Lack-lustre Blues end 2018 with a disappointing loss.
Everton failed to maintain the success of their trip to Turf Moor at the Amex Stadium as they went down to a south coast defeat against a hard-working and solid, if unspectacular, Brighton outfit.
Fresh from the excellent result at Turf Moor on Boxing Day, the Mighty Blues travelled south to the Amex Stadium to take on Chris Hughtons’ Brighton side who gained a creditable draw with Arsenal on their post Christmas outing.
Hughton was able to reform his favoured centre-back partnership of Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk, both available again after suspensions, but had to make a change in goal as Mat Ryan was away on Australian international duty.
Brighton sat ten points above the bottom three and encouraged by their display against the Gunners were looking to end the year with a home victory. Looking at the forthcoming transfer window, Albion boss Hughton noted, “I don’t see us being too busy next month in terms of incomings. But, we could see a few of our younger players heading out on loan.”
With a full squad bar Ryan to call upon, Hughton left Glenn Murray on the bench as he selected his starting line-up: Button, Montoya, Duffy, Dunk (c), Bernardo, March, Proepper, Stephens, Gross, Andone and Locadia.
Having become the first club of all the major European leagues to reach 7,000 goals in top-flight football when Yerry Mina headed home at Burnley, Everton set another historic mark at Brighton, becoming the first club to reach 4,500 top-flight games.
And with Richarlison having scored 9 in 17 games, Gylfi Sigurdsson the leading scorer through 2018 with 12 and Lucas Digne now posing a very serious free kick threat, the Blues travelled confidently and looking to end the calendar year with a win for the first time since 2013.
With the January transfer window beckoning and many Evertonians hoping the club will try and sign a striker, Marco Silva took time out this week to highlight the efforts of Dominic Calvert-Lewin when he commented, “I am happy with him, but I want more because he has the quality to give more to us as a team and to improve more and more and more. He has some specific skills I like in a striker and he knows what I expect from him and the work we are doing with him. If he has started the last three matches, it is because he deserves it and I believe in him.”
Marco Silva, with Idrissa Gana Gueye fully recovered from his injury, took the opportunity to give Gylfi Sigurdsson a rest and re-instated Richarison to a line-leading role as he named the starting eleven: Pickford, Digne, Zouma, Keane, Mina, Coleman (c), Gana Gueye, Gomes, Walcott, Bernard and Richarlison.
Sporting watches, whistles, cards and free kick spray was our referee, a relative rookie in only his third Premier League appointment, Andy Madley.
A steady opening to the game saw Everton’s first real foray forward come as Gomes sent Coleman away down the right flank on a well placed pass, but the cross was easily gathered by Button in the home goal.
A 12th minute corner from Digne was cleared only as far as Bernard who swung over another cross that Michael Keane rose to meet, but couldn’t direct his header on target.
Mina with a blatant rugby style hand-off on Andone gifted Brighton a free kick that was dealt with but as the home side kept the pressure on, Pickford saved from a Gross cross only for Bernardo to shoot and it was Mina with a timely block to keep the game scoreless.
With both teams on their third game of the festive period, it was no real surprise that we got through twenty minutes with not too much goalmouth action as both sides eased their way into the encounter.
A fine tackle by Keane on Gross sent Gomes away to find Coleman and onto Walcott for a cross that the goalie spilled and Duffy was on hand to deny Richarlison not knowing the offside flag was already raised.
Everton were sparked though and moments later Richarlison saw his shot from the left parried by Button to Seamus Coleman coming into space at the back post but he delayed momentarily, looking to find a better shooting opportunity, and the chance was lost.
The Blues, in their away strip, were beginning to enjoy more and more possession and a Walcott chip to the back post was just too strong for Gana Gueye to get on the end of.
Mina came up with another timely challenge to deny Proepper as he worked his way between Zouma and Keane as Brighton tried to get forward with purpose.
Gana Gueye bursting through from midfield tried to find Richarlison when a shot himself might have been the better option, ahead of a right wing cross from Coleman finding Richarlison at the back post to cushion his header for Bernard, but Dunk was there to clear the half chance.
While Everton had had the better chances, Brighton were not subdued and with Andone testing Keane and Mina for pace, the Blues defenders couldn’t afford to relax.
Digne with a first time cross again saw Dunk in the way to block Richarlison who went down looking for a penalty call that was never going to come, and the first half petered out with both managers and sets of supporters hoping for much better in the second half.
Half Time: 0-0
No changes by either manager during the interval saw the Blues attacking the end where their travelling army of supporters were packed in, another superb awayday following, even moreso given the time of year.
A good turn by Proepper took him away from Mina to feed Andone, but Kurt Zouma came across with a superb challenge to deflect the shot away for a corner that Brighton wasted. The home side had started the second half slightly the better and an error by Mina saw another Andone effort blocked and easily gathered by Pickford.
With Richarlison again down, Brighton played on and Everton, Bernard in particular, were furious and the diminutive Brazilian was booked for his angry reaction to March not playing the ball out of play.
Mina was booked for leaning on Bernardo while trying to run the ball out of play, gifting Brighton a free kick wide on their left flank by the goal line. Pickford saved the Columbians blushes as Andone powered in a close range header from the set piece taken by Gross, the England keeper turning the ball over the bar with a fine reaction save.
It was Brighton who were now enjoying more of the play and looking the more likely to break the deadlock and their next corner brought the opening goal as the ball rebounded off Andre Gomes and Locadia reacted quickly to turn the loose ball into the net on 59 minutes.
Stung into action by falling behind, Everton went straight down the other end through Bernard and Mina with Button in the home goal doing really well to deflect a Richarlison shot onto the post and his defence cleared the danger.
Gylfi Sigurdsson was immediately warmed up ready to join the fray, replacing Yerry Mina in the 65th minute meaning the Blues reverted to a conventional back four and looking to push Sigurdsson forward to support Richarlison in the search for an equaliser.
Bernard got away down the left to bamboozle Montoya, skip inside another defender only to totally mishit his shot that went out for a throw-in.
DCL stripped off with twenty minutes to play, as Keane defended well against the pace of Andone, and he replaced Andre Gomes on 72 minutes to add more height to the attack.
Brighton responded by preparing record scorer Glenn Murray for the final quarter hour, eventually replacing Andone.
A defensive mistake by Walcott allowed Bernardo to get free and he squirmed past Coleman to cross dangerously, Keane with the much-needed clearance. Keane was again in the thick of things as Brighton got the ball into the area and he got in the way of a Murray shot to head clear.
Oumar Niasse was the Blues final change, replacing Bernard for the final ten minutes with the Blues now getting desperate to salvage something from the long trip south.
Into the final five minutes and a tremendously flighted free kick from Sigurdsson saw Kurt Ziuma climb above Duffy and Dunk and rattle the cross bar with his header with the goalie flat-footed.
Stephens clipped the heels of DCL in free kick range for both Digne and Sigurdsson, the Frenchman hitting the wall with his shot, Brighton happy to hammer the loose ball downfield.
Four added minutes were signalled and Zouma managed to get a shot away from a Gana Gueye cross, but there was neither enough power or direction on it to trouble Button in the home goal.