A fully-committed and energetic performance from Bournemouth saw them record their first ever win at Goodison in the Premier League and deny Carlo Ancelotti a ten-game unbeaten home record. And Jordan Pickford will be desperately unhappy with the nature of the visitors third goal.
At long last the final game of the 2019/20 Covid-19 affected, Project Restart season arrived with the Blues in much better heart having won at Bramall Lane facing a Bournemouth side who needed a win and both Aston Vanilla and managerless Watford to both lose to have any chance of surviving the drop into the Championship.
Monday evenings trip to Sheffield was arguably the most accomplished Everton performance since Project Restart began. Miserly in defence with Michael Keane and Jarrad Branthwaite both in excellent form, Everton saw to it that the Blades were unable to register even one meaningful attempt on target, and after DCL hit a post just before the interval, the Blues came out of the blocks quickly at the start of the second half with a Sigurdsson free kick finding the head of Richarlison for a delicious header to take the points.
Speaking ahead of the final game, Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti gave notice that anything less than continual improvement next season won’t be acceptable. “There will be an evolution of the Club,” said Ancelotti. “Everyone wants to go to the next step, that is to improve. We have to go up. There is no other way. But with an evolution of the team. With better quality, better ambition, better motivation and more passion.
He expanded adding, “We decided to go to the end of the season [before forming concrete plans for next term], then we have time to prepare and think about the new season and the squad for next season. We [Ancelotti and Everton’s Board] are going to meet next week and make a plan for the future. On Sunday, it will be important to try to repeat the game we played at Sheffield United. We showed a good image and good attitude. We did well at home and want to finish the season well.”
Looking to become the first Blues boss to be unbeaten at home in his first ten games, for the final game of this fractured season, The Don made a change up front in selecting this starting eleven: Pickford, Coleman (c), Keane, Branthwaite, Digne, Walcott, Gomes, Davies, Sigurdsson, Richarlison and Moise Kean.
On the bench were Stekelenburg, Virginia, Baines, Sidibe, Baningime, Gordon, Bernard, Calvert-Lewin and Simms.
In recent years, Cherries boss Eddie Howe has often been lauded as a potential future England manager, and there were a few Blues fans calling for him to be the man to replace Marco Silva before Carlo Ancelotti thankfully got the Goodison gig.
Howe has done a decent job during his two spells with Bournemouth and seems a good fit for the south coast club, his less than inspiring spell with Burnley perhaps suggesting he’s better suited to a smaller club with modest expectations.
On the injury front, Howe was boosted by Adam Smith having recovered from a head injury sustained against Spurs and was hoping Nathan Ake would recover from a groin strain picked up in the loss to Manchester City, otherwise Lloyd Kelly would continue to deputise at the centre of the Cherries defence.
Climbing out of the relegation zone seemed an extremely tall order for Bournemouth given the permutations but Eddie Howe said, “My players can be inspired by the crazy Championship climax on Wednesday, when Barnsley survived despite spending the previous 310 days in the bottom three.”
Howe also noted, “We can only control what we can do. We’ve got to try and win a game of football and hope other results fall our way. There is belief we can win our game. That is the only thing we can control. It’s easier said than done.”
For this vital, must-win game, Howe selected his side: Ramsdale, Smith, Cook (c), Kelly, Rico, Brooks, Gosling, Lerma, King, Wilson and Solanke.
Our referee was Chris Kavanagh, whose last visit to Goodison was for the game against Manchester United saw him disallow a perfectly good goal and then dismiss Carlo Ancelotti for questioning that bizarre decision.
Bournemouth trying to set an early pace saw Michael Keane make four clearing headers as they threw crosses into the Blues area looking for Wilson and Solanke. The visitors won a 5th minute corner on the right that came through to King to send in a shot that Pickford saved confidently, and in a bright opening to the game, Everton countered with Coleman firing in a shot that Ramsdale parried and Kean couldn’t quite get to the loose ball.
Solanke to King to Wilson and again Jordan Pickford made the save as the Cherries looked very lively in the opening ten minutes. King cutting in off the left wing drew a free kick from Branthwaite that Brooks took. It hit the wall and bounced around with Richarlison leaning into the ball with his arm – a clear penalty call for the referee and VAR official to call… King firing low into the bottom corner to give the Cherries a 13th minute lead.
