Newly promoted West Brom, managed by former Blue Slaven Bilic, were the first visitors of the Premier League season to Goodison Park to face an Everton buoyant after two wins and two clean sheets in the opening rounds of the league and Carabao Cup campaigns.
Looking to build upon their bright start to the season, the Blues camp suffered a blow when promising young centre back Jarrad Branthwaite was ruled for anywhere between three to five weeks with the ankle injury he sustained against Salford in midweek. So with Mason Holgate already sidelined, Carlo Ancelotti suggested the club might look to the transfer market to add protection against further defensive injuries. In his pre-match press briefing he advised, “Jarrad has a problem with his ankle. He doesn’t need surgery but, will need to rest for around one month. With Mason, we have to follow the advice of the doctors and medical staff. He is out for two or three months. But honestly, he feels good at the moment. He is walking in the swimming pool without any problem and the other players are fit and ready to play. We are looking for a centre-back, if the [transfer] market offers something.”
Having made an impressive debut against Salford, summer signing Niels Nkounkou knew he would give way to club captain Seamus Coleman for the right back start against West Brom as The Godfather confirmed, “Seamus will start tomorrow, so congratulations to him. It is a great achievement [to start 250 Premier League games] and we are honoured to have him as a captain in this team. Seamus can play until he is 40! He is still young.”
Whether the sixty grand man agrees with playing till he’s forty or not remains to be seen, but he was duly named captain in an unchanged from Spurs starting eleven selected by Carlo Ancelotti: Pickford, Coleman (c), Mina, Keane, Digne, Doucoure, Allan, Gomes, Rodriguez, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin.
Having lost their season opener 3-0 to Leicester at the Hawthorns Bilic, like Ancelotti, made ten changes for the Baggies Carabao Cup tie with Harrogate Town that earned them a 3-0 win and progression. Recognising he might have defensive frailties following the loss to Leicester, Bilic moved quickly to add some experience by signing Branislav Ivanovic but, the visit to Goodison came to soon for the former Chelsea man who’s short of match fitness.
Bilic commented on the ups and downs of his first week back in the top flight saying, “The whole atmosphere at the training ground, it wasn’t down, down, down after Leicester, but it is much better now. We have a big game on Saturday against a big opponent. Every opponent is big in the Premier League, so we are right, we are good. Mentally we are where we want to be. They are a big club, historically in the big five, but they lost it a bit. In the last few seasons they are very ambitious. They started with Koeman and now with Ancelotti and they were spending for a few years in a row, big money. Now it seems they have bought the right players. Time will tell of course, on paper they look really great, they are maybe the team that is most improved in this transfer window apart from Chelsea.”
With another new signing Conor Gallagher available and Matt Phillips and Conor Townsend having made successful returns from injury in the win over Harrogate, Bilic weighed up all his options before naming his starting eleven: Johnstone, Furlong, Ajayi, Bartley, O’Shea, Gibbs, Pereira, Livermore (c), Sawyers, Diangana and Robinson.
For this lunchtime kick-off, our referee was Mike Dean.
Pickford with a poor clearance presented Diangana with a shooting opportunity in the opening seconds that he saved easily low to his left but, less of that nonsense eh Jordan? Everton hit back to force a corner as West Brom struggled to cope with the Blues movement, James swung the set piece to the back post where DCL rose but didn’t get a good enough contact and his header skewed wide.
A giveaway in midfield saw Diangana run from his own half without being challenged, Mina backing off all the way, and reaching the edge of the area, he fired a fine shot well beyond the reach of Pickford to give the Baggies a 10th minute lead that was not in the pre-game script at all.
Good work by Digne saw him work the ball into the box for Richarlison and DCL pounced to see a close range effort turned behind for a corner that was wasted, and the first yellow card was shown to Doucoure as he took one for the team preventing a West Brom break. Allan tried his luck from distance following another good move down the left through Gomes and Digne, Johnstone with a comfortable save. West Brom were proving a threat on the counter attack and Pickford was happy to beat away a shot from Robinson with the Blues needing to get stronger in midfield to deny the visitors further chances.
Everton failed to make the most of a third corner and the visitors countered again, Diangana finding Furlong whose cross fell nicely for Livermore and his shot beat Pickford only to cannon away off the post.
