Everton 0-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers

Everton fail to heed warnings and pay a very dear price.​

Jarrad Branthwaite with a performance of calmness and composure was the standout player in this at times absorbing but, ultimately frustrating home loss as Everton couldn’t find a way to score and Wolves finally did.

Game three of the new season and the visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers to Goodison Park was already been termed ‘a relegation six-pointer’ as both clubs were yet to register even a draw after the opening two rounds of games. And but for Chelsea having beaten Luton on Friday evening, this would have been bottom versus next to bottom.

Nothing has been straightforward for the Blues in recent seasons and the start of the 23/24 campaign again sees frustration and anxiety pervading many aspects of the club and its fan base. On the field, two losses, the second of which was utterly embarrassing brought two additional problems for manager Sean Dyche to deal with and overcome – the potential long term injuries to the unfortunate Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Alex Iwobi. Coming at a time when off-field issues of ownership and investment funding render the club all but impotent in the transfer market, the manager could be forgiven for wondering exactly what he can do with this already threadbare squad with four other players currently unavailable through injury, and Mason Holgate having left to join Southampton on loan for the season.

Dyche was forthright and frank when he addressed the media at Finch Farm on Thursday saying, “Footballers aren’t as thick as people think, it doesn’t take a lot for me to point out what was wrong at Villa, they know. I wasn’t screaming and shouting at them. They come off the pitch and know what has gone wrong, what is shouting going to prove?”

He continued, “They know they weren’t collectively up for it, so we spoke more about that, the bigger picture of it. It was a conversation with some analysis and a repointing in the right direction. Football gives you a jolt now and again. If you look, the first few games of a season often bring odd results, it’s not brand new to me but, you have to react to that.”

Blues fans everywhere where looking and hoping for a very strong and positive reaction in the game against Wolves with many calling for changes to be made to the starting eleven, particularly at the heart of the defence. Dyche admitted he’s open to stirring the pot when he noted, “Ben Godfrey is training diligently, Jarrad Branthwaite is new to myself, it’s a shame he has missed a few weeks but, he’s getting that sharpness now. Dobbo (Lewis Dobbin) has come through in preseason and Arnie (Arnaut Danjuma) is looking fitter and sharper, both are in contention.”

Desperate to give the Goodison crowd something to cheer and build team confidence, the manager weighed up all his available options before naming his starting eleven: Jordan Pickford, Nathan Patterson, James Tarkowski (c), Jarrad Branthwaite, Ashley Young, Abdoulaye Doucoure, James Garner, Amadou Onana, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Arnaut Danjuma and Lewis Dobbin.

Wolves have had almost as turbulent a summer and start to the season as the Blues as their transfer activity was also limited and they made a change of manager on the eve of the new season, former Bournemouth boss Gary O’Neil replacing Spaniard Jules Lopetegui, and last weekend saw them sell Adama Traore to Fulham.

O’Neil saw his side somewhat unlucky not to get anything from their opener at Manchester United but, they were soundly beaten by Brighton at Molyneux last Saturday. He commented to his press briefing,“the team’s not where I want it in terms of understanding and structure and that’s to be expected given the limited time we’ve had together up to the Brighton game. We’ve made big strides this week and I’m pleased with the commitment of the players. Against Brighton, both sides made good chances, they were clinical and we weren’t.”

He added, “It’s a results business and they were two results what we can take stuff from. I’m looking forward to Saturday, we know it’ll be a physical test and you need a mentality and resolve to be able to bring your own quality through and show what you can do with the ball.”

Definitely without suspended midfielder Matheus Nunez, Wolves had almost a full squad to select from with Korean Hwang Hee-Chan looking to start having been a scoring substitute against Brighton. O’Neil eventually named his starting line-up: Sa, Semedo, Dawson, Kidman (c), Silva, Bueno, Gomes, Lemina, Neto, Cunha and Hwang.

On a sunny afternoon, our referee was Craig Pawson.

A marvellous banner in honour of Michael Jones adorned the Gwladys Street Stand as the teams received the usual enthusiastic welcome from the ever-loyal and supportive Evertonians.

Wolves in red, presumably to irritate the home crowd, kicked off and an early free kick for a foul by Gana Gueye saw Pickford easily claim a header from Lemina. The Blues first effort was a shot from distance by Danjuma that sailed high and wide. Bueno tested Patterson before the ball broke feee to Lemina who shot high over the bar. Everton got forward in numbers with Wolves defending hurriedly and when the ball came right to Patterson, his teasing cross was just too strong for both Danjuma and Dobbin.

A slip by Young gave Wolves the chance to counter and good work by Jarrad Branthwaite with a well timed tackle and a clearing header saw off the threat. Dawson headed a Dobbin cross clear as the Blues came forward again and Everton should have been ahead in the 14th minute as a superb ball through the middle by Onana split the Wolves defence to set Danjuma free, Sa getting enough on his shot to see the ball hit the post and give Dawson time to get back and clear.

