Now THAT was more like it!
After eleven games without a win, an outstanding display full of energy, pressing, fight and quality in the final third saw us pull off a shock 0-2 win at Goodison Park.
The goals came via that man Callum Wilson, who not only lead the line superbly but fired past Jordan Pickford twice, with one a perfectly weighted glancing header and the other an emphatic finish at the end of a 90th minute counter.
He was the stand out player and MOTM, but we were brilliant all over the pitch, with Almiron everywhere, Hayden a colossus in midfield, Fraser a menace, Manquillo rock solid, Schar monstrous at the back and Lewis much improved, too.
Hats off to Bruce for FINALLY going with four at the back and to Graeme Jones too – the new assistant who appears to have had an immediate impact on the players!
The win sends us NINE clear of the drop zone and up to 22 points, giving us a huge lift ahead of next week’s clash with Crystal Palace.
Bruce made only one change, bringing Manquillo in for Murphy, however the formation had changed, with us moving back to a four-man defence as Hayden pushed up into a midfield role in front of Lascelles and Schar:
It was a mixed first five minutes. In one sense we were given them too much room down their left and saw Darlow make a nervy start – flapping at a few crosses and getting nowhere near one that Mina headed over.
That said, we were looking a bit hungrier to both win the ball back and get it forward when we did, with the 4-2-3-1 formation and improved pressing giving us better spells of possession in the Everton half.
Another free header came and went for Mina, however it was us who came closest 25 minutes in, with some sharp link up play between Almiron, Hendrick and Wilson ending in a deflected Shelvey shot that went just inches wide of Pickford’s far post.
One concern was the fact Lascelles and Shelvey had both picked up early yellow cards, leaving both walking a tightrope with well over an hour left to play.
Callum Wilson looked razor sharp from the off and almost found his 50th Premier League goal, heading a brilliant Fraser corner off the bar. It looked to be going in but highlights showed Pickford got an all important touch to tip it onto the woodwork.
Pressing higher up the pitch was a risk/reward approach, but it saw us look far more present in the game and anything but the passive side that folded from the off in our last away game at Aston Villa.
More great link up play followed. Wilson was central to it and was hacked down on the edge of the box after a sweeping counter involving Shelvey, Fraser and Lewis ended with our £20m striker being tripped by Keane after a smart turn fooled him. The free-kick was wasted as Shelvey, who floated it over as he always tends to, however we were easily the better side and playing as well as we have under Steve Bruce. Who would’ve thought a 4-2-3-1 formation with Almiron in his best position would = better football!
That said, Everton were making a habit of finding space in the box the odd time they broke forward, allowing Rodriguez a shot on goal which Darlow palmed clear and a Richarlison effort that flew well wide.
The half-time whistle arrived and it’s fair to say that was probably one of the best first halves we’ve seen under Steve Bruce. No goal to show for it, but for once there were genuine reasons to be hopeful and happy with our performance.
The second half kicked off and it was noticeable we were sitting five yards deeper and not pressing with quite the same intensity, with Lascelles forced off with a knock on the 55th minute and replaced by Ciaran Clark.
A blow to what had been a steady defensive showing up until now, however the first big opening of the second half came our way soon after…and what a chance it was.
Wilson held it up, Almiron broke into the Everton half and got it wide to Fraser, who delivered a brilliant ball across the box to his ex-Bournemouth partner. He’d been razor sharp until now, but Wilson dragged his shot wide, missing a HUGE chance to finish off what was a cutting counter attack.
A bad miss, but another promising sign nonetheless – and that trend continued as we kept up the pressure and grew into the second half after Everton’s initial spell of possession.
The front three were linking well and causing Everton havoc, and they were then joined by Allan Saint-Maximin with just under 25 minutes remaining.
There was a newfound confidence and belief about us. Our pressing and competitiveness in all areas of the field was one clear positive, but our passing, decision making and much improved composure on the ball was there for all to see – we just needed a goal to show for it!
Thankfully, that arrived on the 73rd minute mark and it was that man Callum Wilson!
After working hard to force another corner, Shelvey’s whipped cross was met by a brilliant glancing header from Callum Wilson which flew into the far corner past a sprawling Jordan Pickford. A superb finish and a 1-0 lead we thoroughly deserved!
The key now was for us to keep pressing and maintain that level of energy, composure and threat on the break that kept Everton quiet up until now.
As you’d expect, Everton upped their urgency and pushed up the field, but we restricted them to hopeful crosses in the box and shots from range up until the 86th minute mark – where Wilson was presented with a chance to kill the game.
After Almiron slipped a lovely reverse pass in behind, Wilson rounded Pickford and saw his shot from a tight angle come back off the post! Brilliant combination play from arguably our two best players today, but would it be a moment we live to regret?
The answer was no, with us not only surviving five minutes of added time but scoring another through Wilson to pull off a MASSIVE 2-0 win over Everton.
Some clever play between ASM and Lewis and a good assist from the latter to give Wilson the chance to bury the game and bag that second goal his display thoroughly deserved!
Nine clear of the bottom three and a performance FULL of everything we’ve been asking for in recent months.
The Graeme Jones effect or the result of Bruce finally picking a system that suits our players? Who knows, but how nice it was to actually enjoy watching us play with energy, ideas, passion and confidence!
Let’s hope we can learn from this, grow in confidence and kick on now when Crystal Palace come to town on Tuesday!