A header from Brazilian Richarlison earned Everton a much needed victory and three points to keep alive their slim hopes of European football next season. It wasn’t pretty at times, particularly in the first half when Wolves were much the better side but, it’s a results business and Everton got the result.
Six and a half thousand Blues supporters return to the Grand Old Lady on Wednesday to witness the final home game of this Covid, Sleazy Six affected season. Six and a half thousand from the many more thousands keen to get back to watching Everton at Goodison and hoping that, for a change, the players would be keen to put on a show.
In his pre-match press briefing, Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti expressed his pleasure about fans being back when he commented, “We need to show the fans a good attitude and a good spirit. The supporters at the stadium will give us more motivation and support. It will be another atmosphere. I remember my first game as manager at Goodison Park [against Burnley in December 2019] and it was an outstanding atmosphere. Finally, I can say we have the fans back, and we are coming back to play football with emotion and passion. We played in the Premier League with our fans at Goodison in December, we had only 2,000 supporters but we were able to win the two games against Chelsea and Arsenal. I’m sure they are going to support us.”
Still clearly angry about the performance his team put on against Sheffield United, he added pointedly, “We don’t have a lot of possibility [to qualify for Europe], but we can have the dream only if we are able to win our next two games. I don’t want to talk a lot, because we are so disappointed for the game on Sunday. We can only do one thing – to show a great reaction and use our spirit and attitude.”
Having advised that both Yerry Mina and Josh King had recovered from minor knocks and with all bar J-P Gbamin to select from he concluded saying, “It’s always good to have all the squad available. I can do the right choice for the line-up tomorrow but. it’s the reaction and attitude that we have to show after our defeat against Sheffield United. We have supporters back so it will be important to show them good attitude and spirit.”
Hoping to end the home campaign with a victory, he named a 3-5-2 starting line-up formation: Pickford, Coleman (c), Godfrey, Mina, Keane, Digne, Allan, Doucoure, Sigurdsson, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin.
Wolves arrived at Goodison lying safely if unspectacularly in 12th place in the table and looking to avoid a first league double to Everton in 45 years.
Speaking in his press conference Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo was happy to advise progress in the recovery from a fractured skull of Raul Jimenez noting, “It makes me very happy. Honestly. After all that we’ve been through, especially Raul and his family, to see him so much closer to playing again, it’s really good news. I imagine [he’s keen to play] a lot because that’s the way he works. He’s involved in the training session, but what is more important is to see Raul the way we see him – totally fit, no problems at all, happy, enjoying the training sessions and patient, waiting for all the things to go well. I believe that he wants to play, but he has to be patient, like all of us.”
With three other players – Podence, Marcal and Boly – all ruled out with injury, Santo has been willing to give academy players the opportunity to experience the top flight. He explained, “Our only priority since we arrived was always to improve our players. Since we arrived in the Championship, we’ve always looked at how we can develop players, how can we improve them, because this will allow us to improve as a team and improve as a club. No matter what age he has, no matter the background of him, we just have to look at him and realise what are the aspects that you can improve. We have a lot of young players and we always have, over all the seasons were based on a mix of experienced and youth players and we have, of course with the circumstances that has occurred, these young players are having minutes, and it’s the best way to improve. The best way is to compete and play against tough opponents, from Brighton to Tottenham and now to Everton and then Man U, all this growing process in terms of competition is what makes the player better.”
And for this final awayday game, Santo named his starting eleven: Ruddy, Boly, Coady (c), Kilman, Semedo, Moutinho, Neves, Ait-Nouri, Traore, Gibbs-White and Silva.
Entrusted with keeping order was referee Andy Madley.
In bright and warm evening sunshine, the fans inside Goodison gave the team a tremendous welcome onto the pitch and saw a more energetic start than in recent home games as both sides looked to move the ball quickly. Wolves won the first corner of the game as Semedo saw a cross deflected behind by Digne, Everton defended it well.
Neves with a pull on Richarlison gave the Blues a free kick that Sigurdsson flighted and Wolves headed clear as the teams stifled each other through the opening ten minutes. Sigurdsson tried to find Richarlison and when Wolves countered, Traore fouled Keane. A good cross from Allan found the head of Richarlison and his good header went straight into the arms of former Blue, John Ruddy for the games first effort on target.
Wolves rather fortuitously won a second corner as Traore flicked the ball off Keane who headed the corner out for Gibbs-White to strike a first time volley that Pickford saw late and did well to turn around the post for another corner to the visitors that was cleared.
The Blues won their first corner through Lucas Digne and the deep inswinger from Sigurdsson found DCL but his header didn’t have the power to overly trouble Ruddy. Traore again took on Digne to win another Wolves corner, Mina heading the Moutinho cross clear. Doucoure lost control of the ball in midfield ad in trying to recover it, he fouled Traore to give a free kick that saw Godfrey head the cross behind for yet another Wolves corner. Wolves tried to be too clever and the opportunity was wasted, and when Everton got forward, a rather tame cross from Richarlison was easily gathered by Ruddy.
A long ball from Coleman saw Ruddy quick off his line to claim it before DCL arrived ahead of Traore again causing Digne problems and winning a free kick on the wide right. The set piece didn’t produce but, Everton struggled to clear and eventually the ball came back to Traore to win another corner off Digne. The corner went very deep and Mina headed clear but, Wolves were seeing far too much of the ball and beginning to dominate the midfield.
