Straight red cards for Abdoulaye Doucoure and Lucas Moura paled into insignificance as an absolutely stunning blast from Michael Keane right on ninety minutes cancelled out a Kane penalty to earn the Blues an oh so precious point.
With Everton playing Monday night in arrears of all the other Premier League games this weekend, they knew exactly what was needed from this game with Tottenham, and they knew just how precious a win and three points could be. Victories for Bournemouth and West Ham have tightened things up at the bottom end of the table with just five points separating eight clubs.
Sean Dyche was in a relatively fortunate position in terms of any team selection issues as with no new injuries since the draw at Chelsea and from the international break, only Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Andros Townsend remain unavailable. Speaking in his Friday press conference, the boss said: “Some have had more minutes than others. The group who have been left behind have had a few days off, but they have done some work as well. The group look fresh in the way they have trained in the last few days. I’m pleased, overall. Nothing major has come back on the injury front which is helpful. Particularly with Amadou (Onana) playing both games. It’s so far, so good. A couple of them are back in today, including Alex (Iwobi).”
And on Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Dyche added: “He hasn’t trained with the group but is back on the grass again. He has been making progress, which is good. He had a slight niggle in a different area but, he is making very good progress so we are happy with that.”
Dyche wants his players to build on the three-game unbeaten run prior to the break saying, “The [attacking] stats have improved on some of the markers you want – getting bodies in the box, getting better quality into the box, better quality of chances and different scorers. I made it clear… it’s always been my mentality that if a player goes out of the side then there’s a good opportunity for someone else. Beyond that, it’s the responsibility of the whole team to score goals and we’re showing good signs of that – being productive from different areas of the pitch, in different formats, different ways and trying to affect games. Effective football is what I want from the team and we’re showing good signs of that.”
Knowing exactly what was required, the boss named an unchanged 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.
Our visitors have been in a bit of turmoil recently following the outburst from Antonio Conte in which he questioned the heart and commitment of some of the Spurs playing squad, an outspoken rant that not unsurprisingly led to his departure from the White Hart Lane managerial role, and the immediate media speculation as to who would replace him.
To be fair to Spurs, they advised early on that Cristian Stellini – who had filled in recently for Conte while he was away from the club due to illness – would continue to fill in as interim manager till the end of the season and it was the 47-year old Italian who updated the media on their player availability for the trip to Goodison Park. “Ivan Perisic is fit and well and trained today. It was only a kick with the national team, so he trained this morning with us,” he announced on Thursday before adding that despite returning to training, goalie Hugo Lloris, Ben Davies and Ryan Sessegnon, “are not ready, but they are pushing to recover as soon as possible.”
The North London outfit have further injury and unavailability concerns as longer-term absentees Yves Bissouma (ankle), Rodrigo Bentancur (knee), former Everton favourite Richarlison (muscle injury) and now Emerson Royal, who has undergone surgery after damaging his knee on international duty for Brazil.
Leading scorer Harry Kane was expected to line-up alongside Heung-Min Son in a potent strike force that the Blues will need to be wary of as the visitors will look for a win that would lift them up to third in the table.
With a number of regular first teamers unavailable and looking to put the Conte disruption behind them, Stellini named three changes in this starting line-up: Lloris (c), Romero, Dier, Lenglet, Porro, Skipp, Hojbjerg, Perisic, Kulusevski, Son and Kane.
After a gloriously sunny day and on a pleasant Merseyside evening, our referee was David Coote.
Spurs kicked off in front of another packed house – bar those infamous four seats in the directors box – but it was the Blues with the first incisive attack, Onana with a good tackle moving the ball via Doucoure to Iwobi and when he found Gray, he jinked inside and curled a shot just high and wide. The first touch of the ball for Son was roundly booed by the home fans who have never forgiven the Korean for breaking the leg of Andre Gomes and Spurs first raid saw Porro cross low and Pickford clear the ball with his legs.
A wild effort from Perisic was jeered all the way into the Gwladys Street terracing before another good challenge from Onana on Kulusevski, as Spurs looked to break out, gave fair notice that midfield would be hotly contested. Spurs did get forward again and when the ball fell fortuitously for Kane in the area with time and space to turn and shoot, it was Michael Keane perfectly positioned behind Pickford to deny him, before getting forward himself to get on the end of a ball from Gray and lift a volley just over the bar.
Ten minutes had flown by with both sides competing and looking to get forward… hardly surprising really given what three points would mean to both sides.
A raking cross field ball from Dier picked out Perisic on the left and his almost instant cross found the head of Kane but, his header went well wide of the target. A great run by Iwobi saw him get deep into the Spurs area, his cross intended for McNeil being blocked and partially cleared and a shot from Onana being blocked and cleared. Spurs were having more possession with Everton looking to counter at pace trying to get behind the visitors defence.
Another quality cross from Perisic was superbly put behind by McNeil at the expense of a corner but, preventing Porro from getting a gilt-edged chance. The corner was defended well and as Everton tried to get on the attack, Skipp impeded Gray and was rather fortunate not to get booked for his troubles. Gray sent the free kick deep for Tarkowski to head back into the six yard area where Lloris twice flapped at the ball and somewhat luckily, Spurs were able to clear.
Everton, through good work from Coleman and Onana, won their first corner as a Godfrey shot was deflected behind, Lloris getting enough on his punch to clear the set piece and passing the 25-minute mark, the home crowd turned up the noise in appreciation of the effort the players were showing, and the newlt introduced Ramadan related drinks break saw a brief lapse in the action.
