Everton 2-0 Nottingham Forest

Master blasters Gueye and McNeil secure vital win. ​

An added-on time injury to Beto marred a vital victory for the Blues as long distance strikes from Idrissa Gana Gueye and Dwight McNeil – one on each half – eased their relegation worries, and a clean sheet for the Blues too after a truly brilliant save by Jordan Pickford to deny Wood just before half time.

Following the shellacking at Stamford Bridge last Monday evening, today’s game with Nottingham Forest took on even more importance as the Blues endeavour to rescue another season of abject mediocrity from descending into the calamitous ignominy that relegation would represent.

The Blues and England No.1 Jordan Pickford started his 250th Premier League game for the club but, this personal milestone is one he and most fans would rather it primarily be remembered for a clean sheet victory and the priceless three points such a result would bring.

The Blues recent record is, quite frankly, dismal to say the least with just one win – over Burnley – six draws and eight losses in the last 15 games and the need to score first has never been more paramount as 26 losses in the last 33 games when conceding first is another statistic we’d all rather not be associated with.

Manager Sean Dyche was open and frank about the aftermath of the hammering at Chelsea when he said, “We spoke to the players about it, and they fed back their disappointment, as well as mine. But equally, by now we’ve made sense of it, of course. But, the day after, we certainly didn’t. It was a challenge.” He continued adding, “There were a lot of home truths – me included, by the way, about what I expect from myself, from the staff, and from the players, and realigning, saying: ‘Right, you can only do it as a group. You can’t do it as individuals’.”

He expanded further adding, “The players have been disappointed. I must make that clear. It’s a funny thing about football nowadays, [people asking] ‘Do they care?’ They care. Trust me, they care. I care deeply about what we’re trying to achieve here. We’ve had a chat about it this morning to finish it off and go: ‘Right, that’s gone. We move forwards.’”

In squad news, there was both good news and bad to advise the pre-match media gathering as Dyche confirmed, “Jarrad Branthwaite and Dominic Calvert-Lewin trained, we were light today but both trained light and came through it, so we hope there is no reaction to that. Patto will be out for the season – he needs surgery, he’s got a very unfortunate injury. We’re disappointed on that one for him as much as us.”

He continued, “Seamus Coleman, we’re waiting on but hopefully it will calm down quickly – but touch-and-go, at best, for this weekend. Idrissa Gana should be okay. His calf settled and he trained today – similar, low-level training today but, he trained and he was okay.”

Lewis Dobbin is improving and Arnaut Danjuma was an unused substitute at Chelsea so, Dyche had decisions to make to engineer a much needed victory over Forest, and eventually named four changes in a starting eleven reading: Jordan Pickford, Ashley Young, James Tarkowski (c), Jarrad Branthwaite, Vitalii Mykolenko, Jack Harrison, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Andre Gomes, Dwight McNeil, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Calvert-Lewin.

The visitors have improved since the arrival of former Wolves and Tottenham manager, Nuno Espirito Santo at the City Ground but, still sit a point behind the Blues and have played a game more. This game, cruelly dubbed the Deduction Derby or El Deducto by sections of the media, pitched the two clubs to have been deducted points this season and who both await the results of their respective appeals.

The Forest manager feels the uncertainty is weighing heavy on his players when he noted, “When you are playing the season and you get this issue things become much harder because of the uncertainty, how it disturbs the whole harmony of the squad. We don’t know how many points we have because we still have an appeal. Maybe we get the four points back and everything changes? This becomes a problem, because you are working with something you can’t control.”

The Portuguese added, “Of course it is being spoken about at the training ground. It’s a point of distraction. It’s continuous, as every day there is something new. We are in similar situations. It’s very hard to manage this noise around you, this uncertainty you have. Us and Everton have been dealing with the same issues.”

Ahead of the game, Forest had two players – defender Willy Boly and striker Taiwo Awoniyi – definitely ruled out of contention with NES advising, “In the middle of the week, Anthony Elanga was able to do something with us. We are managing him until tomorrow and then will assess him for the game.” The Forest boss finally plumped for a starting line-up that read: Sels, Williams, Niakhate, Murrilo, Aina, Dominguez, Danilo, Reyna, Gibbs-White (c), Hudson-Odoi and Wood.

