When the bones are picked out of this season and if, as now seems likely, Everton have failed to secure Europa League qualification at the least, it will be the Blues’ home form that will stick out a mile as the determining factor. Few teams have used the pandemic’s empty stadia better than Carlo Ancelotti’s to pick up points on the road and, perhaps, only Liverpool’s home record has matched Everton’s in terms of how surprisingly bad it has been.
Goodison Park has been a fortress for the Toffees at times in recent years and Ancelotti didn’t oversee a home defeat as manager until the final day of last season in a meaningless contest against Bournemouth. But without that reliably packed house roaring them on from the Grand Old Lady’s stands, things just haven’t been the same.
Just one home win in eight before tonight had seen Everton’s once-robust Champions League dreams wither and against Spurs they were killed off in agonising fashion, by two defensive lapses — the second as embarrassing as it was horrendous and costly — and more profligacy in front of goal from Richarlison just when he needed match-winning composure in Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s absence.
Michael Keane hasn’t been in the best of form for a while now, perhaps a consequence of (or reason behind) losing his place in the England squad and Mason Holgate has been shuffled around across the back four and even into midfield in recent months. Unfortunately, with Holgate deployed in the Yerry Mina-sized hole in front of Jordan Pickford and Keane looking disconcertingly unsure of himself throughout, they erred in combination on two crucial occasions; their mistakes falling to arguably the last Premier League striker you would want them to in the form of Harry Kane.
It was cruel on the Blues because this was almost everything that the home performances against Leeds, West Ham, Newcastle, Fulham and Burnley very painfully were not. Everton were energetic, purposeful, intense and they played some lovely football at times, exemplified by Gylfi Sigurdsson’s second goal, a magnificently-worked moved and composed finish. Somewhere, Ancelotti’s men found the requisite fire in their belly that feels like it has been absent since their last meeting with Tottenham in that barmy 5-4 cup tie in February.
But in failing to pick up so much as a point in any of those five matches and also giving up that late lead against Crystal Palace, Everton didn’t have the leeway that would have allowed them to drop points against a rival for European qualification on the back of the kinds of individual errors for which a manager can’t really legislate. Pick a up just a point in each of those five games and the Blues would still be level on points with Chelsea in fifth; now, however, they remain in eighth and face an uphill task to finish in the Europa League spots.
If there is a positive it’s that though there’s a feeling it will have come too late, a return to the kind of form and football that propelled Everton into the Champions League reckoning in the first place earlier this season would give the Toffees a good chance to making Europe. Another few surprise results in a season full of them over the remaining seven games and the door might just remain ajar.
If it doesn’t, there were, at least renewed signs that this team can move the ball with pace through midfield, attack through the middle when James Rodriguez has the space to work and string some attractive passing moves together. The trick will be to do it against less open teams than Spurs but that remains a challenge for Messers Brands and Ancelotti to puzzle over in terms of finding the right players to add the necessary quality.
Though Dominic Calvert-Lewin was ruled out again with an adductor problem and André Gomes wasn't risked, Ancelotti was finally able to include Allan in a starting line-up that saw Holgate drop into a central defensive three with Keane and Ben Godfrey. Allan’s return alongside Tom Davies to provide the tenacity in front of the defence and that gave James license to be the world-class talent that he is and he enjoyed his best outing in Royal Blue for many weeks.
The Colombian graced this contest with his range of passing and vision but also provided the necessary grit while also taking some punishment in the process, including with the foul that drew a penalty for Everton’s first goal after half an hour. Prior to that, they had been hugely unfortunate to fall behind to Spurs' only real chance of the first half, one gratefully snapped up by Kane.
Tenacious in the press and exhibiting the running in midfield that had been lacking against the Seagulls, Everton started well and carved out the first genuine opportunity when James threaded Richarlison through the defence but his shot was pushed away by Hugo Lloris in the 22nd minute.
Just five minutes later, however, Tottenham went ahead very much against the run of play. A flighted cross from the left by Tanguy Ndombele was glanced on by Keane as Holgate appeared to lose his footing, which left Kane all the time he needed to chest the ball and volley past Pickford.
Everton were level within just four minutes, though, after Sigurdsson broke away down the left and cut it back to the top of the box for Rodriguez who went down under a clumsy challenge by Sergio Reguilon and referee Michael Oliver awarded a penalty.
That the Colombian appeared to catch the turf with his foot before contact was pored over by the likes of Jamie Carragher in the Sky Sports studio but all the evidence pointed to the contact on James’s back prompting that uncharacteristic mis-step and Reguilon would likely have cleaned him out on the follow-through anyway. In any event, Sigurdsson stepped up and sent the goalkeeper the wrong to confidently despatch the spot-kick into the other corner and level things up.
The Icelandic international smacked a direct free-kick into the defensive wall, James tested Lloris with a shot and Iwobi fired a goal-bound shot into Sigurdsson after a giveaway by a Tottenham defender before a nicely-worked move almost put Everton in front. Rodriguez and Sigurdsson played a neat one-two in the box and the Colombian got a shot off but the keeper was there again to make an excellent save.
