An outstanding first minute strike from Dwight McNeil earned the Blues three priceless points in an absolute thriller as Brentford wouldn’t lie down and forced Everton into a memorable second half of defending. A game very much of two halves as the Blues scored early and deservedly led at the break however, Brentford fought back but, couldn’t find a way past a valiantly defending Everton.
Twelve games to go in the season and most observers reckon Everton will need a minimum of 14 but, preferably 16 points to be relatively confident of playing Premier League football again in 23/24.
Given the Blues miserable away form, picking up points at Goodison could prove vital and the visit of Brentford was in no way a ‘gimme’ given the London outfits current run of form that has seen them rack up a twelve- game unbeaten run stretching back to late October.
Blues boss Sean Dyche knew he was taking on a big task when he replaced Frank Lampard in the Goodison hot seat but, he’s taking heart from things he’s seeing in recent performances. Speaking on Friday he mused, “I think [the Nottingham Forest game was] about building on the mentality that I’ve been speaking about since I’ve been here.”
He added, “That is the mentality to perform but also to take on whatever comes in front of you, with the way that we work and that’s to have it tight enough defensively where we can affect games but also loose enough where we can affect it openly. I thought for large parts [of the Forest game], particularly in the first half, we were very good on both.”
He continued adding, “Aside from a mistake and a soft one against Villa I thought it was a pretty thorough performance, to be honest. I thought we were good against Leeds. There are strong signs but signs don’t give you anything. You don’t just win because there are strong signs – you win because you get everything right throughout a 90-odd minute match.”
In terms of player availability for the visit of the Bees, and with the need fo4 goals still uppermost in the minds of all Evertonians, Dyche advised that, “Dominic Calvert-Lewin is in and around it again, with us training. We are still making a decision on him being truly right to come back in. On being ready for this this weekend, it’s early yet, he’s just got on the grass with us, but he’s done a lot of rehab – the stats and facts – and the way he’s feeling is good. It’s positive signs that’s for sure.”
With Vitalii Mykolenko recovering from the illness that saw him miss the trip to Nottingham, the manager waited till the last minute to name his starting eleven: Jordan Pickford, Seamus Coleman (c), Michael Keane, James Tarkowski, Ben Godfrey, Alex Iwobi, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Amadou Onana, Dwight McNeil and Demarai Gray.
Brentford, under Danish manager Thomas Frank, are having an excellent campaign and sitting in ninth place in the table ahead of kickoff are eyeing a possibility of European football next season. And arriving at the Grand Old Lady, the Bees had almost a fully fit squad to select from, with only forward Keane Lewis-Potter with a knee injury and reserve goalie Thomas Strakosha unavailable for selection.
Where Everton have struggled for goals all season, Brentford have genuine threat up front from Ivan Toney who’s tallied 15 in 22 games so far this season. His availability to still be playing is seen by some as being controversial given he’s been subject to no fewer than 262 FA charges of contravening betting rules which if proven, could see him banned from the game for a not inconsiderable period.
As to his goal scoring prowess, Brentford boss Thomas Frank cites, “His ability to focus is quite unique. He never switches off. Even if there is something going on outside of the pitch, he is still focused.”
One Brentford player looking forward to the Everton game was Yoane Wissa as he recalled the atmosphere at the same fixture last season. Wissa recalled the come from behind win over the Blues saying, “It was an amazing atmosphere, I think it was the best I’ve felt away from home. Some of the guys said playing at Newcastle was amazing but, for me, Goodison was the best. They were fighting to stay up, so it was very important for them to win. You could almost feel the fans on the pitch.”
With Everton again fighting for Premier League survival, Brentford came looking to extend their unbeaten run and heap more trouble upon their hosts, and in trying to do so, Frank named his starting lineup: Raya, Hickey, Pinnock, Mee, Henry, Norgaard (c), Jensen, Damsgaard, Mbeumo, Janelt and Toney.
On a bitterly cold, breezy and wet afternoon, our referee was Simon Hooper.
With the pre-game sirens restored, yet another full house Goodison Park roared its welcome to the team for this must-not-lose game in the knowledge that those clowns from across the park had contrived to lose at Bournemouth.
And what a start by the Blues, as Gray found Iwobi, he relayed the ball to Doucoure who in turn laid it into the path of Dwight McNeil who struck an absolute beauty from the edge of the area that flew across Raya and into the Park End goal with barely a minute played.
A high boot by Mbeumo on Godfrey gave the Blues a free kick that McNeil lofted to the back post for Tarkowski to head back in, a Brentford defender calmly heading the ball back to Raya. Brentford stole ten yards on a free kick of their own and won a corner from it that they duly tried to be too clever with and made a complete town halls of it.
Gana Gueye to Gray to McNeil and he won the Blues first corner and that was cleared easily by the visitors. Everton were awarded a free kick wide right that saw Gray find the head of Keane only for his effort to go wide with Raya miles off his line. The opening quarter of an hour had flown by with Everton looking much more energised than in so many earlier games this season. Good work by Seamus Coleman on Brentford free kick kept the visitors at bay.
