A brilliant second half overhead kick strike from Richarlison wasn’t enough for Everton as they sank to defeat at the hands of Norwich City, to whom they had gifted two goals in two minutes in a dreadful opening twenty minutes to the first half.
Saturday afternoon football saw the Blues make the long trek to East Anglia and Carrow Road, the home of Norwich City for a very important match-up with the bottom-of-the-table Canaries.
Dean Smith, previously of Aston Villa, is desperate to see his side turnaround an awful run of results of late – City are goalless and pointless since a November 30th draw away at Newcastle United – and to give themselves at least some faint hope of somehow avoiding relegation back down to the Championship for the second time in three years.
Commenting on Friday Smith said of the predicament his side are in, “Every game we play at the moment is a huge game. We’re more than aware of the bad run of results and we’re desperate to go and get a win. We’ve got some players back now who have got some minutes under the belt now who are ready for this game. We have to go and show it in front of our supporters. The performance was better against West Ham, but now we have to go and turn that into victories and goals, so that we can give the fans something to shout about on Saturday.”
One bit of positive news for the Canaries is that midfielder Todd Cantwell had recovered from illness and was available for selection together with forward Josh Sargent but with Mathias Normann, Billy Gilmour and Grant Hanley all unlikely to feature, Smith was left to name his starting eleven: Krul, Aarons, Hanley (c), Gibson, Williams, Sargent, Lees-Melou, Sorenson, Rashica, Idah and Pukki.
Carrow Road holds a special place in the memories of older Evertonians as back on May 4th, 1987, a rare strike from Pat van den Hauwe clinched the Blues ninth league title success… and we’ve been waiting, mostly patiently, for another ever since !!!
Everton arrived with three new players in left back Vitaly Mykolenko, right back Nathan Patterson and right winger Anwar El Ghazi signed on loan from Aston Villa all looking to make their Premier League debuts. Mykolenko of course debuted in the FA Cup at Hull playing all 120 minutes in the 3-2 victory that needed extra time to see off the Yorkshire outfit and El Ghazi will be well known to Canaries boss Smith who managed him at Villa.
Speaking to the media on Friday Blues manager Benitez advised almost a clean bill of health from the squad with only Tom Davies definitely out when he said, “All of the players were training yesterday [Thursday], so at the moment the only one not available through injury is Tom Davies. He had his operation. All the others were training and now we have to treat them carefully. At the moment they are fine, then it is up to us to see who can be available for his game or the next games. We are quite confident we have people coming back… but, they are still not fully fit. It is important to understand match fitness comes with games.”
Benitez also said he feels the pieces are steadily falling into place to ensure a positive present and bright future for Everton. In addition to the uplifting sight of Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Yerry Mina participating in full training, Everton have added the three players above and the manager noted, “We saw in the Cup game that this team can react… but we want to be proactive and be sure we can be ahead and win games this way. We approach every game with the idea we have to win. We are quite confident now we have people coming back and we cannot forget we have three games in hand. We need to be sure when we play these games and have some wins, we will be in a much better position and it will be easier to play in the way we want. We are trying to change a lot of things, we had a lot of issues and problems.”
Almost spoilt for choice with an almost complete squad to call upon, Benitez drew gasps of surprise in naming his starting line-up: Pickford, Coleman (c), Godfrey, Keane, Mykolenko, Doucoure, Gomes, Gray, Gordon, Rondon and Calvert-Lewin.
Entrusted with maintain order was our referee, Andy Madley.
Something of a nervous start from both sides through the opening exchanges before a good run by Demarai Gray earned the Blues a free kick that he himself took only to shoot straight at the Norwich wall. The home side got forward at pace and Jordan Pickford made his first save to deny Lees-Melou. A free kick for a foul on Gomes was taken quickly to find Gray on the left and he cut inside to beat Aarons and tried a shot to the near post that Krul gathered.
A personal disaster for Michael Keane saw Everton fall behind just past the quarter hour mark as a cross from the right by Sargent saw the Blues number 5 inadvertently deflect the ball past Jordan Pickford. And almost straight from the restart, Norwich regained possession, as a pass from Coleman was picked off and the lightning fast counter attack saw the ball into the box where Idah gleefully poked home the second in two minutes.
Everton won a corner as they tried to respond with Keane desperate to make amends for his error only to shoot wide on the turn. Aarons needlessly conceded another corner that was cleared only for Aarons to then foul Gray and concede a free kick in a dangerous position but, almost inevitably it was wasted and when Coleman strayed miles out of position, it needed Pickford to race 40 yards out of goal to beat Pukki to the ball and clear. Twenty-five minutes played and quite frankly, this Everton performance was nothing short of an embarrassing shambles.