Then, in first-half stoppage time, James whipped a free-kick behind the visiting defence which Godfrey met at the far post but he couldn't keep his header down and it flashed over.
The half-time interval appeared to disrupt Everton a little and it was Spurs who looked the more likely to score next as Son Hueng-Min turned Keane and tried to sneak a shot inside the near post but Pickford saved well.
Kane fed Ndombele a few minutes later and his drive deflected off Lucas Digne and dropped onto the top of Pickford's goal before Toby Alderweireld planted a near-post header off a corner onto the outside of the post.
However, a timely and prescient substitution from Ancelotti turned the match in Everton's favour. Seamus Coleman replaced the willing but largely ineffective Alex Iwobi as right wing-back on the hour mark and within a minute, the Irishman had laid on the Toffees' second goal; a real belter.
Coleman exchanged passes with Richarlison to take him around Eric Dier, he picked Sigurdsson out perfectly with his centre and the Icelander guided a beautiful first-time shot across Lloris and into the far side of the goal to make it 2-1. It was as good a team goal as Everton have scored all season.
Unfortunately, that lead didn't last very long either. Erik Lamela, recently on as a sub himself, clipped an innocuous ball in from the Spurs right, Keane stooped to nod it to Sigurdsson in the box but his header hit Holgate, fell to Kane and the England striker needed no further invitation to bury a first-time finish past Pickford.
Again Everton seemed to lose their way for a spell and Kane grazed the woodwork with a flicked header from a Lucas Moura cross while Lamela floated a shot over and Kane had a close-range shot charged down but the best chance to win it fell the home side's way with five minutes left.
The indefatigable Allan intercepted the ball in the centre-circle, Richarlison found Josh King, on for Davies as Ancelotti went for the win in the closing stages, and when his shot was beaten away by Lloris it fell to Richarlison but the Brazilian's composure deserted him and he lashed it well over the crossbar.
And that, bar a couple of late corners and sliced James effort at the death, was that. A trip to Emirates next where rejuvenated Arsenal await but another display like this and Calvert-Lewin back in the ranks would give the Blues every chance of keeping the Gunners at arm’s length in the table and, perhaps, gaining some ground on those above them.
Everton are without top scorer Dominic Calvert-Lewin for a second successive game as they face a crucial Premier League clash with Tottenham on Friday night.
Jordan Pickford and Allan start, with Josh King on the bench but André Gomes is not available after all four sat out Monday's game on the south coast.
There's still a relatively weak bench that again features not one but two spare goalkeepers, the massively overlooked Nkounkou, untried U18s players John, Price and Welch, and U23s regular, Nathan Broadhead.
Spurs kicked things off and Son had a shot blocked before he was fouled by Davies. At the other end, Sigurdsson tried a long-range curler that didn't curl enough. Højbjerg earned himself a very early yellow card for pulling Sigurdsson back.
Allan tried to release Richarlison with a swift forward pass but it was intercepted. Some neat play out of trouble by the Brazilian was let down by a wayward pass too far ahead of Iwobi. The first 15 minutes passed with nothing really of note.
Davies picked up a yellow for sliding in on Ndombele. James whipped in a lovely ball to Richarlison who appeared to be in on goal, but Lloris was more than a match for his attempt to curl the shot past him. At the other end, Kane was gifted the ball all alone in front of Pickford and made no mistake. Keane was made out to be the guilty party with the cross to Kane glancing off the top of his head.
Rodriguez went to strike a shot and was clipped by Reguilón... a penalty, said the ref, and Sigurdsson said, "Thank you very much!" Richarlison was next to be fouled, this time outside the Spurs area, conceding the set-Piece to Sigurdsson, who could only put it poorly into the wall.
Everton finally attacked with some numbers, first, Rodriguez lashing in a shot, Then Iwobi strangely firing at Sigurdsson instead of the gaol, then Rodriguez again, still unable to beat the broad reach of Lloris.
Richarlison saw another shot blocked behind for a corner, Sigurdsson with an outswinger from the right finding Richarlison but his header was too far out to beat Lloris. Holgate and Davies bash heads.
With 3 minutes added on before the break, Rodriguez curled in a tricky free-kick that bounced up too strongly for Godfrey ghosting in.
Everton had a couple of corners that came to nought after the restart. Spurs won one of their own of a dangerous cross off Digne. Then Son ran in past Keane and Pickford batted it behind. Everton looked to break but Sigurdsson stumbled on the pass from Richarlison. Some neat passing looked promising until Davies sent it to Iwobi and you just knew a Spurs player would have it next.
Ndombele saw his shot blocked by Digne for a corner, Alderweireld trying to glance his header in at the near post with Pickford covering. Richarlison was denied by the offside rule as Coleman replaced Iwobi. His first contribution was a lovely one-two followed by a low driven cross that Sigurdsson happily clipped hard past Lloris, a very nicely worked goal by the Blues!
Keane and Holgate conspired accidentally to set up Kane yet again and he smacked it home with gratitude as Holgate and Keane had gone for the same ball. Kane then glanced a looping header off the angle.
