Everton got back to winning ways on Saturday afternoon with goals from an Andros Townsend penalty and a second half strike from Abdoulaye Doucoure proving too much for a spirited but, toothless Norwich City.
Premier League action this weekend saw Norwich City the visitors to Goodison Park, and a Norwich City on an unenviable streak of fifteen straight losses in the top flight coming to face an Everton side having suffered its first reversals of the season and with a host of players unavailable through injury.
With the James Rodriguez saga having ended with his transfer to a club side in Qatar, the Blues and manager Benitez could finally put the media speculation to bed and concentrate on getting back to winning ways after the losses at Villa Park and Loftus Road.
A mixture of good and expected disappointing news came from Friday’s pre-match media conference as manager Benitez confirmed Seamus Coleman (hamstring), Richarlison (knee) and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (quadriceps) remain out. He added he is “almost 100-per-cent sure” the trio will not be available to feature for their countries in the upcoming international break, which begins following the Blues’ away trip to Manchester United on Saturday 2 October. Jean-Philippe Gbamin (quadriceps) and Fabian Delph (shoulder) also remain sidelined for Everton, and midfielder Andre Gomes won’t feature against Norwich due to a calf strain. On the bright side, Benitez said, “Jordan Pickford is okay, he has been training and Lucas [Digne] is okay. The others are getting better but remain out.”
On the prolonged absence of his main strikers Benitez commented, “We need goals from everyone, the wingers, Rondon, the defenders if necessary… we have to be sure that all the players who can be there in the final third are capable of scoring goals. We have done this [so far this season] with different players.”
And specifically on Salomon Rondon he added, “It is a question of time for him. Nobody can be four months without playing football – training at home because of the Covid [restrictions] – and after be expecting him to score three goals in every game. He has to improve his fitness. He was great for us at Newcastle and with Dalian in China. It is just a question of time, and he will also give us goals.”
For this clash with bottom of the table Norwich, he plumped for a starting eleven of: Pickford, Godfrey, Mina, Keane, Digne (c), Townsend, Allan, Doucoure, Iwobi, Gray and Rondon.
The winless so far this season Canaries arrived on Merseyside with a chance to record three successive away wins against the Blues but, with squad availability concerns of their own. Todd Cantwell was missing for ‘personal reasons’, Christoph Zimmermann because of a knee injury and Przemyslaw Placheta due to Covid-19 while Milot Rashica was also a fitness doubt. Mathias Normann and Josh Sargent, who both missed the midweek Carabao Cup defeat by Liverpool, were expected to be available.
Canaries boss Daniel Farke spoke well of the Blues in his press briefing when he said, “Everton is, for me, a top class side with top players and they will definitely finish in a really good position at the end of the season. They have high quality individual players and a very experienced coach. If you have this combination, then it’s quite likely that you finish in a really good position. Their results in the first games were top class. They will be a bit disappointed with their last game, and in the cup they played with many changes, so this happens. I’m pretty sure they’re highly motivated to show a reaction, especially to the Aston Villa game in terms of results.”
And on pitting his wits against the more experienced Blues boss, Farke added, “We haven’t met before, if I’m honest. I haven’t had the pleasure so far to meet him personally, but his CV speaks for itself. He won so many important games during his career and has so much experience. His teams are always unbelievably difficult to beat, well structured and it’s not easy to open them to create chances. He was able to lift the Champions League and had lots of success. I’m full of respect for what he’s done in his coaching life so far.”
With the bottom five clubs covered by just three points, and knowing a win could see his side out of the bottom three (depending upon other results), Farke selected his starting line-up: Krul, Aarons, Kabak, Hanley, Gibson, Williams, Lees-Melou, Normann, McLean, Sargent and Pukki.
In charge of proceedings on a bright autumnal afternoon was referee David Coote.
A bright start by the Blues saw them take the game to the visitors straight from the kick-off with Allan trying to find Rondon and Krul collecting. The Blue first corner came inside five minutes as a cross from Digne was headed behind, Aarons heading the set piece from Townsend clear. The former Palace player featured heavily in the early exchanges as Everton pressed Norwich back in their own half and he had a good opportunity to open the scoring just past the quarter hour mark but, his shot straight at Krul lacked power.
Gray trying to get things going sent a cross from the right through the Norwich area and Godfrey getting forward saw a shot deflected and loop easily into the arms of Krul. A long ball out from the Canaries keeper intended for Pukki saw Keane get back quickly to find Pickford and when the visitors came again with a well-constructed move, it was Keane again who broke it up to find Digne to start the Blues going forward again.
Allan bursting onto a ball from Iwobi that escaped Gray, went down in the Norwich box after appearing to be caught by a mistimed challenge from Kabak, VAR reviewed it, so did the referee and he ruled in favour of the Blues – penalty – and with DCL missing, Andros Townsend took responsibility to send Krul the wrong way for the opening goal in the 29th minute.