Everton defended a Norwich corner, Norwich cleared a cross from Gordon and play was halted as a Blues fan chose to enter the field to try and discuss matters with manager Benitez before being escorted away. And it was the travelling Blues support who offered a rendition of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning.’
Half an hour gone and there was still very little sign of a recovery from Everton while Norwich understandably where enjoying the rare pleasure of having scored and leading. Rondon got no power on a volley to a cross from Coleman as Anwar El Ghazi began to warm up on the touchline.
Gomes to Gray and onto Coleman to look for Gordon who was fouled to win a free kick wide right that Mykolenko curled in and Norwich were happy to concede a corner on the other side that Krul pushed away at his near post for another that saw Sargent head clear. A deflected cross from Coleman saw Rondon head on but Krul got there before DCL and the faint glimmer of a chance was lost.
A Norwich raid down their right saw Mykolenko concede a corner with Gomes and then DCL getting clearing headers to work the ball away. Gomes with a neat turn to get away from Aarons crossed well with Hanley beating DCL and a shot from Doucoure being blocked and eventually out for a corner that was cleared and came back out to Gray who’d taken it but, nothing ensued. Aarons tried to buy a booking for Gordon and was lucky not to be booked himself for diving.
One additional minute was signalled and the first half fizzled out with the Blues loudly booed off by the understandably disappointed travelling support.
Half Time: 2-0
No changes by either manager for the second half, not surprising for Norwich but, mystifying for Everton who were in dire need of something different to the dross served up in the first half. Michael Keane added to his misery with an early yellow card for a foul on Pukki and Norwich straight back on the front foot won a corner on the right that was headed out by DCL only as far as Lees-Melou who struck a firm volley straight into the midriff of Pickford.
A dreadful backpass from Mykolenko found Idah in space and only the quick reaction of Jordan Pickford prevented a third goal for the home side. Another Norwich corner saw Pickford claim the ball at the near post and look to get the Blues going forward quickly, leading to Williams going in hard on Gordon and Everton made two changes, Mina and Richarlison replacing Coleman and Rondon respectively on 54 minutes.
Everton were having more of the second half possession and forced another corner from the right Krul got a fist and from the follow-up cross from Mykolenko, Krul couldn’t get it away and a superb bicycle overhead strike from Richarlison reduced the arrears on the hour mark.
There was now a renewed urgency from both sides, Everton trying to draw level and Norwich looking to regain the two goal advantage. Aarons was rightly booked for a poor challenge on Calvert-Lewin that saw him come off the worse. Hanley climbed to head the free kick clear but good persistence from Anthony Gordon won another corner that led to Gordon being flattened and no free kick awarded.
Twenty minutes to play and Pukki was next to see yellow for a foul on Mykolenko as the Blues looked to break through the midfield, Gomes firing the free kick to find Mina who headed down and into the arms of the diving Krul with DCL on hand in case of a rebound. Gray bursting forward on a quick ball out from Pickford was stopped by Williams who was subsequently replaced on 75 minutes by Byram.
Aarons and Richarlison were both hurt after a coming together, the Blues could ill afford to lose the Brazilian to another injury and thankful when he returned to the pitch after treatment while Aarons was helped to the dressing room and replaced by Giannoulis.
Into the final ten minutes and Norwich forced their way forward to win a corner off Mykolenko thar saw Sargent given offside. Everton were looking to build patiently back and eventually work the ball to Gray to cross from the left to the back post where Godfrey managed to get the ball back to Gordon who saw his shot blocked and hastily cleared. A long ball from Keane picked out Gordon but, he was brushed off the ball and Norwich cleared, the next Everton attack saw Godfrey shoot from the right and Krul dive and hang on to eat a few seconds off the clock.
Everton were pouring forward and another promising move came to nothing as Mykolenko crossed too long and behind, Richarlison was harshly adjudged offside on the next attack and the clock kept ticking. Norwich cleared their lines and Idah went for the corner to waste more time. Everton won a last minute free kick, after a foul on Gray, that was easily cleared and seven added minutes were announced to give the Blues hope.
Another free kick came to nothing and the seconds continued to tick away. It was now Route One time if Everton were to escape with a point and a long ball into the area saw Hanley concede another corner that failed to produce as Mina impeded Krul. Pickford raced off his line to launch a long ball forward and when Norwich cleared they saw Rashica race clear to beat the Everton keeper and be denied by the post.