A superb brace of goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson either side of the half time break and an injury time curler from Dominic Calvert-Lewin saw Everton back to winning ways and send them into Sundays’ Goodison derby in a much better frame of mind.
After a mammoth 17-day break since the defeat at Watford, Everton were back on the road on Tuesday night with a visit to Cardiff – hoping to do better than the England Rugby team who failed there on Saturday – and looking to build some momentum to take into Sunday’s clash with ‘them.’
The final of just four games in the month of February found the Toffees still searching for their first point, never mind victory and with Neil Warnocks’ side reeling from a 5-1 thrashing by Watford, travelling Evertonians made the trip to the Welsh capital with fingers crossed for a change in recent fortune.
For the Bluebirds, on-loan striker Oumar Niasse was ineligible to face Everton and they had injury and fitness doubts over Camarasa, Peltier and Reid but were expected to see a return for Icelandic midfielder Aron Gunnarsson and Zohore likely to lead the line.
Veteran Manager Neil Warnock had been irked in the build-up to the game with doubts over whether Spaniard Camarasa should play. Visibly irritated, the blunt speaking Warnock commented, “We’re having physios and medical people from abroad telling us what we can do with him when he is our player. He obviously listens to his physios, his medical people and Tom, [Poor language removed] and Harry from abroad. We think he’s closer to fitness than what his guys think. It’s a been a really big disappointment because Camarasa is a very important player for us.”
With his side just one place and one point above relegation zone for this vital fixture, Warnock made five changes to the side thrashed by Watford as he selected his side: Etheridge, Bennett, Bamba, Morrison (c), Manga, Gunnarsson, Bacuna, Hoilett, Reid, Mendez-Laing and Zohore.
For a pointless and winless in February Everton, Marco Silva had veteran defenders Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka available while Yerry Mina remained a doubt and Kurt Zouma was banned following his vocal protestations after the final whistle at Vicarage Road.
Silva himself had a somewhat fractious pre-match press conference at USM Finch Farm where he snapped back at what he patently felt was over-zealous questioning as to whether he was going to make radical changes in his managerial methodology and game tactics.
He was pretty blunt when stared down the reporter saying, “If you did very good things the first three or four months we have to understand why we started to not do the same. We are losing points and not achieving the good results in some moments because of the detail, and so you have to work more and more to be more consistent within the team. I am not happy with our results (but) to change radically, no.”
In serious need of both a performance and a result before we go into the derby on Sunday, Silva rang the changes in naming his starting line-up: Pickford, Digne, Jagielka (c), Keane, Coleman, Gana Gueye, Schneiderlin, Walcott, Sigurdsson, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin.
After a pleasant sunny day our evening encounter saw Kevin Friend the referee in charge of proceedings.
Reid with a quick ball out of defence found Zohore and he pressured Jagielka into a poor backpass that he got to and crossed dangerously toward Hoilett, the Everton skipper was grateful to Lucas Digne to smuggle the cross away to safety, but it was a very early warning that Zohore had pace a-plenty.
Schneiderlin was the next to be caught, but he was able to get back and dispossess Mendez-Laing before he could get a telling pass in. Bacuna was the first to be booked on seven minutes for a crude challenge on Richarlison as Everton tried to break away through Digne and Sigurdsson.
Everton won their first corner on eleven minutes when a powerful shot from Gana Gueye hit Morrison to go behind and from the set piece, Theo Walcott volleyed narrowly wide of the far post. Cardiff skipper Morrison was again in the thick of things two minutes later picking up a yellow card for a challenge on DCL.
A second Everton corner on twenty minutes saw a moment of confusion in the Cardiff penalty area before a second cross from Sigurdsson was claimed under his crossbar by Etheridge. After a slightly nervy start, Everton had settled quite well but needed to turn their possession advantage into goals.
