A second goal in successive games for Anthony Gordon earned Everton a valuable point as Leeds fought back to share the spoils from an at time feisty game.
Game Five of the new season and Everton had gained a mere two points from a possible twelve prior to crossing the Pennines to the badlands of West Yorkshire to take on Leeds United. Down the years, Elland Road hasn’t been one of our happier hunting grounds so with the Merseyside Derby looming at the weekend and a trip to the Emirates and high-flying Arsenal to come, a positive result on Tuesday night was pretty much a priority.
Having suffered their first loss, away to Brighton, on Saturday, the Yorkshire outfit were looking to get back to winning ways to cement their decent start to the new campaign under American head coach Jesse Marsch. The man from Racine, Wisconsin looked back on that first loss noting, “In the first half I thought Brighton were much more on top of the game, forcing mistakes on us, and making it difficult. But in the second half I thought it was different, I thought we pushed them more. We played more in their half. We were not creating as many clear chances as I would have liked us too, but certainly we changed the way we played.”
His sense of disappointment was in contrast to the elation of the previous weekend when his side had blown Chelsea away and he commented, “After Chelsea, there was a lot of fanfare on the performance, but in this league, every match is a little different. Every opponent is a little different, but every opponent is very, very good. So, I think that Brighton certainly in the first half really strategically managed the match much better than we did and then made it difficult for us, but I thought second half we did okay.”
And looking towards the visit of the Blues he added, “Everton will be another different kind of game. It’s a different kind of opponent, but it’ll be another big test and we just have to sort of look at where guys are physically. Then you know, look at our squad in the right way and put a team out there that we think will be ready for that match.”
With fitness concerns over striker Patrick Bamford and skipper Liam Cooper, and the likelihood that Junior Firpo, Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas would all miss out, Marsch plumped for a starting line-up reading: Meslier, Kristensen, Koch, Llorente, Struijk, Adams, Roca, Sinisterra, Aaronson, Harrison and Rodrigo (c).
For Frank Lampard, his squad suffered another injury in the draw at Brentford as Mason Holgate jarred a knee and joined Yerry Mina, Ben Godfrey, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Andros Townsend and Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the medical rooms at Finch Farm. Speaking on Monday and after confirming that Holgate will undergo a scan to evaluate the level of the injury, Lampard stated, “As much as it’s difficult in the squad, you need cover and you need to be stable. The ones who aren’t playing don’t like not playing and the ones that are playing hopefully give you stability, so in the moments when Mason comes out and Keano comes on… we’ve got also Seamus there, Ruben that can play left-wing back and Myko who can play left centre-back. There are different solutions to the problem but, it’s a shame because I think Mason was doing well. We know going to Leeds and Liverpool coming to us in the next two games we’re coming up against very mobile teams and Mason has been doing well against that sort of opposition since I’ve been here. We’ll have to find a way and stay together.”
With umpteen transfer rumours still circulating as the end of the window approaches, one player who has signed and was expected to feature at Elland Road was striker Neal Maupay and talking about the 26-year old Frenchman, Lampard said, “Neal trained [on Saturday] at the training ground and again on Sunday, so was able to train with some players who didn’t get lots of minutes against Brentford. We’ll see where he is but. he’ll be involved in the squad I’m pretty sure.”
And on facing Leeds he commented, “They lost at the weekend but they’ve made a good start. I watched their game against Chelsea and they’ve got such an energy about them that they’ve had since Bielsa’s time and fair play to Jesse Marsch, who has come in, kept them up and it feels now as a squad and as a club that he’s invigorated them with some good signings, passion and coaching, you see a reflection of it on the pitch. An evening game at Elland Road… It’s going to be a tough game, no doubt.”
Looking to counter the Leeds threat and cause them a few problems, and with Neal Maupay ineligible to play due to unforeseen registration issues with the Premier League, Frank Lampard named his starting eleven: Pickford (c), Patterson, Coady, Tarkowski, Mykolenko, Onana, Davies, Iwobi, McNeil, Gray and Gordon.
On a cooling evening, Darren England was entrusted with the refereeing responsibilities.
The Blues donned their pink kit for this game and appeared to opt for a 4-4-2 with Gray and Gordon in dual striking roles against a Leeds outfit renown for their work ethic. A steady opening with Leeds enjoying more of the early possession but, not unduly pressuring the Blues defence.
Aaronson won the games first corner off Onana, Gordon with the clearing header as the Blues pulled everyone back into their area. Kristensen caught Gordon with a rash challenge right in front of the team dugouts and was fortunate not to see a yellow card. Everton were closing Leeds down quickly and not allowing the home side to get any rhythm into their play, and through the opening quarter of an hour, neither side had gained anything like the upper hand.
Good work from Tom Davies as he got back to block a Harrison cross and the ball looped up nicely for Jordan Pickford to claim, and the Blues struck on the counter to deadly effect. Gordon found McNeil, he found Alex Iwobi and a great through ball from the Nigerian found Anthony Gordon bursting into space and without a second thought, he took the ball on one touch and slotted it through the legs of Meslier in the 17th minute – cue Spirit of the Blues ringing around Elland Road.
Tom Davies was booked for raising his foot towards Meslier, clearly no malice meant as Davies had a wide grin on his face. At the other end, Pickford gathered an easy cross from Roca and slowed things down much to the disgust of the home crowd. Harrison from the left wing sent a low cross right through the Everton six-yard area, neither Rodrigo or Pickford getting anything on it and it sailed out for a goal kick – the referee signalled he was adding time on as JP again delayed getting the ball into play.
