Wolves thought a first half strike by Hwang Hee-Chan was enough to settle the outcome of this vital game in their favour but, they didn’t bargain for the never-say-die attitude of the Blues that miraculously saw Yerry Mina earn a vital, vital point with virtually the last kick of the game.
Two games to go in this Premier League campaign and the future was very much in Everton’s own hands as matching or bettering the results of both Leicester and Leeds over the last two games would secure top flight status for another year.
Wolves secured their future a couple of games ago and Blues fans travelling to the Black Country hoped their hosts would be in full-on flip-flop mode for their final home game of the campaign. However, Wolves manager Julen Lopetegui was determined that his side would not simply go through the motions when he said, “We have worked with a good commitment this week, thinking that on Saturday we have our last match in front of our fans, so this is of utmost importance for us. In the same way, we know we have in front of us a very good opponent with very good players and a good coach.”
He continued adding, “We know the kind of match we are going to have in front of us and we have to be ready to compete with them. We are professional and they are fighting for different aims in the Premier League and we have to do our best until the end.”
He expanded further on his wanting an honest effort saying, “In this part of the season, fortunately we achieved our first aim, our most important aim and a very difficult aim, that is to be out of the relegation battle three matches from the end of the season. Of course, we want more, and we have to take the game of Saturday looking at the challenge and a chance for us to finish the season well in front of our fans. We want to be able to compete until the rest of the season for the respect of the league and for the rest of the teams. If we were still fighting to get out of the relegation, we would want the same from other teams, so it’s the same demand for ourselves.”
Looking to close their Molineux campaign on a positive note, he selected his starting line-up thus: Bentley, Semedo, Dawson, Collins, Toti, Traore, Neves (c), Gomes, Podence, Sarabia and Hwang.
Having taken valuable points from trips to Crystal Palace, Leicester and Brighton before succumbing to the champions elect last Sunday, Everton have salvaged the best they could have dreamt of three or four weeks ago. Languishing in 19th place, the Blues have recovered and climbed to the heady heights of 17th and the final safety position, and heading down the M6, the team, manager and legions of supporters knew that the avoidance of defeat was a must, a draw would be useful and another away win would be almost priceless.
Whilst Manchester City halted the Blues mini-revival, manager Sean Dyche was taking positives from the game when he said, “The performance level and the basics were there [against Manchester City] – as was the will and the demand to keep pushing to score goals. I was pleased with that against a top side. We had resilience within a performance and that’s important over the next two games. I don’t think the result reflected on the feel of our performance. I think Leicester was a good performance. Obviously, the game against Brighton was, too. I thought there was a performance against a top side in Man City. They’re so effective and they find ways of scoring, which they did. But there was a lot of good energy, a lot of belief in trying to get back into the game.”
Dyche again praised the effort of Blues fans when he commented, “I think there’s a core respect from the fans of a team that are giving everything to win a game. When they don’t, they let them know – which is fair enough. The fans have been terrific ever since I got here. I can only speak from my time here, but they’ve backed everything we’re attempting to do, and they continue to do so.”
And in similar fashion to his opposite number, Sean Dyche wanted a fully committed showing from his players noting, “We want to give them wins, of course, but we want to give them a team who give everything. I thought that was on show (against City) but just against a top-class opposition, who’ve proved that all season. It was always going to be a tough ask, but the mentality was firm, and the mentality of the fans was firm. We’ll need that over the next two games. Since I’ve been here, they’ve been there every week for us – good, bad, indifferent, home, and away. We’ve got to continue that connection because it’s important to us.”
With Conor Coady ineligible, Vitalii Mykolenko (groin injury), Tom Davies (hamstring), Ben Godfrey and Andros Townsend all unavailable, the Blues boss gave Dominic Calvert-Lewin as long as possible to prove his fitness before confirming his starting eleven in a suspected 3-5-2 formation: Jordan Pickford (c), Nathan Patterson, Yerry Mina, James Tarkowski, Dwight McNeil, Alex Iwobi, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Amadou Onana, James Garner, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
On a gloriously sunny afternoon, David Coote was our man in the middle.