The Blues were not looking as cohesive as they were at Spurs and having taken the lead, West Brom were growing in confidence, closing down in midfield. Richarlison took a short pass from Gomes to get in a shot but again, the effort was off target. A long cross from Digne found James who was clever in finding Coleman whose cross was sent behind for another Blues corner. Keane got on the end of a long throw from Digne to win a fifth corner but the Baggies again got the ball away. Everton kept the pressure on to win another corner that saw Digne find the head of Keane, the ball clearing the crossbar.
Just past the half-hour mark, Doucoure worked the ball to Coleman and his cross for Richarlison saw his header hit the defender and fall nicely for Calvert-Lewin to backheel home with the offside flag raised. VAR adjudicated and eventually, the goal was given as DCL had been played onside by the defender.
Having drawn level, if Everton thought West Brom were going to fall apart they were mistaken as the visitors remained calm and it took a defensive error to present the Blues with another corner that again, was well defended. Ajayi conceded yet another corner under pressure form Richarlison, Digne though failed to beat the first man and a long ball then from Coleman for Richarlison won another chance for Digne to create something… this one went deep and too strong for Mina.
Excellent work from Richarlison led to the Blues taking the lead, the Brazilian wriggling away from two West Brom players to then feed James Rodriguezand one touch saw him set sights on goal and a superb left footshot saw the Colombian open his account… cue celebrations in Bogota.
In added on time, Kieran Gibbs was given a straight red card for hitting Rodriguez in the face, the contact might not have been a hammer blow but, it’s a definite red and he walked. After the whistle for the interval, Baggies manager Slaven Bilic protested to ref Mike Dean rather too strongly and was red-carded for voicing his opinions… and West Brom had fallen apart after all.
Half Time: 2-1
Down to ten men, West Brom had the effrontery to go straight on the attack to start the second session, Furlong getting forward to cross toward Diangana, the visitors then winning a free kick that saw Periera send a stunning free kick from 25 yards over the wall – in which Yerry Mina didn’t bother to jump – and into the top corner for 2-2.
Richarlison won a free kick wide on the left in Digne territory, and it found Richarlison, the header was parried by Johnstone and Michael Keanemopped up to make it 3-2. Ten minutes gone second half and no lack of incident in an entertaining game.
Having regained the lead against ten man Albion, Everton really needed to take firm control of the game and look to put it to bed, we all want to be entertained but, we want the wins too. West Brom though had other ideas and they were not interested in being cannon fodder and they built another nice move that saw Digne at a hurry clear a cross from Robinson.
Excellent Everton pressure just after the hour mark eventually led to James lofting sweet ball over the defence into the path of Richarlison and his cross/shot was finished at the back post for his second of the game by Calvert-Lewin.
Everton won a free kick just outside the box as Livermore brought down James and Carlo Ancelotti used the stoppage to send Gylfi Sigurdsson on for Abdoulaye Doucoure. Digne took the kick and saw his shot take a slight deflection off the wall to hit the crossbar… and from the corner swung in by James, Dominic Calvert-Lewinburied his hat-trick header on 66 minutes.
Changes on the 71-minute mark saw Alex Iwobi replace the hat-trick hero DCL, and West Brom send on Phillips and Edwards for Pereira and Diangana respectively. The third West Brom change came on 74 minutes, Sawyers replaced by Field.
Into the final quarter of an hour, Everton were denied a stunning sixth goal as a cross from Sigurdsson was finished clinically by Richarlison only for the offside flag to deny him.
James Rodriguez came off to a rapturous standing ovation… Oh come on, he was well worth one… to be replaced by Moise Kean for the final 13 minutes.
Everton were now camped in the West Brom half, happy to pass the ball around trying to work another opening but we have to give West Brom some credit, as despite being a man down and three goals behind they didn’t drop their heads and indeed, kept on looking to counter attack when they did get on the ball.
Sigurdsson swung in yet another corner for the Blues, Keane on the end of it unable to get a shot away. Digne, found by Sigurdsson, crossed instantly toward Richarlison who couldn’t quite reach it and looked annoyed with himself, he really shouldn’t be, he’d had another solid game in the Royal Blue.
Four added minutes were signalled and with the points secured, the Blues were happy to take the foot off the gas and run the clock down to top the table at the final whistle.