Our referee for this vital encounter on a bright sunny but cool afternoon was Anthony Taylor.

Goodison, looking resplendent with flags, banners and the Park End displaying 1878, was once again packed to the rafters and baying for the Blues to get off to a good, positive start.

Three free kicks in the first ninety seconds didn’t bode well for a free-flowing game, thankfully a trend that didn’t continue. Doucoure got back to block a low cross from Williams after he’d burst forward and played a one-two with Gibbs-White before Pickford had to beat away a powerful shot from Williams – Forest making the better of the opening five minutes.

An error by Murrilo allowed Harrison to take the ball from DCL and cross to win the games first corner that failed to overly trouble the Forest defence. Pickford sent a free kick long and Wood was happy to send it behind for a second Everton corner that saw Sels punch it away for a third corner that Andre Gomes sent low to the near post where Williams cleared far too easily.

A foul by Williams on Gomes earned the Blues another free kick wide on their left but disappointingly, Gomes overhit the set piece and it sailed harmlessly over and out for a goal kick. Branthwaite led a charge through the midfield to find DCL in the right channel and he played a poor ball into the Forest area with nobody even close to getting on the end of it. A quarter of an hour gone and whilst the energy levels looked good, the lack of quality and genuine threat in the final third was still the major area of concern for the Blues.

Niakhate conceded a free kick for afoul on DCL wide on the right, could we find a better delivery from this set piece? And the answer was a rather emphatic No, as Gomes hit the two-man wall with a dreadful free kick. Williams cleared a Young cross out to Mykolenko and he made a hash of his shot that ballooned high and wide into the Park End. An ankle tap by Young on Reyna saw the Forest player go down and VAR review for a possible penalty, thankfully they didn’t see anything to warrant a spot kick and we played on.

Everton were enjoying the better of the possession however, the alarming lack of a final ball is proving to be a real Achilles Heel for this team, as demonstrated when three first time passes in midfield found the ball reach McNeil and his pass towards DCL was easily intercepted and cleared by Forest. A poor clearance by Pickford went unpunished – both sides suffering a lack of quality on the ball in the final third of the field. Everton gor forward for Harrison to cross off the left flank and DCL rise to head but it was a comfortable gather for Sels.

Hudson-Odoi cut in off the Forest left to send in a low shot that Pickford didn’t hold but recovered quickly before Wood was able to pounce. In the 29th minute and somewhat unexpectedly, Everton took the lead as Gomes found Mykolenko wide on the left and his cross was only cleared as far as Idrissa Gana Gueye and the Senegalese controlled before sending a low shot from just outside the area into the far bottom corner and beyond the despairing dive of Sels.

It might not have been the cleanest strike of a football Goodison has ever witnessed but who cares, it had enough pace on it, was perfectly directed and the relief around the Grand Old Lady at having scored first was palpable, it was now down to the players to grow in confidence and hopefully build upon the lead.

Forest were now looking the more nervous and conceded another corner as Harrison and DCL combined after good approach work involving Mykolenko, Gomes and Doucoure. The corner again though failed to produce. Andre Gomes, for his disappointing set pieces thus far, was certainly the focal point of the Blues midfield, looking to find team mates in all areas of the pitch and helping out in front of the back four when needed.

Just before the 40-minute mark, a quite astonishing reaction save by Pickford at point blank range denied Wood after a mishit shot by Reyna fell to him and he looked nailed on to level the score, and the Blues keeper roared a celebration towards the packed terraces behind him. The importance of the result was clearly weighing on the minds of the Blues support inside Goodison as noise levels had dropped somewhat following the crescendo that had greeted the opening goal, and Forest were pushing hard for an equaliser before the interval.

Forest claimed a hand ball against Ashley Young before setting for a corner that Mykolenko headed clear and the Blues reacted angrily to play continuing while James Tarkowski was lying prone on the grass while Mykolenko headed another cross behind for a corner. Two added minutes were announced as a member of the Forest coaching staff was booked for protesting too vociferously and Forest won a two more quick corners in succession as DCL got back to defensive duties, the last one sailing behind and referee Taylor called time on a half that had been competitive and that Everton just about deserved to be leading.

Half time note for Mr.Dyche – better quality needed on set pieces an absolute necessity !!

