Everton recorded their seventh straight win for the first time since 1894 with another sparkling display of attacking football bringing another marker for Dominic Calvert-Lewin with Yerry Mina and a brace from James Rodriguez sending the Blues back to the top of the table.
Game Seven of the 20/21 season and Everton went into it with the only 100% record still intact after six games and looking to make it seven against a Brighton side who’ve impressed themselves in the early weeks of the campaign.
The Blues marched onto the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup and a December home tie against Manchester United following a confident and crushing disposal of West Ham last Wednesday that included a second hat-trick of the season for Dominic Calvert-Lewin. And the Blues number nine was delighted to learn on Thursday that his exploits had earned him a call-up to the England squad saying, “I’m a very, very proud man to get this first England call. I just phoned my mum and my dad, and my mum burst into tears. It’s something we’ve spoken about since I was a young boy. To get here now and get the call-up is a dream come true. I’m very happy.”
Sadly though, the victory over the Irons was tainted by ankle injuries to Jonjoe Kenny and Richarlison while midfielder Allan suffered a groin strain, the three of them joining Mason Holgate, Jarrad Branthwaite, JP Gbamin and Cenk Tosun in the Finch Farm treatment rooms.
In his Friday press conference, Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti updated on those and other concerns when he commented, “Richarlison is doing better. We are going to have a test tomorrow morning and we will see if he is available to play. With Allan, we have the international break – and after this he will be ready, 100 per cent. Jonjoe is out for at least four weeks, the twist on his ankle was quite serious. This week Moise has not been training because he isn’t well, so he will not be in the squad against Brighton. As for Andre Gomes, if we played on Sunday or Monday, he would be ready. It is a really little thing but he is not available to play against Brighton. It is not a big injury.”
Speculation over Moise Kean, following his absence from the squad on Wednesday, led to the manager clearing the air when he said, “He has a future with Everton. The club made a big investment on him.”
Whilst the injuries were not welcome, they afforded opportunities for other players to enhance their claims for more regular involvement in the first team and it led to the Godfather – who’s been shortlisted for the September Manager of the Month Award – selecting a starting eleven of: Pickford, Coleman (c), Mina, Keane, Digne, Sigurdsson, Doucoure, Davies, Rodriguez, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin.
Brighton arrived at Goodison sitting in mid-table with just one win from their three Premier League games to date, a stunning win at St.James’s Park over Newcastle. Having lost to Manchester United, in a game that saw them hit the woodwork no fewer than five times, via a post final whistle penalty last Saturday, the Seagulls exited the Carabao Cup to the same opponents in midweek having made nine changes to the team that lost to that penalty.
Other than the absence of Davy Propper, Albion manager Graham Potter had no injury concerns and was expected to name a full strength side to face the Blues. He spoke to the press on Thursday and said, “After the game last night, we were disappointed, because if you don’t win that’s natural. But you want to try and get back to focusing on the next game as quickly as you can. The boys are looking forward to the weekend and they trained well today. The group have always been good in terms of their perspective and the challenge is to be ready for Saturday.”
Looking forward to the Goodison clash Potter added, “They have been really strong and made a good start. They’ve invested well in this window with a very experienced and high-quality manager. He’s done a really good job there since coming in and stamped his authority on the team. They’ve got some really top players and they’re a good team with a solid balance. We know it will be a difficult game.”
He duly named his strongest starting line-up: Ryan, White, Webster, Dunk (c), Lamptey, Bissouma, Alzate, March, Trossard, Maupay and Connolly.
On a cool, damp afternoon at the Grand Old Lady, our referee was Simon Hooper.
Another bright start by the Blues saw Ryan quickly into the action to deny the on fire DCL low to his right and the Aussie keeper beat away a Seamus Coleman effort low to his left for a corner that saw the ball into the Brighton net but disallowed for a foul in the area.
A yellow card was shown to Alzate inside four minutes for a blatant pull back on Coleman as he looked to breakaway through midfield. As the rain poured from the skies, Rodriguez was dumped by Alzate and he was a little lucky not to see a second yellow card.
Brighton, on a fine run of form away from the Amex Stadium, were keen to make a game of it and some strong challenges continued with Richarlison the next to get clattered as the visitors tried to gain a foothold. Everton were passing the ball around comfortably retaining possession and looking to work openings until March fouled Rodriguez much to the consternation of Carlo Ancelotti.