An excellent atmosphere inside Molineux for this vital game for the Blues, with another sold out, ram jam full visiting section of travelling fans and they saw Traore release Sarabia to cross through the Blues six yard area with Wolves first attack targetting the left side of the Everton defence where Dwight McNeil was deputising as the left back in the absence of Mykolenko. McNeil with a long free kick found the head of Mina and his knockdown saw DCL shoot on the turn but, just wide of the near post. McNeil looked like being in for a busy afternoon as he won a tackle and went charging down the left flank before being stopped by Neves.
Iwobi with a quick throw-in found Doucoure get in behind Semedo and Dawson did enough to prevent DCL getting a stooping header on target. Sarabia and Hwang combined to find Traore for another cross from the right that Pickford claimed easily before launching the Blues on a counter that ended with DCL climbing to reach a cross from Iwobi but, unable to direct his header on target. Another McNeil free kick was only partially cleared by the Wolves defence but, Gana Gueye saw a speculative shot go well high and wide.
Patterson getting forward won the games first corner as Everton looked to take the game to Wolves, McNeil crossing the field to take an inswinger that Wolves needed three attempts to clear. Through fifteen minutes and the pace of the game was quick and competitive – both sides living up to their managers demands for a proper effort albeit, for different reasons.
Traore was booked for a clumsy challenge on Onana that the Belgian certainly felt, McNeil again with the free kick looked to find Mina but the home defence were alive to the threat. Patterson and DCL combined to win a second corner from the right with Gomes and Tarkowski pushin’ and shovin’ each other and the re-taken set piece saw Doucoure penalised for a push on the goalie. Mina cleared a teasing cross from Traore and after a second cross from Podence was headed clear, DCL won a free kick in midfield.
Onana nodded on a long clearance from Pickford and DCL stumbled over Toti, half-hearted appeals for a penalty instantly waved away by referee Coote. Patterson went down off the ball and needed some treatment while other players took on some liquids, not surprising given the afternoon heat. Good work by McNeil won the ball and he released Iwobi to scamper down the left flank, Everton keeping the pressure on and Onana won a third corner from the right that Mina reached but couldn’t direct his header down and it went over the bar.
On 28 minutes, Michael Keane was an early change replacing Nathan Patterson on the right side of the defence. Tarkowski with a good block cleared a shot from Sarabia but the Everton counter floundered as DCL was too isolated and easily dispossessed by the Wolves defence. A loose ball from Doucoure proved extremely costly in the 34th minute as Wolves broke quickly through Traore, stretching the Blues midfield and defence before seeing his shot pushed away by Pickford only for Hwang to follow-up and open the scoring against the run of play.
Pickford beat out a shot from Joao Gomes as Wolves looked to make the most of their lead, with a follow-up header by Podence landing on top of the net. Traore switched from right to left and another powerful run took him away from both Keane and Mina before Tarkowski got across to stop him. A foul by Gana Gueye on Neves gave Wolves a free kick thirty yards out that he fired into the wall and when Everton got forward through DCL, he was brought down by Neves a couple of yards outside the penalty area, Garner bending his shot around the wall but, not enough bend to take it back on target and Bentley in the Wolves goal watched it sail high and wide.
Iwobi and Onana combined with the latter trying to find DCL with a slide rule pass that ended with DCL going down and looking uncomfortable whilst receiving treatment as four added minutes were announced. Demarai Gray immediately came on for the stricken Number 9 and two injury enforced changes were not what Everton had wanted from a first half they’d had the better of without capitalising upon, and falling behind to a counter attack strike. Traore with another cross from the right saw Keane head out to Podence who worked an opening for a shot that he pulled wide. Dawson was booked for a foul on Onana and the half ended with Everton needing to find something special in the second session.
