A quick start and two quality finishes from Wood and McNeil put Burnley in the driving seat and on the road to victory as Everton stuttered again at home and lost Jordan Pickford to injury just before half time. If Everton are to achieve their often stated aims of qualifying for European competition next season, they will need to address their home form as they fell to a seventh home loss of this season.
Everton returned to Goodison after last Monday’s loss at Chelsea knowing full well that achievement of their European ambition lies entirely in their own hands, and that victory over Lancashire rivals Burnley would further those aspirations.
With only eleven games left in the Premier League campaign, the Blues need to find the kind of home form they‘ve enjoyed for most of the season away from the Grand Old Lady. And with a number of injuries blighting the already thinned down squad, Carlo Ancelotti spoke highly of club captain Seamus Coleman, the role he fulfils and a potential return to first team action. “Seamus is an example for the others. In this sense, he is the same as John Terry, Paolo Maldini, Sergio Ramos; all great models for their teammates. Sometimes, you see players sitting on the bench not ready and not focused because they are not playing. But in that situation Seamus is a fantastic example. He is not happy if he doesn’t start but he is ready to play, even for one minute. Against Tottenham, he played really well with fantastic spirit and he would play with the same spirit for one minute. He will be back against Burnley.”
And he reiterated the driving desire to qualify for European football next season when added, “The next step is to fight for the position in Europe. The ambition is quite clear. It was the ambition at the beginning of the season, we are not so close to the end but to be here [in contention] is really important. These players deserve credit because they are doing well. The defeat against Chelsea doesn’t affect this – we are motivated to be in the fight. The important games are coming – against Burnley and Crystal Palace – to fight for Europe.”
Having advised that both Abdoulaye Doucoure and James Rodriguez were unavailable, Carlo waited as long as he could to assess the availability of others before announcing his starting eleven: Pickford, Holgate, Keane, Godfrey, Digne (c), Iwobi, Allan, Davies, Gomes, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin.
Burnley sat 15th in the table before kick-off with thirty points to their credit but still ten shy of the recognised safety level of forty. Manager Sean Dyche continues to work impressively with a squad and transfer budgets far smaller than many of his peers, and his need for those additional ten points was hampered by players not yet available for return to first team action. And he was painfully aware of the task facing him and his players when he said, “We look for our group to deliver performances, the one game at time mentality is important too. A big part of the rest of our season will be the strength of our squad, I believe, bizarrely, after having so many games, we’ve now got an extra week in this international break. We hope the extra week on top of the international weeks will give us the chance to get everyone fit and I think that will give us a much stronger chance of winning games going forwards.”
Dyche had concerns in all areas of the pitch with striker Ashley Barnes, midfielder Jack Cork and defender Charlie Taylor all out of the Goodison clash, and winger Robbie Brady, who scored very early in the Turf Moor game back in early December, still struggling with an Achilles Heel problem.
Dyche was happy to comment on the Premier League asking clubs for suggestions on improvements to VAR and he noted, “I’ve seen penalties, and I’ve spoken about this, where you touch their shoulders and the legs buckle and that gets given. When you are thinking of super balanced and powerful athletes who get their shoulder touched and fall on the floor, I would be surprised if you touched their shoulder waiting at a bus stop, if you were allowed to with distancing, if they fell on the floor then. We only want parity and all managers are looking for a level playing field with decisions.”
Having aired his views, he returned to selecting a team to tackle Everton and settled on a line-up with just once change to the side that drew last time out with Arsenal: Pope, Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee (c), Pieters, Gudmundsson, Westwood, Brownhill, McNeil, Vydra and Wood.
The rotund Jonathan Moss was our appointed referee.
An early chance for the Blues as Iwobi found Richarlison and as the Burnley defence retreated, he drove forward to fire in a powerful shot that Pope was happy to turn away for a corner that came to nothing. A long ball for DCL from Davies saw Pope quick off his line to head the ball away before a free kick swung in by Gomes was headed behind for a second Everton corner that saw a Davies shot blocked to safety.
Gomes to Richarlison in space to turn and take another run on goal before sliding a pass through for DCL which Pope gathered before the striker could get to it. And Burnley countered to great effect just before the quarter hour mark to capitalise on a slip by Davies under pressure from Brownhill and McNeil got away from Holgate to pull a cross back for Wood to curl a shot into the corner with Pickford unsighted and rooted to the spot – not the start Everton and Carlo Ancelotti wanted.
Burnley as usual were looking compact defensively and looking to use a fairly direct approach when needed to get the ball forwards toward Vydra and Wood, while Everton were trying to play through midfield but, needed to up the pace at which they attacked the visitors now protecting a lead.
Burnley won a corner as a long ball found Wood and he controlled before seeing his shot deflected behind off Ben Godfrey, Mee claiming in vain for a penalty against Holgate as the cross came in and the defender appeared to get his arm up higher than needed.
