk Tosun for asking whether the plane ticket that brought him to Everton included a return.
But with The Toffees misfiring whether he’s been in the team or not, it seems Allardyce has run out of options. The Turk followed up his first goal for Everton last week with another fine strike, doubling his tally in as many games.
A typically slick dribble into the box from Baines saw him lay the ball back for Tosun who composed himself before an excellent finish off the crossbar. While we shouldn’t expect a goal every game (maybe not even a very effective performance every time), let’s hope Tosun is given a run of games to bed into the league and find a goal-scoring role in a team of few goal scorers.