Two more Bournemouth corners led to the ball clearly striking the arm of Digne in the area and after review, a second penalty wasn’t given. Everton countered with Kean holding the ball up before finding Richarlison whose shot was deflected away by Kelly. A minute later Kean fed Walcott down the right channel and Ramsdale made a crucial save to keep the visitors ahead. And at the first drinks break, Eddie Howe was much the happier manager and grateful for the two saves by Ramsdale.
It wasn’t until just before the half hour mark that the Blues began to enjoy more possession and a cross from the right found Richarlison at the back post but, he couldn’t generate enough power or direction to trouble Ramsdale. A good run from Walcott saw him set up Sigurdsson only for his powerful shot always rising and clearing the crossbar by some way.
King fought his way past both Davies and Coleman before Davies got back with a solid tackle to clear the danger as the visitors again looked to threaten the home goal. Branthwaite with some cool defensive play denied Brooks trying to get forward down the Everton left and we hit the forty-minute mark to bring up the Everton equaliser, Sigurdsson to Coleman to play in Walcott for the low cross to the back post for Moise Keanto finish from close range.
Everton went looking for a half time lead with a deep cross from the left by Digne that found Kean but again, the header lacked the power and direction to trouble Ramsdale. However with three added minutes signalled, it was the visitors who took a lead to the dressing room as from a free kick, Rico found the head of Lerma with a final touch off former RS Solanke to beat the defenders and Pickford inside the back post.
Half Time: 1-2
Neither manager saw fit to change personnel for the start of the second half with the Blues to attack the Gwladys Street End for the final half of the season.
Everton won an early corner thanks to Kean chasing a lot cause and crossing for Richarlison whose header was deflected wide, Lucas Digne wasting the set piece sending it straight into the arms of Ramsdale. Wilson with a volley brought another good save from Pickford as the end-to-end nature of the game continued where it had left off before the break.
A neat ball into the box from Gomes for Kean saw the ball strike the arm of Kelly, but referee Kavanagh ignored the half-hearted appeals for a spot kick. Passing the hour mark, Everton were gradually gaining the upper hand in terms of possession pushing Digne and Sidibe forward to pressure the Bournemouth midfield and defence.
Gordon with a decent cross from the right saw the ball go beyond Kean to Richarlison and he twisted and turned to try and set up Gomes for a shot but the visitors cleared the danger. Gordon was causing problems and Bournemouth reacted by taking Solanke and Brooks off for Stanislas and Billing.
The second half drinks break came on 68 minutes with Bournemouth desperate to hold onto their lead and Everton making a tripe change, Baines, Bernard and Calvert-Lewin all coming on to replace Digne, Davies and Moise Kean for the final twenty minutes.
Everton were now having much more of the ball but were still in need of a really telling ball to undo the Bournemouth midfield, and it was the Cherries who had a glorious chance carved out for Wilson by King, Baines with a well judged tackle to win the ball and clear the danger.
Bournemouth were defending well, closing down attempted crosses from Sidibe and Gordon, and then Smith dispossessing Richarlison on the edge of the area to set the visitors away to force a free kick from and a booking for Baines. And in the 80th minute a terrible error from Pickford allowed a shot from Stanislas to squirm through his arms to give the Cherries a two-goal cushion.
Richarlison with a shot on the turn won a corner that was hoofed clear as Everton tried to reduce the arrears and set up a grandstand finish. King was replaced by Wilson for the final couple of minutes ahead of Pickford fumbling a cross with nobody there to capitalise on the loose ball.
Bournemouth won a late corner to keep the ball away from their end of the field as four added minutes were signalled.
Eddie Howe and his players deserve credit for a job well done on the day, the questions will all be asked about how they’ve failed to play like this more often this season.
For Everton, Carlo Ancelotti and Marcel Brands will have a busy transfer window on their hands starting Monday morning as this current Everton squad doesn’t have what it takes to compete week in, week out and challenge for honours unless there are some major changes especially to the midfield area that again looked second best for much of this game.