Only Ryan Giggs has won more Premier League games as a player than Frank Lampard but one of the division’s royalty is increasingly threatened with ejection from the ranks of the elite. Everton’s position grows ever more precarious. Ever-present in the top flight since 1954, now only goal difference separates them from the bottom three.
They were imperilled by a fourth consecutive league defeat and by results elsewhere. Relying on others to save them seems a flawed theory when they showed precious little inclination to save themselves. They believed that Goodison Park would make a difference. Instead a Merseysider did: Conor Coady, a former Liverpool player and lifelong fan who sealed Wolves’ first double over Everton since 1972-73.
They leapfrogged Tottenham, whereas Everton had been hammered 5-0 by Spurs. “This wasn’t more worrying than Tottenham,” said Lampard, but if Everton hit rock bottom in north London, a shambolic second half suggested improvement was limited. The boos at the final whistle were the most negative reaction Goodison has produced in Lampard’s reign but felt unsurprising after Jonjoe Kenny contrived to collect two cautions in three minutes and Everton ended up being outclassed by Rúben Neves.
The Wolves manager, Bruno Lage, said: “Rúben has the talent to be the top of the top.” But he left Everton nearer the bottom three and the contrast with Dele Alli, whose cameo was lamentable, was stark and cruel to the Englishman. The January signing seems an unfortunate fit for Everton: both have lost their way. For each, a decline in status could follow. Lampard was nonetheless defiant.
“The only thing that matters is to stay up,” he said. “We have to have the absolute desire and fight to get out of this. It has been a long time that we haven’t been winning enough games. That doesn’t change overnight.”
Yet it needs to change soon or one of the founder members of the Football League may not be meeting in the Premier League next season. “Going down,” came the taunt from the vocal visiting fans and, as Everton only have two wins in their past 20 league games, they may be right. They have not scored in the past four, whereas Wolves have an unexpectedly potent force.
Coady, who failed to register a shot on target in his first 87 Premier League appearances, has doubled his tally of Wolves goals this season from three to six. His third of the campaign was a wonderful header, curling away from Jordan Pickford from Neves’s cross as Wolves’ vice-captain and captain led by example. “Conor looks like a striker to score that,” Lage said with a smile. “It was a magnificent goal.”
It allowed Wolves to display their superiority. Raúl Jiménez volleyed past one post and Daniel Podence drilled a shot past the other. Neves is known more for his passing than his dribbling but he embarked on a 40-yard solo run before Marçal had a shot saved by Pickford. “One of the best second halves we did,” said Lage. Everton could not say the same. When Kenny made his premature exit, Lampard’s plans were in ruins.
They have been subject to regular rethinks. Lampard showed a ruthless streak as Everton began without the spine of Monday’s side. Dominic Calvert-Lewin was ill, with the manager unsure when he will return, but Allan and Michael Keane were dropped in a switch to 3-4-3.
A winning formula remains elusive but Richarlison at least slow a dynamism to laboring Calvert-Lewin has lacked of late. Everton’s roving frontrunner often showed the slipperiness to escape the attentions of Wolves’ three centre-backs. Richarlison burst beyond them to latch on to a pass from the recalled Vitalii Mykolenko. The excellent José Sá parried the Brazilian’s shot. Later, Richarlison mounted a one-man attempt to rescue a point, glancing a post with a header when offside and bending a shot into the side netting.
But Everton were stripped of momentum after his early effort. In a stop-start spell, Hwang Hee-chan went down injured three times in swift succession, eventually necessitating his withdrawal from him. An apologetic wave to the Gwladys Street End was not enough to spare him jeers. Wolves served as irritants again when his replacement Podence collapsed in histrionic fashion in a seeming attempt to get Pickford sent off. Instead, Neves and co found a more stylish way of frustrating Everton, leaving Lampard still in search of the win that will halt their slide.
“We have 12 games [left] and we are waiting for that moment when things turn in our favour,” he said. They are 12 games from an escape, or from ignominy.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism