The first trip to London this season and it was a good one for the Blues as goals from Abdoulaye Doucoure, James Tarkowski and Dominic Calvert-Lewin secured the first win of the season, the first top-flight win over Brentford away and a measure of relief for manager Sean Dyche.
No much of a preamble this week, just straight into the teams and the match report itself…
Brentford’s much admired Danish manager Thomas Frank was unable to call upon former Blues goal machine Neal Maupay, ineligible due to the terms of his loan but, named a strong Bees line-up in an expected 4-3-3 formation thus: Flekken, Hickey, Collins, Pinnock, Roerslev, Jensen, Norgaard (c), Janelt, Mbeumo, Wissa and Schade.
Everton, who have never recorded a top-flight victory away at Brentford were still without the recovering Seamus Coleman, Dele Alli and Andre Gomes however, received a boost with Jack Harrison successfully completing 45 minutes in his comeback game in a 2-1 win for the U21s over Norwich City on Friday night. Whilst Harrison wasn’t ready to make the bench, Dyche selected a starting eleven, most likely in a 4-5-1 formation that read: Jordan Pickford, Ashley Young, James Tarkowski (c), Jarrad Branthwaite, Vitalii Mykolenko, James Garner, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Amadou Onana, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Dwight McNeil and Beto.
On a pleasant autumnal evening in West London with the shadows lengthening and floodlights on, our referee was Michael Oliver.
Brentford lost forward Kevin Schade in the pre-game warm-up with a suspected groin strain, so even before kick-off were forced to replace him with Keane Lewis-Potter.
And inside 40 seconds, Lewis-Potter went steaming down the left flank to cut in and get brought down by Young who was immediately yellow carded, Mbeumo sending the free kick wide of the target. Brentford defended a cross from Garner and looked to break with Doucoure giving away a free kick to halt their progress.
Everton won the first corner after Branthwaite played a long ball for Beto to head on for Doucoure, McNeil seeing his cross put behind and whilst the initial cross was punched clear by Flekken, it fell to Garner whose cross was headed down by Tarkowski, Abdoulaye Doucoure fired the Blues in front from eight yards with just six minutes played.
The ever-loyal and noisy travelling Blues fans were understandably elated and Spirit of the Blues rang around the G-Tech Community Stadium.
Having fallen behind so early, Brentford looked a little rattled and on 14 minutes a flick-on header from Beto on a long ball from Branthwaite picked out McNeil who gained the left side of the area before firing a low shot across the face of goal and just wide. A positive opening quarter of an hour from the Blues was followed up with some good possession and confident passing before Beto was fouled and Onana headed wide from a Garner cross.
The home fans were becoming frustrated at their side failing to make any real impression upon the Blues who were looking as comfortable on the ball as they have for a long, long time and Brentford survived another attack as Beto headed down to Vitalii Mykolenko who shot straight at Flekken. Another Everton attack came to nothing as as Beto released McNeil down the left only for his cross to go behind both Doucoure and Garner.
Everton were dominating the play and forcing Brentford back to defend crosses from Young and then Garner and not allowing the home side beyond the half way line and they were lucky not to go two up as a ball from Tarkowski into the box found Doucoure who controlled before firing a quick shot that beat Flekken only to hit the cross bar and go to safety… and sods law says when you don’t take a chance, you get caught out and Brentford countered with their first real attack and Jensen, found by Lewis-Potter, fired a low shot that Pickford got a hand to but couldn’t prevent finding the net.
VAR reviewed for a possible offside against Wissa and eventually ruled in the Bees favour and we were back to all square. It was tough on Everton who had played so well through the opening 27 minutes and they now needed to maintain their composure and get back to what they’d done well to this point.
Half an hour gone and the home crowd finally woke up and their team responded with a better effort pressuring Everton for the first concerted time in the game. Everton got back to going forward and a through ball from Gana Gueye found Beto and his shot didn’t have a good connection and beat Flekken and the far post when with a bit more composure, he’d surely have hit the target.
Doucure played Beto into space on the left to stretch his legs and his cross aimed towards Onana saw the Belgian take a tumble under pressure and take his time getting up, much to the annoyance of the home fans. Into the last five minutes of normal time and Wissa fed Mbeumo on the right, his low ball into the six-yard area just too strong for Lewis-Potter arriving at the back post under pressure from Tarkowski.
Beto dispossessed Collins to find Doucoure who relayed it on to Garner who found Gana Gueye to make a complete hash of his shot that cleared the crossbar by some distance. The Blues came again with Gana Gueye playing Beto into the Brentford area on the right, and he turned and crossed only to see no other Blue shirt up in support.
Three added minutes were announced and a loose pass by Gana Gueye was thankfully dealt with by Branthwaite and Everton getting forward with Tarkowski picking out Doucoure and Onana unable to get to the knockdown header. One-one at the break but, a much improved first half by Everton compared to the dross served up last weekend against Arsenal.
Half Time: 1-1
As you were for the start of the second half as both managers stayed with their starting teams. In the early exchanges of the second half, Jensen took an accidental knock to the head from Gana Gueye and Everton sportingly stopped the play so he could receive some attention. A quieter opening to the second half than that of the first half as both teams tried to gain more of the ball and look to build, Beto with a speculative shot from long distance before McNeil shot from just outside the area but, straight at Flekken.
A patient build-up by Everton saw them knocking the ball around confidently before Brentford eventually cleared long downfield. Everton were certainly looking a bit more comfortable on the ball, Brentford though looked quicker when they countered and passing the 55 minute mark, the game was poised for one or the other to really take control.
A McNeil free kick found Tarkowski with Onana unable to hit the target from the knockdown as movement on both benches suggested changes were imminent for both sides. Again, Everton built an attack steadily, almost methodically, before a header by Beto on a Tarkowski cross went wide of the target. Passing the hour mark and the first changes came… Ayer and Onyeka replacing Roerslev and Janelt respectively for Brentford.
Everton waited and three minutes later, after McNeil shot well wide, Dominic Calvert-Lewin replaced Beto who’d worked hard for little reward.
Everton, without absolutely dominating, were having the better of the second half and won a corner on their right that McNeil swung perfectly into the six yard area where James Tarkowski rose like a stag in the mating season to head the Blues back in front on 67 minutes.
An almost instant response by Brentford as a free kick was flighted into the Everton area where somehow they failed to score and Everton somehow smuggled the ball out for a corner that was defended. Now it was the Blues turn to counter and Mykolenko won a corner on the left that Garner swung in, just too high for Tarkowski and it was cleared.
Twenty minutes to play and all the noise was coming from the visiting fans corner and the volume increased markedly as James Garner played a delightful ball through for Dominic Calvert-Lewin to coolly slot his first of the season through the keepers legs and give the Blues an unaccustomed two goal cushion.
Into the final quarter hour and it was kitchen sink time for Brentford while for Everton, it was ‘Ils ne passerant pas’ time.
Mbeumo was booked for a foul on McNeil and on 77 minutes, Arnaut Danjuma replaced Amadou Onana.
The travelling fans were playing their part in keeping up the vocal support as Brentford strained to get forward and Pickford easily saved a weak shot from Mbeumo. Young drew a foul and a yellow card for the Ghoddos who’d replaced Hickey as Brentford looked increasingly forlorn in their efforts to get back into the game.
Everton were coping comfortably with the rather lame Brentford attacks and bar that one shot in the first half from Jensen that drew the home side level, Jordan Pickford was having one of his easiest games in the Blues goal. In the closing minutes, it was the Blues getting forward again, much to the pleasure and delight of the travelling fans and they won another corner that saw Tarkowski head over the crossbar.
Brentford made another late change but, it was unlikely to have any affect upon the outcome even as six added minutes were announced as the Blues were looking in control, despite Jarrad Branthwaite seeing yellow for a foul on Onyeka. Everton pulled everyone back for the final moments to make it difficult for Brentford to make any lasting impression while the home fans drifted away into the London dusk.
Not a classic but, a much needed boost for the Blues and some validation of the claims in recent weeks from Sean Dyche that the results haven’t reflected the balance of play in some of the games so far.