Half Time: 1-0
A vital forty-five minutes of football for the Blues as they needed at least a point from this game to revive the hope of staying in the top flight for at least one more season. Onana was hurt by a tackle from Gomes and needed treatment, not the start to the half we wanted. Gray was fouled by Collins on the end of a ball from McNeil who saw his free kick find the head of Mina and Bentley in the home goal grateful to gather before Keane could make anything of the loose ball. A third yellow card for Wolves saw Semedo booked for a foul on Gana Gueye in a stop-start opening to the second session. Keane got forward and from a throw-in, Alex Iwobi tested Bentley from distance with a curling, rising shot.
Mina went down in pain claiming a foul by Neves, that tv replays clearly showed contact with the right foot of the Columbian centre back, and the opening ten minutes had stuttered by – suiting the Wolves cause but, definitely not Everton.
Semedo blazed high over the bar after a patient build-up by the home side. Gray found by Iwobi crossed low through the Wolves six yard area with nobody making the move to try and get on the end of it. Traore on another surge fed Sarabia who cut inside from the right to bend a shot wide of the far post, and we reached the hour mark with the Blues still trailing. Semedo crashed another shot wide of the target as Wolves began to turn up the pressure and Everton struggled to gain any genuine offensive momentum.
Wolves were now looking much the hungrier and another attack ended with a side-footed effort from Podence going wide across the face of goal. Everton won a free kick wide left as Gray was clattered by Semedo, the cross from McNeil going too long and Iwobi striking a speculative shot wide. Keane up in support of the attack was fouled, earning Gomes a booking, the fourth for Wolves, and another opportunity to pressure the home defence. Gray saw his shot blocked by the Wolves wall and Bentley successfully claimed a long throw-in from Keane.
Onana released Gray down the right and he skipped inside to fire a shot that Bentley was fortunate to push away for a corner. Wolves made a double change with Diego Costa and Matheus Nunes replacing Podence and Sarabia respectively on 70 minutes. More push and shove between Gomes and Tarkowski ahead of the corner that saw Bentley claim well at the back post. Costa with an early charge forward saw a narrow angle effort blocked by Pickford who was quick off his line.
Doucoure saw a shot blocked on the edge of the Wolves area and McNeil saw a left wing cross headed out by Dawson. A third Wolves change saw Hwang replaced by Lemina on 74 minutes. Time was beginning to run out for Everton and it needed strong defensive work from James Tarkowski to deny Costa another shooting opportunity. The home crowd were shouting ‘Ole’ as their team enjoyed a passage of passing interplay and Everton kept trying to get forward but, the final ball again was poor and easily cleared.
Neal Maupay and Mason Holgate were a late dual change for the Blues – last throw of the dice time – replacing Amadou Onana and Idrissa Gana Gueye respectively with just nine minutes to play. Holgate launched a long throw that Mina flicked on, the ball cleared only as far as Iwobi who saw a shot deflected wide for another Everton corner. Wolves cleared and Pickford came almost to halfway to prevent Costa reaching it.
Lemina cleared a header from Keane to launch a quick counter attack that fizzled out and we passed 85 minutes with Everton trying again to get forward. Another long throw by Holgate reached Maupay but, he could only hook a hurried effort wide of the far post. Wolves wasted some time with two more changes with Neves and Traore annoyingly needing to hug every team mate on their way to the touchline.
James Garner was booked for a cynical foul, taking one for the time as we reached the ninety minute mark and NINE added minutes were announced – could this be the lifeline the Blues needed – as they looked to push Michael Keane forward as a makeshift striker?
Wolves defended a free kick for a foul by Nunes on Mina and Pickford carrying the ball to halfway sent a long ball into the Wolves too long and out for a goal kick. Gray saw a shot deflected wide for a late corner from the left that Gray took and when the ball went out for another, Pickford made his way forward and incredibly with the last kick of the game, Everton drew level, Keane playing the ball into the area for Yerry Mina to stab home to oh so late and potentially survival securing equaliser.