Lamela ran forward and scooped a shot over as it was Spurs who suddenly looked more likely to get the winner in the last quarter of the game. King came on 8 mins before the end as Coleman drove a weak shot well wide.
A wonderful interception should have seen Everton get the winner but Josh King was nowhere near clever enough with his shot and the clearance to Richarlison was shockingly shanked with the open goal gapping. What a miss!
Everton pressed with Rodriguez producing some moments of magic and a couple of tricky out-swinging corners but not enough to make up for the goals that had been presented gift-wrapped for Harry Kane, who limped off before the end, Alli on in his place before the final whistle.
Scorers: Sigurdsson (pen:31',62'); Kane (27',68')
Everton: Pickford, Holgate, Keane, Godfrey, Digne, Allan, Davies (83' King) [Y:21'], James, Sigurdsson, Iwobi (61' Coleman), Richarlison.
Subs: Virginia, Olsen, Nkounkou, Broadhead, John, Price, Welch.
Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Aurier, Alderweireld, Rodon, Dier, Reguilón (64' Lucas Moura), Højbjerg [Y:7'], Sissoko, Ndombele (64' Lamela), Son, Kane.
Subs: Hart, Sanchez, Winks, Bale, Lo Celso, Alli, Tanganga.
Referee: Michael Oliver
VAR: Andre Marriner
Everton will be without top scorer Dominic Calvert-Lewin for a second successive game as they face a crucial Premier League clash with Tottenham on Friday night.
The striker missed the 0-0 draw at Brighton on Monday but Carlo Ancelotti was hopeful he would be fit to face Spurs, the Blues' immediate rivals for a European place as the season heads down the final straight.
However, Calvert-Lewin continues to be troubled by an adductor problem, although he is expected to be fit for the trip to Arsenal next week along with Yerry Mina who picked up a similar problem against the Seagulls.
Jordan Pickford, Allan, Josh King and André Gomes should be available tomorrow after all four sat out Monday's game on the south coast and, assuming they are all ready and able to play at full capacity.
They will give the manager much-needed senior options after he was forced to name a massively under-strength bench against Brighton, one that featured untried 18s players and U23s regular, Nathan Broadhead, who came on in the closing minutes to make his League debut for the Toffees.
The availability of Gomes and Allan will come as particular boost as Everton struggled to name a full midfield last time out. Mason Holgate acquitted himself well in the holding role but he is not a natural midfielder and Tom Davies was over-burdened as the “legs” in the middle of the park charged with pushing the team forward.
That's a role more suited to Allan while Gomes, who tweaked a hamstring against Crystal Palace 10 days ago, will hopefully add some of the craft that was missing from the midfield when James Rodriguez wasn't on the ball.
At the back, Mina's absence could be compensated for by Holgate dropping back and Ben Godfrey continuing in a central-defensive three that would allow Lucas Digne license to push forward down the left flank.
Up front, Richarlison will be charged with leading the line solo, perhaps supplemented more closely by James if Gylfi Sigurdsson drops back to the substitutes' bench.
This Friday night match brings together two teams struggling for form, inspiration and points and without victory both Spurs and Everton can almost certainly kiss goodbye any notions of qualifying for the Champions League.
Realistically, both clubs have passed up the opportunity currently being taken by West Ham to mount a realistic top-four challenge, leaving the Europa League as the carrot for the team that can drag themselves out of their recent funk and pick up enough points to finish in fifth or sixth to secure a place in the second-tier Continental competition. The Europa Conference League remains the fall-back but there are no guarantees for either Tottenham or Everton given that Arsenal and Leeds have hit some form and closed the gap behind them.
With Jose Mourinho under mounting pressure for North Londoners' poor results and his open criticism of his players, Spurs come into the game sitting one point above the Blues in seventh place but having played a game more. A convincing 4-1 demolition of Crystal Palace a month ago was followed by derby defeat to Arsenal and a dismal exit from the Last 16 of the Europa League at the hands of Dinamo Zagreb.
They won at Aston Villa but were pegged back by Newcastle at St James's Park before being convincingly bested by Manchester United at home last time out. Though they have lost to Everton twice already this, latterly in that rollercoaster FA Cup 5th Round tie at Goodison Park that was wholly out-of-character for a mostly subdued and shot-shy Toffees outfit, Mourinho's side remains blessed with hugely talented players like Harry Kane, Giovani Lo Celso, Gareth Bale and Son Hueng-Min.
If they come to Merseyside in the right mood they will pose a stern test for Everton but, just as they did in the cup, they might also coax an energetic display out of Ancelotti's charges whose top-four hopes will remain alive with a win given that they still have a game in hand against Villa hanging out there. Failure to win, however, and it will be a nervous grind over the remaining eight games to try and secure European qualification of some description.
Kick-off: 8pm, Friday 16 April 2021 on Sky Sports
Referee: Michael Oliver
VAR: Andre Marriner
Last Time: Everton 1 - 1 Tottenham Hotspur
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Holgate, Keane, Godfrey, Digne, Davies, Allan, Gomes, Rodriguez, Richarlison