From the restart, Burnley promptly doubled their lead with a stunning strike from Dwight McNeil, as he took a short pass from Vydra to turn away from Allan, take two strides forward before bending a delicious curled shot into the top corner giving Pickford no chance whatsoever.
And Burnley were really in the mood for it as seconds later Gudmundsson saw a shot beat Pickford and cannon back off the post, the Everton goalie hurting himself and needing treatment for what appeared a painful hip. A free kick was flighted into the Everton area and DCL headed it behind for another Burnley corner that came to nothing but, Everton really needed to react as the opening half hour had been little short of disastrous.
And Everton did react to reduce the arrears in the 32nd minute as Iwobi on the wide right found Davies and he fired a quick cross into the six yard area where Dominic Calvert-Lewin rose unchallenged to power his header past Pope.
Godfrey with an important block on a shot from McNeil after the midfield had again coughed up possession too cheaply and then Gudmundsson saw a header clear the crossbar. Westwood was booked for a foul on DCL, the free kick from Gomes find DCL but this time he couldn’t direct his header on target.
Some crisp passing by Burnley worked another shooting opportunity, this time for Brownhill, Godfrey again with the block to concede a corner that Everton cleared. A lovely ball from Allan with the outside of his right foot found DCL but his close control let him down and the earlier injury to Jordan Pickford saw his game finish early to be replaced by Joao Virginia three minutes before the half time break.
And the young Portuguese goalie was quickly into the action saving from Brownhill as Burnley looked to extend their lead. Three added minutes were announced as Pieters defended a cross from Richarlison aimed towards DCL. Davies to Iwobi and the ball played forward for DCL only for Mee to intercept and clear. Lowton was second Burnley player to see yellow as he was booked for a foul on Davies in the course of that move.
Half Time: 1-2
No changes by Sean Dyche and no further changes by Carlo Ancelotti for the second half that saw an early shot from Gomes turned away for a corner by Pope. The initial cross from Digne was cleared but a second chance came his way only for DCL to snatch at his header and miss the target, a really good chance to get the Blues back on level terms.
A flowing move came to abrupt end with an awful attempt at a cross from Iwobi easily blocked and cleared as Burnley got men behind the ball to defend competently. A chipped ball forward from Iwobi for DCL saw him bundled over by Tarkowski and half-hearted penalty appeals waved away by referee Moss. Richarlison switched left to right to collect a ball from Holgate and was then fouled, to present Everton with a free kick right of the Burnley area, Gomes finding Keane for a volley that came off his knee and sailed harmlessly behind for a goal kick.
An hour gone and Everton still in need of something inspirational only for Digne to go down after a 50-50 challenge with Brownhill saw the Frenchman come off slightly the worse. A great ball over the top from Davies found DCL but again his first touch was poor and Pope was able to gather easily when he was probably expecting to be more severely tested.
A good counter attack by Everton ended with Gomes looking to play Digne in behind, Burnley conceding another corner that Vydra hammered clear. Everton needing something to spark them and warmed up Josh King and he made his appearance on 65 minutes replacing Tom Davies, and Burnley withdrew Gudmundsson to bring on Brady.
Godfrey and Virginia got in each others way and thankfully Vydra played an air shot in failing to get a shot on the empty net, and Burnley kept the pressure on with a vital header from Godfrey denying Wood the chance to get on the end of it, and from the resulting corner Mee saw a looping header come back off the crossbar.
Virginia with a decent stop denied Vydra as the visitors kept coming forward ahead of Everton making their final change as Seamus Coleman replaced Mason Holgate for the final 18 minutes.
Tarkowski became the third Burnley player to see yellow as he was booked for a foul on Richarlison, the free kick from Digne finding the head of Michael Keane but his flick on sailed behind for a goal kick. Jay Rodriguez replaced Vydra on 78 minutes as the visitors withdrew a striker for an additional midfielder for the final stages.
Following a foul by King, Brady fired a long range free kick well over the bar and as we entered the final ten minutes, it was beginning to look like now or never time for the Blues to rescue a point. Virginia parried a shot from Rodriguez as rain fell on a cool, windy evening, making the conditions that much more difficult of an issue.
Everton were huffing and puffing but in all honesty, weren’t looking capable of blowing the Burnley defence apart. Iwobi and Coleman worked a shooting chance for the Nigerian but his effort was blocked and cleared, Coleman on a pay back from Richarlison saw a shot deflected away for another Blues corner that Digne put far too close to Pope who gathered easily.
Keane found Gomes for a late shot that went wide across the face of goal and as we entered three minutes of added-on time, Virginia confidently claimed a cross from Brady. A great ball from Keane inside Brady found Coleman, his cross headed behind and Virginia raced upfield for the corner. Another awful delivery from Digne saw Burnley clear far too easily.
Huge disappointment for Carlo Ancelotti and Everton as the final whistle saw another loss at home that could seriously affect the chances of finishing in the European places come the season end.