Coleman latched onto a loose ball to find Iwobi and his instant cross was palmed into the path of Onana by Raya, the Belgian unfortunately putting his instant effort over the bar with the goal gaping in front of him. A second Brentford corner, this time from their left was defended resolutely by a Keane header and good shoulder charge from Demarai Gray to win a goal kick. The Bees enjoyed a period of possession that ended with Toney diving full length to skew his header well wide of the far post.
Jeers rang around Goodison as Brentford needlessly gave the Blues a corner on the right that McNeil swung to the back post where a Blue went down with appeals for a penalty waved away, and determination by Godfrey won a free kick that failed to produce. Approaching the half hour and Everton were pressing hard as they tried to play out from the back. When they did get forward, Pickford punched a swerving shot from Toney to safety.
A good move started by Gana Gueye saw Gray get into the area before his shot was turned behind by Raya, the resulting corner seeing a close range effort cleared off the line. Ironic cheers next as Toney backed into Keane on halfway, and referee Hooper decided in favour of the Blues, Pickford sending the free kick long but, Brentford defended it. An Everton break broke down on a poor ball from Godfrey.
A slip by Coleman gave Damsgaard the chance to cross but, there was no Brentford forward high enough up the field and it sailed harmlessly into touch. A tiny spell of Brentford pressure came to nothing on a poor cross by Mbeumo before the Blues got forward with a McNeil shot being blocked and Toney penalised on halfway for fouling Tarkowski.
Pickford sent the free kick long for Tarkowski to head into the six yard box where Demarai Gray nipped in to poke home before VAR reviewed the ‘goal’ for a possible hand ball. The review took ages to rule against Everton and a goal kick given to the visitors. Two added minutes were announced and Everton won a free kick 25 yards out that saw a Gray shot deflected out for another corner, that saw Raya claim a Keane header easily and then Onana and Tarkowski collided, both needing some treatment before continuing.
Everton deservedly led at the break but, Sean Dyche would surely welcome as good a start to the second half as that of the first.
Half Time: 1-0
Neither manager made any changes for the start of the second half and the first attempt on goal came from the visitors as Janelt crossed to the back post for Toney in space to plant a firm header only for Jordan Pickford to recover his ground and make a superb stop to deny him the equaliser.
The tempo of the first half returned with both sides competing for every ball to make for an entertaining spectacle. Brentford on a counter saw Toney cross from the right and Tarkowski dive to head the ball behind for a corner that was defended. Brentford had started the second half the better and Goodison responded, raising the noise level to lift the players.
The pace was quite frenetic as the visitors tried to gain a stranglehold on proceedings only waste another free kick by trying to be too clever. Gana Gueye to Iwobi and his chipped ball forward found Gray who gained the area but couldn’t beat Raya with a low shot. Everton came again to win a left wing corner that Raya punched clear. McNeil defended a cross at the expense of a corner as Brentford made a double change, Jensen and Damsgaard replaced by Dasilva and Schafer, and the corner produced nothing.
Into the final half hour and tempers flared as Abdoulaye Doucoure reacted to a challenge by Hickey, referee Hooper calming things down without the need to wield yellow cards. Brentford were looking the more likely at this stage and Pickford voiced his concerns after another cross into the Everton area thankfully was headed behind by Schade.
A free kick on the edge of the Everton penalty area, the wall doing its job to send the Toney shot behind for a corner and it needed a goalie clearance from McNeil to preserve the Blues slender lead. Another double change for the visitors on 73 minutes saw Wissa replace Hickey and Onyeka replace Norgaard as Thomas Frank went into full-on attacking mode.
Everton were living dangerously as another cross from the right reached Schade who again put his header wide of the far post when it looked easier to at least test Pickford. Godfrey defended an other cross with a good header. And Tarkowski foiled Schade with a good tackle as the visitors continued to come on strong.
A first change for Everton on 80 minutes saw Tom Davies replace Amadou Onana. A good ball from Alex Iwobi put Gana Gueye in for a shot that Raya held well and Brentford countered at speed to win another corner that Pickford got away with a decent punch. The home crowd were becoming concerned at the amount of possession the Blues were conceding and on a free kick for a foul on Gray, the decibel level went up another notch.
Sean Dyche on the touchline was shouting himself even more hoarse than he usually is as Brentford countered again and a second change, Neal Maupay for Demarai Gray came in the 86th minute. Brentford swapping Ghaddas on for Henry at the same stoppage.
This really was backs to the wall stuff now and another last ditch tackle by Tarkowski gave Brentford another corner that was defended. The noise was now at crescendo level as the home crowd implored the team to the final efforts to secure the points. Mbeumo felled Doucoure before five added minutes were announced and Vitalii Mykolenko came in for an injury time cameo replacing Alex Iwobi.
Mykolenko defended a right wing cross at the expense of another corner that Raya came forward for and he headed wide. Everton were in no mood to let this one slip and the emotion of this much needed three points was clear to see and hear as a late foul on Seamus Coleman saw the whole ground respond with the sixty grand chant… and the final whistle was greeted exultantly.