Thursday, May 5, 2022

Everton steer the great old teams of their past against Chelsea and secure a crucial three points

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Richarlison’s goal and Jordan Pickford’s exploits ensure the Toffees keep fate in their own hands before a rocking Goodison Park

If Everton are to survive it is Goodison Park, the stadium they want to leave for two decades, that will save them.

EVerona 1-0 Chelsea (Richarlison 46′)

Since his appointment in February, Frank Lampard has picked up 13 points from as many games and all have come under the latticework and ancient pillars of what will soon give way to an arena on the Mersey coast.

The Old Lady was at her most defiant. At the end, blue smoke and blue flags poured from the stands, grown men hugged and punched the air while loudspeakers played the old songs that no longer sounded like nostalgia for a forgotten, irretrievable age. With their backs against the wall, this was a show worthy of the great ole teams of the past.

Goodison has not seen relegation since the days of Clement Attlee but Burnley’s late win at Watford on Saturday had brought the chasm into focus. English football has not suffered major losses since Aston Villa’s demise in 1987, five years after they became European champions.

Everton are still in control of their own destiny after Cesar Azpilicueta was dispossessed by Richarlison 20 yards from his own goal a minute after the restart. They are two points behind Leeds with a game in hand.

Many have wondered if a spirited Brazilian is really what Everton need in days like these, but once through he slammed the ball into the corner of Edouard Mendy’s net like this was a competition with nothing on it would ride.

Despite Chelsea hitting both posts and heroics from Jordan Pickford, Everton more than survived. Chelsea have won once at Goodison since Lampard left Stamford Bridge as a player in 2014 and they haven’t now.

Even from a distance it felt like a crucial afternoon. Some Everton fans had tried to disrupt Chelsea’s preparations by setting off fireworks in front of the team hotel. The carriage carrying Lampard and his team sped down Goodison Road shrouded in blue smoke.

As in last Sunday’s Merseyside derby, Everton were ready to mix it up, despite having greater offensive prowess than at Anfield. Once again they reached the break goalless. Anthony Gordon, the only diamond spotted in the season’s rubble, drew a free-kick while the game was still being timed in seconds.

Even after Chelsea had started to push Everton back enough to put Alex Iwobi on duty as the fifth defender, the 21-year-old remained Everton’s most likely threat, flicking a shot just wide of Mendy’s goal and another in the seven minutes Pressure pressed injury time crawled through.

In midfield, it was the kind of play a Kendall or Ball would have recognized. There were deft touches where Kai Havertz and Mason Mount slipped the ball between them, but mostly it was physical and uncompromising.

It was epitomized by Mount Yerry pulling Mina down and then knocking him over, starting a brawl that saw Pickford run into the Chelsea half and three players booked. Jorginho, one of those kept awake by Saturday night’s fireworks, didn’t reappear in the second half.

Two minutes after the restart, Richarlison grabbed the lead and had shown Vitalii Mykolenko a little more composure when the goal fell moments later, Goodison might not have bitten his collective fingernails to the core. The Ukrainian threw his head in his hands, although he should have consoled himself with the thought that he’s unsuited to scoring at left-back.

Chelsea regained his balance. Everton, defending with composure and passion, dug his fingertips into the advantage Richarlison had given them and didn’t let go. It was lucky to be ridden. Mason Mount, who had been developed as a player by Lampard while managing Derby, fired a shot that hit both posts. Jordan Pickford fell from a point-blank shot from Antonio Ruediger, hitting him full in the face.

This was an afternoon of singing, loud and noisy, desperate at times, but one sounded clear. Goalkeepers at clubs struggling against relegation don’t fare well but Jordan Pickford could still be England’s number one.

Although Everton’s fate is still in their hands, Frank Lampard argued that he did not see the win over Chelsea as a defining moment.

Two points behind Burnley and Leeds with a game in hand could suggest the advantage lies with Everton. However, Lampard said the concept of taking control of your own destiny is very different at the top of the Premier League than in a relegation battle.

“If this was Liverpool vs Manchester City you would probably think they would win every game but do we expect Burnley to win every game? Do we expect Leeds to win every game?” he said. “The bottom line is we need to get points from home to get where we want to be.”

The last time Everton clinched a point away from home was at Stamford Bridge on December 16. They have to travel to Leicester and Watford and will end the season at Arsenal.

Burnley’s win at Watford on Saturday meant a loss to Chelsea, with Everton five points behind safety. “I mentioned it briefly to the players,” Lampard said. “I wanted to make sure it didn’t inspire fear or hopelessness.

“It was an important moment to speak about the reality of the situation. There are several ways you can tell players to believe. It’s not enough to be good guys. You need discipline.”

This was the third time in four games that Chelsea had failed to win and their manager Thomas Tuchel conceded a place in the top four was no longer a certainty.

“I said many weeks ago that I never feel safe,” he said. “We’ve got four points from the last four games, that will never be enough. At the moment we don’t get points if we play well and we lose if we play well. It’s a bad mix.”

Tuchel, who was woken twice by Everton fans firing fireworks outside the Liverpool Hilton where the team spent Saturday night, argued his side’s biggest mistakes were in defence. “It happens too often that we struggle to play without making big mistakes.”

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