Twenty-five minutes gone and as Wolves continued to look the more lively, the home crowd were beginning to get restless as Everton seemed unable to find a way out of their own half, and when they did, there was a disappointing lack of offensive movement until finally Richarlison found Coleman, his shot being instantly charged down and cleared by the visitors.
Wolves were more fluent going forward and won another corner as Ait-Nouri found Silva and his shot on the turn was deflected behind for another corner by Mina. It didn’t produce but once again, Everton failed to completely clear and another corner was won by Neves and that led to a half-volley shot from Traore being deflected for yet another corner, Keane headed clear but again the ball came back in quickly and out for another corner that this time, Allan cleared into the Family Enclosure.
Carlo Ancelotti had spoken about expecting a reaction from his side following the loss to Sheffield United, with ten minutes to go before half time, there was precious little sign of that reaction putting in an appearance as Wolves were comfortably the better side.
DCL was fouled by Coady and Digne lofted the free kick to the right of the Wolves area for Godfrey win the first header but Wolves cleared. Finally Everton got forward with Digne crossing for DCL and when the ball came back out to Digne, his second cross was a low one to pick out the arriving Ben Godfrey but, his shot was blocked and cleared.
Coleman chasing a long ball did really well to win a corner on the right that Digne went over to take and Wolves were fortunate not to go behind as Richarlison got to the loose ball and they managed to block his shot away for another Blues corner that saw Ruddy claim. Richarlison did well to retain the ball and find Coleman only for his cross see no Blue shirt in the Wolves box and Ruddy again claimed it. Wolves countered with Neves playing in Moutinho for a shot that he miscued to send wide of the target.
No added on time saw the teams retire to the dressing rooms level but, Everton would need to be significantly better in the second half.
Half Time: 0-0
Neither manager made a change for the start of the second half, a half that Everton simply, somehow, had to win. Good work by Coleman, initially in the centre of midfield, and then getting forward wide right won the Blues an early corner. And the set piece from Sigurdsson found the head of Richarlison and his header gave Ruddy no chance as it flew in at the back post.
Ait-Nouri tried to hit back for Wolves, Keane getting the ball out for a throw-in and the Blues breaking from a stray pass from Moutinho with Richarlison, DCL and finally Coleman seeing his shot deflected behind for a corner, that came to nothing.
Godfrey on a right wing charge won another corner as Everton continued their much brighter start to the second half, Wolves clearing and eventually getting forward as Traore picked off a poor ball from Richarlison to get past three Blue shirts and see his low shot well saved by Jordan Pickford. Another good interception by Godfrey saw him again charge down the right flank and find DCL whose first touch let him down and the ball ended up with Ruddy.
An hour gone and the Blues a goal to the good but, Wolves were still in the game and the supporters in the stadium and at home were hoping to see some more attacking play and not just defending the lead. Boly broke up a Blues attack to release Traore and Michael Keane at full pace, in front of the watching Gareth Southgate, put in a superbly timed and executed tackle to halt his progress.
Wolves made their first change on 67 minutes with Jose replacing Gibbs-White.
Sigurdsson trying to turn away from Neves was brought down by the Wolves midfielder to set up a free kick forty yards out that saw Digne find the head of Keane and Wolves smuggled it clear. Coleman to Richarlison and an excellent through ball saw DCL get past Coady and Ruddy save his shot looking to beat him at the near post.
Coleman, leading by example right from the start of the half, got back to provide cover for Godfrey and half Traore in his tracks at the expense of a corner that Wolves wasted, Pickford gathering a high cross easily. Traore again was halted by Coleman but the next Wolves attack saw Traore cross, Keane head clear and a second cross saw Pickford punch the ball to safety. Allan and Richarlison worked the ball forward and it eventually came to Sigurdsson who looked up, took aim and was unlucky to see his curling shot go narrowly wide.
Traore again caused problems, getting away from both Godfrey and Coleman to get to the byline and see the ball go behind off Doucoure for a corner after VAR looked if there had been a handball. Everton looked to break from the corner and Semedo saw the games first yellow card for a foul on Richarlison.
A double change on 80 minutes from Wolves saw Dendoncker replace Boly and Vitinha replace Mountinho. From the restart, Everton got forward and Sigurdsson saw another effort narrowly deflected over the top, and Everton sent Tom Davies on to replace Seamus Coleman who got a deserved round of applause for his excellent second half effort, the corner failing to produce.
Traore drew a free kick from Digne and the Blues made a second change with Andre Gomes replacing Gylfi Sigurdsson with five minutes to play in normal time. The free kick was easily defended and we entered the dying minutes with the Blues looking for a league double over Wolves for the first time in 45 years.
Keane with some more excellent defending to deny Silva a chance launched an Everton counter through Richarlison that saw him cross for DCL who was unable to get on the end of it. Everton were keeping Wolves at bay although Traore was still working his socks off to find a chance to cross and Pickford claim easily.
A final change for the Blues saw Mason Holgate replace Abdoulaye Doucoure and four added-on minutes were announced. Try as they could, Wolves couldn’t find a way through a resolute Blues back line and the much needed victory was secured.