Rodriguez found Digne with a pinpoint ball and his header into the path of Sigurdsson saw White block the shot. But the Blues were not to be denied as on 16 minutes, from a free kick, Digne found Sigurdsson and he played a lovely cross to the back post where – inevitably – Dominic Calvert-Lewin leapt like a salmon to bury another fine header for his ninth goal of the season.
Digne mis-timed a challenge on Lamptey to give the Seagulls a free kick wide on their right that was completely wasted. Alzate then lofted a cross from the left in the direction of Dunk but, it was far too strong. Richarlison went down after a challenge by Lamptey that won the ball, the Brazilian needed some treatment and was rightly withdrawn from the game as a precaution, Alex Iwobi his replacement on 25 minutes.
Brighton had steadied their ship however, were finding the Blues midfield and defence a tough nut to crack and the new confidence within the Blues was clear to see as Coleman appeared to be in trouble in the corner but was able to work the ball clear and launch another flowing Everton attack. Rodriguez fired high and wide after another nice move that saw Keane find DCL to find Davies and the dancing feet of Sigurdsson to set up the Colombian ace.
VAR was called on to look at a clash between Mina and Connolly that left the Brighton man holding his chest, no offence was recorded and play continued with Everton again building from the back with one touch passing that was smashing to watch.
Rodriguez caught March to give the visitors a free kick but, again it was completely wasted and the Blues worked the ball away easily. Connolly was ruled offside trying to get on the end of a cross from March for their best effort of the half on 38 minutes. Brighton were enjoying their fair share of possession, but creating very little of any tangible threat until three minutes later when Pickford failed to hold onto a bouncing Trossard shot from a Lamptey cross and Maupay slid the loose ball into the net.
A free kick in added-on time for a foul on Coleman saw Rodriguez pick out his countryman Yerry Mina and he climbed to beat Bissouma and Webster to make no mistake from five yards with a downward header to the bottom corner to restore the lead at the interval.
Half Time: 2-1
Brighton made a change for the second half, Veltman replacing Lamptey on the right flank the call made by Graham Potter. Webster with an early block to deny Rodriguez after Doucoure dispossessed White to surge forward menacingly. March with a rather wild cross ended a Brighton attack.
The rain was getting heavier but, it didn’t stop the Blues relentless attacking and on 52 mnutes a poor ball from Trossard picked off by Rodriguez to find DCL, onto Iwobi and his cross to the back post was swept home on the follow-up by James Rodriguez.
A Brighton counter broke down with Webster fouling Rodriguez and Seamus Coleman went down holding his right hamstring before making his way to the bench to be replaced by Fabian Delph. A disappointment for the skipper who’d been having another fine game, and with Jonjoe Kenny already injured, posing a possible right back problem for Carlo Ancelotti.
Brighton with some nice interpassing saw March cross into the area where Sigurdsson guided it away for a corner, that Mina defended well with Pickford scrambling to get to a deflected cross. On 65 minutes, DCL went down and was left limping slightly following a challenge by Dunk ahead of Lallana replacing Connolly for the visitors. Pickford punched a cross from March straight to Maupay, Tom Davies with an excellent intervention to prevent him getting a shot away.
Brighton despite the two-goal deficit were not lying down but, entering the final twenty minutes they couldn’t cope with the speed of the Everton counter attack… Iwobi finding Doucoure to gain the area and cross behind DCL for James Rodriguez to gleefully stroke home his second of the game.
A Webster shot deflected off Mina for a rare Brighton corner that the Blues defended resolutely and Brighton continued to find the Blues midfield and back four difficult to penetrate.
Everton made their final change on 78 minutes as James Rodriguez (would have) got a standing ovation as he made way for a cameo appearance for Theo Walcott. Brighton’s final change saw Alzate replaced by Gross for the final nine minutes as Trossard won a second corner in quick succession off Delph, Dunk unable to get on the end of a cross from Bissouma.
Brighton were now enjoying their best period of the game and Mina defended well to concede another corner that was also really well defended. Everton might be scoring freely but, Pickford errors aside were proving measly at the back. Another good block from Mina sent a Trossard shot for a corner that came to nothing. Even in the 90th minute when the Blues relaxed and Brighton carved a glorious chance, Mina got back with a stunning block to deny Maupay off a pass from Trossard.
Three added minutes were signalled and saw Brighton finally get some late reward as Bissouma crashed an excellent twenty yard volley beyond the outstretched arms of the diving Pickford.
Full Time: 4-2