Everton 1-2 Wolves

Boxing Day Blues as Blues lose.

A late, late, injury time winner from substitute Ait-Nouri saw Wolves steal three points from Goodison as Everton failed to make the most of a good start and opening goal inside seven minutes.

Following the most wondrous six-week break from the dirge that is domestic Premier (we love the favoured six and don’t really give a toss about the rest) League football thanks to the horrendously awarded and corrupt World Cup, we returned on Boxing Day in the hope that the break, the trophy-winning trip darn unda and the Yuletide festivities will have re-invigorated and re-energised the boys in Blue for the second half of a season that, prior to the break, looked increasingly perilous.

Heading into Christmas and before the shenanigans of the January transfer window, arguably the best present Blues were hoping for was the return of a fully fit Dominic Calvert-Lewin to give the forward line some genuine threat. Disappointingly though, manager Frank Lampard reported in his pre-match press briefing that, “It’s going to be tight with Dominic for Wolves. He’s going to be training the next few days. I’m trying to push him a bit for match fitness. The injury feels good, which is the best news. The last thing I want to do is to go too soon with him. That’s the question mark over Wolves with Dominic, and we have a lot of games coming up.” The Blues boss also confirmed that the return from injury of Andros Townsend has suffered a setback and together with James Garner, out with a back injury until February, won’t be available for selection for any of the upcoming games.

Looking back at the break in the season for the World Cup, Lampard commented, “It has been a good one, I have personally enjoyed it and when I speak for myself, I hopefully speak for the players in terms of we went to Australia, we had a good trip, we won a couple of games and we saw our fanbase out there.”

He continued adding, “We then had a break from training which was really good for everyone, and then we have been working on things that we know we can improve on. Generally, and in particular on how we finished, the two games against Bournemouth. Before that, I think we were making good strides in a lot of ways, but people’s minds can get drawn to those two games. We have to think bigger than that and keep working.”

Lampard also revealed the Club are close to finalising new contract deals with Jordan Pickford, Alex Iwobi and Anthony Gordon, as he advised things were getting “close” to a conclusion noting, “Hopefully we’re in the situation where we want the players to stay and they want to say here, that’s always been the feeling, we are very close.”

With an almost full squad to select from with the exception of the ineligible Conor Coady, he settled on a Boxing Day line-up of: Pickford (c), Patterson, Mina, Tarkowski, Mykolenko, Iwobi, Gana Gueye, Onana, McNeil, Gordon and Maupay.

Wolves arrived at Goodison with a new manager at the helm in the form of Spaniard Julen Lopetegui, following the dismissal of Portuguese Bruno Lage back in October, and the new head coach is under no illusion at to the enormity of the task facing him as his new charges sit bottom of the table with just ten points accumulated to this point.

Lopetegui noted, “For me, it’s a very big challenge, to help the club get out of relegation will be a very hard task, of course. The only way I know, is to put the focus, 100 per cent, on each match. We only look at the next match and translate that feeling to the players. We must do our best in our daily work and put the focus on the next match.”

Like all the other PL manager, he had the World Cup break to work with and become better acquainted with his players, to implement his style and philosophy upon them and he commented, “They have worked very, very hard with a big focus and concentration. They’re trying to understand what we want to do. In the match against Birmingham, and in Spain against Empoli and Cadiz, we stepped things up and they understand more. In the same way, we understand more about them. We have to improve in the next matches.”

The Black Country outfit have already moved quickly to secure their first transfer window addition with Brazilian forward Matheus Cunha set to be confirmed as a Wolves player after agreeing to a loan-to-buy move from Athletico Madrid. Lopetegui remarked, “Cunha is a good player. I know him, I think he’s a good signing for us in the present and also for the future. I feel that he is a very complete forward. It’s true that he hasn’t scored a lot of goals, but it’s true also that he is able to score a lot of goals. I hope that he is going to do this here.”

With Cunha not available till January, the Spaniard named his starting eleven to face Everton thus: Sa, Semedo, Collins, Kilman, Bueno, Hodge, Neves (c), Moutinho, Podence, Hwang and Costa.

Our referee on a breezy and rather cool afternoon was Craig Pawson.

The visitors looked to keep the Blues pressed back in their own half in the opening exchanges but, it was good work by Iwobi and Gordon that gave Maupay the chance to win the first corner from the right. McNeil swung it to the near post to find Yerry Mina who steered his header downward and inside the back post for the opening goal with a little under seven minutes played.

The early strike instantly raised the volume and it went up another notch when Costa bundled over Mina and in time honoured fashion he argued with anyone and everyone who wanted a piece of the push ‘n shove that ensued. The goal had the settling effect upon the Blues and with the visitors having only scored three times on the road prior to the break, the early lead was just what the Blues and Goodison had yearned for.

Hwang wasted a good opportunity to cross into the Everton area by sending the ball straight into the waiting arms of Jordan Pickford and we hit the quarter hour mark with Tarkowski making a fine tackle and winning a goal kick in the process. A foul by Moutinho on Onana gave McNeil another chance to flight a ball into the Wolves area but, it was cleared and Everton went back to build from Pickford. Tarkowski with another excellently timed challenge won another goal kick as Wolves looked to force a way back into the game with Neves and Moutinho influential in the midfield. Wolves won their first corner and a training ground move saw the ball played to Moutinho who lofted the ball back into the danger area for Podence to finish neatly on the half volley on 22 minutes.