A decent passing move involving Walcott, Gana Gueye and Sigurdsson ended with Walcott trying a spectacular shot from the corner of the Cardiff area that was just too high to cause Etheridge genuine concern.
Gunnarsson – he of the baldy head and Uncle Albert beard – was a but lucky not to see yellow for a foul from behind on Walcott before Bamba was penalised for flattening DCL, Everton unable to make anything of the resulting free kicks.
Cardiff forged a half chance as Gunnarsson found Zohore, but his shot on the turn was wide and didn’t trouble Pickford in the Everton goal.
Whilst both sides were working hard, there was a distinct lack of quality on display and the casual observer couldn’t help but think one moment of real class and composure from either side could bring a breakthrough.
Digne with a long throw then collected a pass from Sigurdsson to send in an excellent cross that was just too strong for DCL to get on the end of.
Five minutes before the interval, Everton finally found that touch of class as Coleman got away down the right on the end of a ball from Schneiderlin to pull the cross back sweetly into the path of Gylfi Sigurdsson to equally sweetly side foot the Blues ahead from twelve yards.
The goal was a special one as it was the 56th in the top flight for Sigurdsson, making him the highest scoring Icelander in English football, one better than the previous highest, Eider Gudjonsson.
Half Time: 0-1
No changes by either side for the second half that saw Everton attacking the end of the ground where another superb and noisy travelling army of fans were massed.
Good defending by Digne saw him release Richarlison to stretch his legs down the left flank and win the Blues third corner of the game. Cardiff cleared the corner and went to break quickly, Digne picking up a yellow card for a foul on Zohore to halt their progress downfield.
Everton dealt with a long throw from Gunnarsson for Pickford to release Richarlison, but again Morrison won the duel and set Cardiff going forward again. The game was now warming up and a ball from Manga for Zohore saw him take on and beat Keane for ace, but his cross was cleared.
As we reached the hour mark Everton warmed up Bernard, the diminutive Brazilian replacing his compatriot Richarlison who had largely disappointed.
DCL, on a long ball from Jagielka, did really well to beat his man, but delayed crossing and that allowed Manga to recover and take the ball away from him.
Bernard with his first mazy run down the left caused panic in the Cardiff defence and when his cross was only partially cleared by Etheridge, Gylfi Sigurdsson was smartly onto the loose ball to lash it high over the stricken goalie for 2-0 on 65 minutes.
Cardiff made their first change on 68 minutes, Murphy replacing Hoilett and followed that up quickly with Paterson replacing Mendez-Laing.
Everton were now looking to kill the game off and a succession of crosses pinned Cardiff in their own box eventually leading to Bennett bringing down Coleman painfully.
Sigurdsson was causing trouble for the home side all over the itch and cutting in off the left flank he fed DCL who hit a strong shot that flew narrowly wide.
Into the final quarter of an hour and Cardiff were desperate to try and get back into the game, but the Everton defence was holding out under pressure from a corner and a couple of long throws and then Phil Jagielka showing his experience holding up Reid rather than lunging into a risky tackle.
Murphy became the third Cardiff player to see yellow for a foul on Seamus Coleman and the home side used the stoppage to replace Zohore with Ward. Marco Silva made his second change in the 82nd minute, Ademola Lookman coming on for Theo Walcott.
Keane climbing gave Cardiff a free kick in a dangerous position, but the set piece from Murphy was far too easy for Pickford to deal with ahead of Andre Gomes coming on for a four-minute cameo role at the expense of Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Cardiff manager Neil Warnock was raging on the touchline at his sides inability to forge anything of any real danger to the Everton defence, the Bluebirds having failed to register one effort on target in the 90 minutes.
Three added-on minutes were signalled and a good break from Gana Gueye almostg worked a shooting opportunity for Gomes, but after Cardiff countered, the Blues broke away through Gana Gueye again and a lovely weighted pass found Dominic Calvert-Lewin to bend an excellent third goal past Etheridge on his 100th game for Everton.