Romero with a foul on Gray wide left gave the Blues another free kick opportunity, McNeil sending the ball deep towards Tarkowski with the ball partly cleared to Iwobi and his cross from the right found Doucoure in space but disappointingly, he failed to direct a free header on target. Excellent defensive work first by McNeil and then Godfrey snuffed out another Spurs raid only for the visitors to do likewise as Everton tried again to get forward down the right flank.
Spurs seemed happy to try and slow the pace of the game while making Everton chase the ball and a passage of about thirty passes saw Kane flagged offside as they finally sent a direct ball forward. Ten minutes to half time, and how valuable would a half time lead be – for either side?
Iwobi on another burst forward fed McNeil and a lofted ball towards Gray was inevitably picked off by the taller Dier at the heart of the Spurs defence. Gana Gueye released Doucoure and he quickly sent Gray into space where he was quickly blocked by Lenglet. Perisic was hurt by a challenge from Coleman and a 50-50 between Dier and Tarkowski saw the Blues defensive lynchpin needing some treatment to his right knee before picking himself up to carry on.
Pickford strolled nearly to half way to send a free kick into the Spurs area, Dier clearing from Tarkowski and the follow-up cross from McNeil being cleared for a throw-in. Coleman on a foray into the Spurs area went down, not even half hearted appeals for a penalty were waved away by the referee. Spurs countered with Pickford saving with his legs from Son who was rightly found to have been offside.
Tarkowski brought down Kane and got away without seeing yellow as the first half time ebbed away, before three added minutes were announced. A foul by Skipp on Onana went unpunished much to the annoyance of the home fans who cheered ironically when a decision went the Blues way and the annoyance of the Spurs bench. Kane bought a free kick for a soft foul by Keane and was rightly jeered when a few moments later lofted an effort high and wide to end the half with the scoreboard still scoreless.
Half Time: 0-0
As we were for the start of the second half with no changes and an early defensive lapse by Dier saw Gana Gueye take the ball and with Doucoure and Gray in support, he went alone and blazed a shot high over the crossbar. Spurs won a corner at the Park End as McNeil got back to put a cross from Kane behind, Perisic seeing his set piece headed clear and Porro blazing miles over the target. Coleman to Iwobi and into Gray for him to lay the ball back to Onana, his sidefoot shot from outside the area not powerful enough to overly trouble Lloris.
Everton were looking to force the pace of the game and take the fight to Spurs who again, looked more inclined to slow the game down to frustrate the Blues. Porro made a meal of a challenge from Onana while Dier got away with arms all over Doucoure who battled on to win a corner on the Blues right. Spurs defended it and countered at pace before a flashpoint following a foul by Kane on Gray saw Doucoure see a straight red card after appearing to push Kane in the face who went down like Tyson Fury had decked him. Kane was booked for the foul on Gray, maybe should have got an Oscar for going down so theatrically.
An hour gone and the Blues down to ten men, the home crowd infuriated and the noise level went up another notch, as the game now even more became a must-not-lose affair. With the extra outfield player, Spurs were inevitably now seeing more of the ball before Everton broke with Iwobi blazing wide with his shot and Lenglet being booked for a foul on the Nigerian in the build-up, a foul that Alex Iwobi to his credit didn’t make anything of.
On 66 minutes, Perisic headed a ball down and as Keane went to clear he caught Romero and referee Coote pointed to the spot… and Kane sent Pickford the wrong way.
Into the final twenty minutes and it was going to take something special for ten-man Everton to recover the deficit and good pressure on the Spurs defence ended with Lloris saving low to his right to deny Gray. More good pressure from Everton saw Gray set up Gana Gueye for a shot that Lloris tipped over for a corner with the corner seeing a Keane header easily held by Lloris.
A double change on 77 minutes saw Vitalii Mykolenko and Ellis Simms replace Seamus Coleman and Demarai Gray, with Spurs responding taking Lenglet off and sending on Sanchez.
Romero was booked for a foul on Onana and Everton appealed in vain again for a penalty as a shot from Mykolenko seemed to hit the arm of Romero before Moura replace Son for the final nine minutes. Since going behind, Everton had done their level best to get back into the game, if only they could find a finish to reward their valiant efforts.
Another double change on 83 minutes saw James Garner and Tom Davies replace Amadou Onana and Idrissa Gane Gueye.
Sanchez with a foul on Garner gave the Blues a free kick 30 yards out right of centre, Garner taking and disappointingly, the ball going out of play without finding a Blue shirt in the six yard area. The sides were evened up as Moura saw a straight red for an awful challenge on Michael Keane who somehow picked himself up to carry on. Simms fed Iwobi for a cross that saw Keane get in the way of Mykolenko looking to shoot, the Blues gamely coming again and WHAT A GOAL on 90 minutes from Michael Keane – an absolute blockbuster of a shot from twenty yards that Lloris didn’t even bother to try and stop.
Six added minutes were signalled as Goodison exulted a marvellous goal and Everton incredibly looked much the more likely to snatch a late winner as Tarkowski saw a shot blocked by Dier and Mykolenko on a charge was halted on the edge of the Spurs penalty area. A late free kick saw Pickford send the ball towards the Spurs area where Tarkowski won the header but, Lloris mopped up.
An amazing fightback by the Blues having lost Doucoure and falling behind to that penalty, the character and determination shown by the players epitomising the fight that Sean Dyche has demanded from them and a fabulous ovation for the players from the fans at the full time whistle.