A quarter hour gone and Everton had been much better than in the last game and with the crowd cheering every tackle, the early signs were promising. A nice flowing move down the right eventually saw the ball played left for Dobbin to win the Blues first corner off Semedo, that was far too easily claimed by Sa.

Patterson headed a Neto cross clear as Wolves tried to make inroads down the Everton left and when Wolves tried to get Hwang in on the right, a solid challenge by Patterson left him in a heap. The 26th minute brought Goodison to its feet with applause for Michael Jones and a second corner saw the ball pinball around the Wolves six yard area before going out for a goal kick.

Gomes was (wrongly) booked after Semedo had blocked Danjuma, the free kick wide left saw Young find the head of Branthwaite who couldn’t direct his effort on target. Neto played a one-two to escape the attention of Young, Branthwaite with another well timed challenge putting the ball into touch.

A decent attack by Wolves ended harmlessly with Neto blazing high and wide and with ten minutes to go to the break, the game needed a goal. And it very nearly came as Patterson got free on the right and his cross was met by Danjuma, his story going just wide of the near post with Sa flat footed.

Semedo was (rightly) booked for bringing down Dobbin as he tried to get clear after he and Young had hounded Wolves into an error, Young looking for Doucoure at the near post and Sa gathering the loose ball comfortably. As the break approached, Wolves got forward again and Cunha was hurt colliding with Tarkowski and needed treatment before hobbling off the pitch, and jogging round to the halfway line to rejoin the game as two added minutes were signalled.

All square at the interval although Everton will feel disappointed that their aggressive approach play and pressing hadn’t got its just desserts with the Park End woodwork having denied them a lead.

Half Time: 0-0

Alt-Nouri replaced Hwang for the start of the second half in a change by the visitors and Dobbin won an early free kick for a foul by Semedo. An excellent pass from Young played Doucoure into space in the Wolves area but, his cross was behind Danjuma and easily cleared. Lemina was booked for time wasting at another free kick to Everton that saw Sa concede a corner from the left. Sa punched the second cross clear, parried a shot from Garner and then held onto a Branthwaite header from the rebound before going down feigning injury.

Onana went down writhing after winning a 50-50 and after a wipe with the magic sponge was okay to continue. Wolves cheers for a Silva netting inside the far post on 57 minutes were stifled on the linesman’s flag for offside but, the warning had been sent that they were not out of the game.

The home crowd increased the volume on a strong challenge by Danjuma, 36,000 Blues desperate to see their team score and win. Indecision between Tarkowski and Pickford allowed Silva to get between them and thankfully put his effort beyond both Pickford and the far post… another warning.

Everton countered with Dobbin winning another corner that disappointedly was headed over the bar as we passed the hour mark. James Garner was booked for a foul on Alt-Nouri, Pickford making a save low to his right to again prevent the visitors from going ahead. Garner led a charge and relayed the ball through Doucoure to Dobbin who saw his effort parried and held at the second attempt by Sa.

On 65 minutes, Lewis Dobbin received a standing ovation as he was replaced by Youssef Cherniti to make his home debut. Sa somehow denied a Danjuma header at the back post on a cross from Patterson, getting the ball up and over the bar for a corner from the right. The corner was cleared and as Everton came again, Dawson was booked for impeding Doucoure, with Sa easily claiming the free kick from Young.

Jarrad Branthwaite showed composure and skill to get back and deny Neto before setting Doucoure forward to win another corner that again was too close to and easily gathered by Sa. Wolves wasted a free kick and Doucoure led the counter with Patterson overlapping but crossing too close to Sa rather than Chermiti.

On 73 minutes, Wolves replaced Silva with Sarabia and when some neat passing saw Doucoure finally beat Sa, the linesman’s flag for offside rescued Wolves. VAR checked and confirmed the decision much to the annoyance of the home crowd. Into the final ten minutes, could Everton find a finish, sadly not with the free kick service of Ashley Young that was to say the least, poor.

A late double change by Wolves saw Kalajdzic and Toti replace Cunha and Bueno. Branthwaite picked out Chermiti to win another Everton corner that again failed to overly trouble the Wolves defence.

Wolves had sent earlier warnings and when a cross came in from Neto, Kalajdzic got a telling touch to guide the ball inside the far post in the 87th minute. Chermiti was booked for a foul on Dawson and Michael Keane and Tom Cannon made cameo appearances replacing Gana Gueye and Danjuma respectively as five added minutes were announced.

Sadly nothing came of the added-on time and what had started rather brightly and positively fizzled away with the almost inevitable smash ‘n grab goal by the visitors taking the points.

Where do Everton go from here?

Three games played and three games lost, no goals scored, no sign of any transfer business being done, investment deals going pear-shaped, an absentee owner, an incapacitated and deluded chairman and a fan base unsurprisingly becoming accustomed to relegation battles… and we’re not yet into September.

Full Time: 0-1

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