Half Time: 1-0

Neither manager made any changes for the start of the second half with the Blues attacking a Gwladys Street End bathed in sunshine.

A fairly quiet opening to the second half saw Forest trying to press Everton back and they looked to boost their offensive threat after just seven minutes as Elanga replaced Reyna in the first change by NES. Aina conceded another corner to the Blues on the right that McNeil swung deep for Tarkowski to head down for DCL to shoot narrowly wide of the near post as he looked at it. Danilo played a ball for Hudson-Odoi who went down with Forest again claiming a penalty, referee Taylor instantly signalling that Young had won the ball cleanly. VAR again reviewed and concurred with the on-field official but, maybe Young had been a tad fortunate.

Everton were again incensed as Branthwaite went down and Forest were allowed to play on, Mykolenko getting back to defend well and force a stoppage to allow the Blues centre back to get some treatment on his left ankle. Forest were still to force the issue and just before the hour mark, Gibbs-White latched onto a loose ball and sent an early shot beyond Pickford and the far post.

DCL was the next to go down and immediately, Beto stripped off and prepared to come on while DCL received attention to his right knee. The change wasn’t made as DCL retuned to the fray but, Everton needed to improve as Forest were hunting them down too easily. The home crowd were beginning to vent some frustration and raised their voices in support as Pickford took a goal kick. Mykolenko found DCL with a long ball down the left flank but, Forest defended him well and were back on the front foot with Branthwaite heading a left wing cross clear.

Twenty-five minutes to play and it was looking like Everton had settled on defending their lead rather than looking to add to it. Young won a free kick from Hudson-Odoi and on 66 minutes, Beto did finally replace DCL with James Garner replacing Andre Gomes at the same time.

Everton were living dangerously as Forest kept coming forward, Sels in their goal relegated to the role of being a spectator as we passed 70 minutes. On a rare second half attack, Beto found Harrison who got away from his marker, his cross for McNeil coming out to Garner whose ball back was neither a cross not a shot and it sailed into the seats.

Everton were playing far, far too passively almost inviting Forest to come forward before Beto again fed Harrison to cross from the right with Doucoure catching Williams with a high boot and picking up a yellow card for his trouble.

And as in the first half Everton, almost accidentally scored to double their lead… Mykolenko and Branthwaite began the move down the left touchline before the ball was played inside to McNeil and Doucoure and back to Dwight McNeil to set his sights from 30 yards and hit a fine low shot that beat Sels and nestled into the back of the net off the post.

Goodison breathed relaxed and breathed easier with great support ringing down from the stands as Forest strained forward again and VAR was called upon to review a potential handball against James Tarkowski while Forest made a triple change, Dominguez, Danilo and Hudson-Odoi being replaced by Yates, Ribeiro and Origi respectively.

Jarrad Branthwaite saw yellow for claiming a handball by Yates that he too was booked for and then got forward to pressure Sels from a deep cross. Everton were now looking to cement the points with a third goal and Jack Harrison became the third booking for the home side as Forest looked to clear their lines.

Less than six minutes to play and Yates and Tarkowski enjoyed some push ‘n shove at a free kick that Mykolenko hooked clear. A deep cross by Aina for Wood saw Harrison clear the area and a foul by Garner saw Pickford punch away the free kick taken by Gibbs-White. Williams took a tumble into the family enclosure seats, with some wag complaining he hadn’t bought a ticket.

A minimum of nine added minutes were announced, nine minutes to defend or nine minutes to grab a third goal ?

A serious clash of heads saw both Beto and Gibbs-White crash to the ground with referee and players immediately calling for trainers and physios to attend to them. Beto looked to have come off the worst of the two and a stretcher was called for as the player lay prone on the grass and a lengthy delay ensued before he was carried off, the player raising his arm and giving a thumbs-up to the crowd for their support – fair play too to the Forest fans who gave him a warm round of applause.

Youssef Chermiti came on for the time remaining and was immediately felled by Danilo who was rightly booked for an agricultural challenge. For all their second half possession and pressure, Forest had never seriously troubled Jordan Pickford in the home goal and as the clock ticked down, it was the home support again raising their voices as Chermiti was carded for blocking a free kick.

Two long range strikes and that stunning save just before the break had earned the Blues what they wanted – the result – and a five point gap between them and the relegation places.

Full Time: 2-0

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