Iwobi and Gray combined with the latter seeing a shot headed behind for another corner that was poor allowing Norwich to smuggle it away to safety. Everton were dominating the possession as you would expect over a side without a point to their name but, needed to be more clinical in front of goal. Another decent spell of possession involving Doucoure, Godfrey and Gray came to nothing as Norwich closed ranks and prevented the Blues from getting a shot on target, Digne eventually conceding a free kick in the visitors area.
Doucoure to Digne to Iwobi and back to Doucoure almost got the Blues in down the left hand side, Kabak ending the attack and setting the Canaries forward with a shot from McLean eventually going wide of the target without Jordan Pickford needing to make a save. Keane got back to prevent Sargent getting to a through ball on the right flank and then another pass from Lees-Melou intended for Sargent was played too strongly as the curly-haired forward tried in vain to reach it. Norwich kept their first real period of possession and pressure going, Normann testing Pickford from range and the Everton keeper going full length to his right to turn the shot away for a corner that came to nothing.
Two added minutes were signalled with Gray chasing a long ball from Godfrey to keep Norwich down the Park End, and the half ended with the Blues ahead courtesy of the Townsend spot kick. The Blues had dominated possession but, hadn’t created many quality chances.
Half Time: 1-0
The same twenty-two players took to the field for the second half, Norwuch desperate to get back into the game, Everton looking to improve their goal difference if they could turn possession into goals.
Rondon bustled a Norwich player off the ball to then find Iwobi only for his early shot from distance to be way off target. Townsend then sent the ball wide left to find Iwobi and his ball for Doucoure saw his first time shot blocked and cleared, the ball coming straight back at Norwich through Godfrey finding Townsend and his shot going just wide of the target.
A cross from Godfrey was put behind for a corner that Townsend sent high and long, Norwich clearing and at the second attempt finding Pukki, marshalled by Mina, and laying the ball back to Normann who cracked a powerful right foot shot that Pickford acrobatically turned over for a corner that was wasted.
Kabak was the first booking on 54 minutes as he brought down Rondon, the free kick leading to Krul easily gathering a lofted ball into the area from Gray. Two minutes later and Lucas Digne saw yellow as Max Aarons got around him only to be pulled down to in effect give Norwich a short corner that again they failed to make anything of.
A foul by Rondon on Normann gave the visitors a free kick dead centre, 30 yards out, Normann failing to trouble Pickford by sending the set piece over the bar. Kabak with a poor tackle on Gray was a bit lucky not to see a second yellow card, Digne with the free kick just too high for Mina arriving at the back post.
Into the final half hour, would manager Benitez make any changes to try and spur his side into finding a second goal as Rondon was having very little impact upon the centre of the Norwich defence?
Williams bursting forward for the Canaries down their left got away from Godfrey, Mina defending well at the expense of a corner that again, they failed to make the most of. Norwich were enjoying more possession and but for a lack of quality, might have been causing Everton more problems. Normann went down with cramp in his left leg and was okay to carry on after treatment as Farke prepared a double substitution for the final twenty minutes – Rashica and Tzolis replacing Kabak and Normann respectively on 69 minutes.
Goodison was voicing its concern at the way Everton had allowed Norwich to grab a foothold on the game, the crowd urging the team to get forward and Doucoure obliged by getting forward on the left to win a corner at the Gwladys Street End, Krul punching the inswinger from Gray clear. Rashica won a corner off Digne as Pickford went down holding his left shoulder and Everton prepared Anthony Gordon as their first change, and Asmir Begovic began to warm up, just in case.
The free kick, when it was eventually taken, was completely wasted by Norwich, Daniel Farke clearly angry as his sides inability to ake anything of the few set piece opportunities they’d had.
Anthony Gordon duly made his appearance on 76 minutes, replacing Andros Townsend, and Everton finally, thankfully, mercifully bagged their second goal as Allan burst forward to feed Gray, he played a fine ball to his right and into the path of Abdoulaye Doucoure who beat Krul low to the keepers right hand side.
Lees-Melou was booked for an ankle tap on Doucoure as he again drove forward through the midfield, and we entered the final ten minutes before Tom Davies came on for a cameo role, replacing Demarai Gray who got a warm round of applause from the appreciative of his efforts Goodison crowd. Wollams was booked and the resulting free kick sent in by Digne came out to Davies, his shot deflected behind for a corner that Godfrey tried desperately to get on the end of and wrestling with Krul who denied him, both players enjoying the physical contact with broad grins on their faces.
Norwich made a late third change, Giannoulis replacing Williams on 86 minutes, and getting forward, Aarons fired a shot well wide and high of Jordan Pickfords goal. Alex Iwobi made way for a two-minute debut for Lewis Dobbin with the outcome of the game now beyond doubt despite five added minutes being announced, and the time was played out easily.