Rodrigo with a header on a cross from Aaronson was well wide of the target and now Leeds coach Marsch signalled he wanted time adding on – Pickford walking a yellow card tightrope so early in the game. Pickford raced off his line to prevent Rodrigo getting on the end of a through ball from Sinisterra, the Leeds forward hurting his left shoulder in the collision with the England number one, and Rodrigo had to leave the game to be replaced by Gelhardt.
Half an hour gone, the Blues in front and Leeds having lost their captain, Pickford infuriating the home crowd and coach… and Mykolenko released Gordon to get away from Kristensen only to be blocked on the edge of the Leeds area by Koch, Gray sending the free kick low into the Leeds area where it was eventually cleared after an attempted volley from Mykolenko was blocked. A mistimed punch by Pickford saw Mykolenko get the ball away and good defensive work by McNeil saw him stymie Harrison twice. Tarkowski was caught in the face by the flailing arm of Gelhardt and needed a moments treatment before carrying on.
Sinisterra span away from Mykolenko and tried to thread a ball through to Aaronson, Tarkowski the right man in the right place to halt the young American forward. Adams was booked for blocking an Everton free kick as we entered the last five minutes of the first half with the home crowd getting ever more vexed at their sides inability to break down the Blues. Patterson conceded a corner from a Harrison cross but again, the Blues funnelled everyone back to defend and Leeds pressure fizzled out as Koch sent a long range effort well over the bar.
A mistake by Meslier nearly let in Gray and Gordon whose eventual cross was too high and long for McNeil and Everton got back to defend the Leeds counter with Patterson stifling Gelhardt. Four added minutes were signalled and Everton continued to work hard in defending their lead. A late right wing corner to the home side was well defended and the teams went to the dressing room with the Blues in the pink.
Half Time: 0-1
No further changes to either line-up for the start of the second half and straight away, Everton looked to pack the midfield but, Leeds carved out an early opening for Aaronson to strike a fierce shot that Pickford parried away for a corner that Leeds wasted. McNeil, working hard defensively, conceded a second corner of the half that Patterson ushered behind for a third that Harrison swung deep and leading to Patterson humping the ball into touch.
A ball into the Everton area found its way through to Harrison, his shot though was weak and straight at Pickford. Davies broke up another Leeds raid to find Iwobi and his instant ball over the top was just too strong for McNeil. Another Leeds raid saw Aaronson cross tamely straight into the arms of Pickford as the home side strove to get back on level terms as quickly as possible. Fined work by Iwobi tracking back cleared another threat but, Everton were struggling to get anything going offensively as Leeds looked to swamp them in midfield.
And just past the 55-minute mark, Leeds struck as Aaronson played a square ball to Sinisterra and from 22 yards, he fired a low shot inside the near post with Pickford slightly screened.
Llorente was booked for hauling down Patterson as he tried to get away on the right flank and Gordon raged at the referee as he awarded a goal kick when it looked a definite corner to the Blues. Nonsense between Kristensen and Gordon following a bump on the Leeds defender by Gordon saw a melee of players and the coaching staff on the side line – both players seeing yellow for their troubles.
An hour gone and this game was poised on a knife edge, great defending by Patterson denying Harrison as he drove into the Everton area and Everton needed to regain a foothold on the game as the equaliser had clearly reinvigorated the home side. Harrison did win a corner off Patterson but, Pickford was alive to the quick set piece gathering a back post header easily. McNeil to Onana and on to Gordon saw him check inside and feed McNeil for a shot that went wide of the far post and Leeds replaced Sinisterra with Klich.
On 65 minutes, Gordon threaded a ball through for Demarai Gray and he beat Meslier only for the ‘goal’ to be ruled offside. Patterson was booked for a rash challenge on Harrison and some nervy defending managed to force Gelhardt into shooting wide of the goal from inside the Everton penalty area. Into the final twenty minutes and Leeds were still looking the more likely although a good ball from Davies for Gray saw Llorente concede a right wing corner to the Blues that Meslier punched clear for Harrison to win another corner off McNeil. Harrison sent it long for Llorente but, his free header was poor and way off target.
Pickford did enough to deny Gelhardt as he got through the back line and Klich saw a shot deflected behind for another Leeds corner that they wasted. Leeds brought on Bamford and James for Gelhardt and Aaronson respectively with a little under a quarter of an hour to play in normal time.
A rare Everton raid saw Mykolenko take a ball from Gordon to win a corner from the left and Onana had a chance to win it but, his close range effort was headed clear by Kristensen. Onana had had another quietly impressive game in midfield alongside Tom Davies and the tireless Alex Iwobi while Dwight McNeil had also impressed with his defensive support play for Nathan Patterson.
A patient build-up by the Blues saw Gordon take his time before playing Patterson into space and time to line up his shot only to hit it straight at Meslier who parried it to safety. Leeds defended a free kick and tried to counter through James, Iwobi again tracking back to dispossess him, Leeds then seeing a shot from Harrison go woefully wide of the target.
Five minutes left on normal time, could either side find a winner? Leeds were straining forward and Everton were defended resolutely with Tarkowski conceding a corner as three added minutes were announced. Leeds again failed to make the most of the corner and Everton seemed happy enough to sit deep and soak up the Leeds attacks that they had blunted admirably, apart from that one strike by Sinisterra.
Honours even at the final whistle but, a performance of some character from Everton who again went into the game without a recognised striker to lead the line.