Both the goals had come from corners from the two sides with the worst conversion rate from corners prior to kick off.

In the 27th minute, McNeil released Mykolenko into space and he played a superb ball into the area for Gordon who couldn’t take advantage and Wolves smuggled the ball away to safety. Wolves, having got back onto the game, were growing in confidence and they won a second corner that they wasted and almost cost them Maupay latched onto a mistake in midfield to get free before Sa raced off his line to deny him a scoring opportunity.

Another Wolves raid, this time down the left saw Podence cross for Costa who couldn’t direct his header with enough power to overly trouble Pickford. Everton countered with McNeil and Gordon combining and when Gana Gueye picked up a loose pass to find Gordon racing into the area, Sa denied him with an excellent save low to his left.

Gana Gueye with a solid block on a shot from Hwang saw the Blues ease their way forward ahead of Podence and Patterson clashing with the Blues fullback booked for his involvement. A foul by Costa on Gana Gueye gave the Blues an excellent chance to pressure the visitors area only for McNeil to flight the ball too strongly and straight out for a goal kick.

Into the final five minutes of the half and another loose ball from Collins saw the ball fall for Maupay who took a second before shooting straight at Jose Sa in the Wolves goal. Moutinho fouled Onana and again, the free kick was poorly delivered and any opportunity to pressure the visitors lost. As we hit the signalling of just one added minute, Mykolenko again picked out Gordon who’s first touch let him down and Wolves cleared. The interval came with some of the Goodison voicing their disappointment at an apparent lack of intent in the added-on period to try and regain the lead, and the whistle sent the team for their slice of orange and cup of tea tied at one-one.

Half Time: 1-1

No changes by either manager for the second half in a game that both clubs desperately need to take a full three points from such as the respective precarious league positions.

An early free kick led to a Neves shot being blocked and cleared an a quick counter by the Blues saw Gordon cross low into the wolves area where Collins was happy to concede a corner, that led to Iwobi heading straight at Sa albeit from an offside position.

Gordon, Iwobi and Maupay worked an opening for Gana Gueye but, he was closed down quickly and when Wolves failed to clear their lines, a free kick for a foul on IGG saw Gordon send a shot form 35 yards high and well wide of the target. The crowd were doing their best to lift the players to greater efforts, despite the cold weather and after a Wolves attack broke down, Mykolenko released McNeil down the left flank where he conceded a goal kick.

Both managers prepared their first changes as Podence fed Bueno for a shot that Pickford parried and the changes began as Demarai Gray replaced Dwight McNeil on 56 minutes. Wolves went for a triple change on 58 minutes with Bueno replaced by Ait-Nouri; Matheus Nunes replacing Hodge and Adama Traore replacing Hwang Hee-Chan.

Podence was yellow carded for a clumsy challenge on Gana Gueye just past the hour mark and an Everton attack saw Patterson get forward and caught upfield as Wolves countered at speed, Tarkowski proving the defensive cover. A really poor challenge by Kilman on Gana Gueye saw the Blues player need treatment and the Wolves player booked for a rather high boot. VAR reviewed the challenge and ruled the yellow card to be sufficient punishment.

Determination from Gordon saw him drive in from the left flank to beat three Wolves defenders before the ball was partially cleared as far as Iwobi who didn’t get anything like the power or direction into his shot that Sa gathered easily. Wolves made a fourth change on 72 minutes as Podence went down off the ball and was replaced by Guedes.

Mina went down off the ball on 73 minutes, to send Ben Godfrey out to warm up and replace the Colombian for the final quarter of an hour and added-on time. Godfrey, returning from injury, got a warm reception from the Blues faithful.

Collins cleared a cross from Patterson as the Blues strained to get forward and another stoppage saw Wolves make their fifth change, Moutinho replaced by Toti and Neves was booked for a studs-up challenge on Mykolenko.

Ten minutes to play, could Everton find a winner and two more vital points. Toti was booked for his first involvement, a foul on Maupay and from 30 yards, Gray beat the wall and the outside of the near post. The Street End again raised their voices and further Blues changes on 83 minutes saw Tom Cannon replace Neil Maupay and Idrissa Gana Gueye make way for Abdoulaye Doucoure.

Godfrey saw a close range effort cleared off the line by Neves ahead of Mykolenko volleying wide of the target as Everton tried to find a winner. Five minutes plus any extra time to go and to be fair to both sides, they weren’t looking to sit back and defend the point they held. Everton were pushing hard and Patterson tried two crosses with Toti making an excellent interception to prevent Cannon getting to the second one.

Time was ticking by and the Blues won a free kick wide left and five added minutes were announced, Gray finding the head of Tarkowski but, his header was off target and an easy gather for Sa.

And Blues fans worst fears were realised deep into the injury time period as Traore got free on the right to cross deep into the Everton area where his fellow Wolves substitute Ait-Nouri was on hand to blast the ball past Jordan Pickford and spark scenes of delirium from the Wolves bench and supporters.

Full Time: 1-2

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