A straight red card for captain Phil Jagielka saw the Blues reduced to ten men shortly before half time and in so doing presented Wolves with the equalising free kick after the Blues had done well to stifle the home side and take the lead through Richarlison. But a second strike from the Brazilian so very nearly earned the Blues all three points before a late equaliser saw the spoils shared.
The opening day of the new season saw Everton travel to Molineux to take on last season’s promoted champions, Wolves, who ran away with the Championship last season and many fancied them to do extremely well on their return to the top flight under coach Nuno Santo. Wolves have been busy in the summer transfer window adding amongst other, Portuguese national team goalie Rui Patricio, midfielder Joao Moutinho and striker Raul Jimenez.
Before the game, the Portuguese coach implored the home support to get behind the team saying, “We know what Molineux can give us and we have to give back. From minute one to minute 95, the support must be there because it helps the boys.”
For their return to the top-flight Santo selected: Patricio, Bennett, Coady (c), Boly, Doherty, Moutinho, Neves, Jonny, Jota, Jimenez and Costa.
In the visitors dugout, Marco Silva went into the game without any of Everton’s late, deadline day signings in the starting line-up and he was hoping for a reversal of the disappointing run of results in the pre-season. Speaking ahead of the departure to Molineux, our Portuguese head coach noted, “The most important thing for us is our performance. You want to play well and perform well but, before that, you have to put in big commitment, 100 per cent with our ideas and philosophy as a club.”
In front of yet another sold-out travelling support hoping for a flying start from the Blues, Marco Silva picked his strongest available starting eleven thus: Pickford, Baines, Keane, Jagielka (c), Coleman, Gana Gueye, Schneiderlin, Sigurdsson, Walcott, Tosun and Richarlison.
Our referee for this curtain raiser was Craig Pawson.
A steady start by the Blues saw them earn an early corner that came to nothing and when Wolves countered with a corner of their own, Michael Keane headed clear confidently. Sigurdsson then wasted a second corner with an easy catch for Patricio on his Premier League debut.
Coleman away down the right got a lucky touch off a defender only for his left foot shot to have no power.
Richarlison saw yellow in the 14th minute for a midfield challenge on Moutinho, but there was no card for Doherty moments later when he went through the back of Richarlison.
However from the resulting free kick, the Blues opened the scoring as Baines free kick was met by Keane and with Patricio undecided, the ball fell nicely for Richarlison to stab home his maiden Everton goal from six yards.
Moutinho fired in Wolves first effort in the 22nd minute, but it was well over the bar and no trouble at all for Jordan Pickford.
Everton were doing a superb job of denying Wolves space and holding their shape, and the home side were forced to keep cycling the ball in midfield to try and find a way to break down the Blues, who looked more solid than they did against Valencia.
Richarlison was again the centre of attention on 33 minutes with a rather too theatrical fall to earn a free kick. Jimenez with a jinking run to beat Schneiderlin caused a moment of concern before he overran the ball into touch.
Jimenez was looking lively and it was he again who caused another minor moment of concern before Costa fired embarrassingly wide of the target.
Richarlison on a break had a glorious opportunity to run in on goal or find Walcott in oceans of space on his right, only for him to do neither. Wolves responded with Jimenez forcing Pickford to make his first save.
Controversy on 40 minutes as referee Pawson showed a straight red card to Phil Jagielka for a challenge on Jota after a slip saw him lose control of the ball. (Steve McManaman on BT commentary claiming it was never a red card).
Mason Holgate immediately came on at the expense of Gylfi Sigurdsson to maintain a defensive line, but weakening the attacking options through the midfield.
The free kick resulting saw Neves fire the ball high round the wall and good enough to beat Jordan Pickford for the equaliser. (Steve McManaman funnily enough now claiming the red card was the right decision and the shot was catchable)
Half Time: 1-1
With rain falling at the start of the second half, Everton needed to stay calm in defence and midfield before looking to pick their moment to get forward.
Wolves wasted a good attack with an awful right wing cross from Doherty being way to high and long for Jimenez to get on the end of, but the warning sign had been posted that the home side would now look to use pace and width.
Good work from Tosun saw him line up the shot that Patricio pushed away for a corner when a pass for Walcott might have reaped better dividends. At the other end, Pickford stood firm to deny Jimenez as he beat the offside trap and crashed in a shot.
A steady build up ended with Tosun find space on the right and crossing dangerously to the back post for Richarlison to head back towards Walcott who couldn’t get a meaningful contact on the ball, but the Blues had signalled intent.
And they superbly retook the lead on 66 minutes as a Baines throw-in was played neatly by Tosun into the path of Richarlison and he took a couple of strides before curling a delicious shot beyond the despairing dive of Patricio for 1-2.
Wolves withdrew Costa in favour of Bonatini inside the final twenty minutes as the noise from the travelling Blues rang around Molineux.
Everton were staying remarkably composed given the defensive frailties seen in pre-season and in the face of steadily increasing pressure from the home side until a long cross from the right by Neves just beat Keane to find Jimenez at the back post for the downward headed second equaliser.
Marco Silva immediately threw Oumar Niasse on for the final ten minutes, replacing Cenk Tosun, hoping his energy and unusual style might yet snatch a third away goal.
Everton forged a chance with Coleman getting forward, but his cross was too strong for Niasse. Moments later, Richarlison pulled up and had to go off to be replaced by Lucas Digne for the final five minutes.
With four additional minutes added, Jimenez found Bonatini in the box, but Mason Holgate resisted the temptation to dive in and the threat was averted calmly.
Overall, this was a good result for the Blues given the loss of Jagielka for the whole of the second half and with a fistful of new signings still to come into contention for the starting line-up, Evertonians will take this point as a foundation to build upon.
Full Time: 2-2
Obviously the goal-scoring exploits of Richarlison will grab the headlines and there’ll be lots of talk about the validity of the red card for Phil Jagielka, but I think a quiet word of praise for Michael Keane is in order.
He assumed the authority for marshalling the back four after the dismissal of Jagielka, and in front of the watching England manager Gareth Southgate, Keane put some of his woes of last season behind him with a decent performance. For those who will criticise him for Wolves second goal, for me it was the quality of the cross from Neves rather than a mistake that saw Jimenez tie the game.
Leighton Baines demonstrated experience in limiting his forward rushes in favour of a more defensive showing and the ever-capable Seamus Coleman supported by Holgate ensured a hard fought point was earned.