It won’t be the best goal of Anthony Gordon’s career, but it could turn out to be the most important. The boyhood Evertonian brought his club a precious victory in their increasingly difficult bid to avoid relegation as Manchester United’s top four prospects suffered a serious setback.
Gordon’s deflected strike in the first half was the difference between an Everton side giving up for their lives and a United side shamefully following the moves. They enjoyed plenty of possession but a spiritless and passionless display underlined the extent of the task the caretaker manager will bequeath to likely successor Erik ten Hag.
Frank Lampard still faces a huge job to keep Everton in the top flight, but here’s the answer he wanted to accusations that his players lacked the character and quality to survive. Ben Godfrey was immense in central defence, Fabian Delph and Alex Iwobi tireless in midfield, while Richarlison and Vitalii Mykolenko gave everything to keep a crucial three points.
Apprehension had stalked Goodison after two damaging and self-defeating defeats at West Ham and Burnley had pushed Everton closer to the trap and heightened suspicions that their players were mentally down. Lampard responded by recalling Allan and Michael Keane from suspension, dropping Abdoulaye Doucouré and turning to Delph’s experience in central midfield. It was the 32-year-old’s seventh appearance in another injury-plagued season, but his 200th in the Premier League overall.
Delph and Allan provided a deep but valuable shield to a defense that caused its own problems given Keane’s tendency to concede possession cheaply.
It was a shoddy game, as you’d expect from a side mired in relegation issues, but not one aspiring to qualify for the Champions League. United held off a brilliant but brief opening from Everton with minimal fuss to dominate possession and force their hosts into a retreat. Jordan Pickford saved well from Marcus Rashford after Delph headed a Bruno Fernandes free kick dangerously towards the United striker as he lurked unmarked on the edge of the penalty area.
The Everton keeper denied Rashford again, with a smart save down to his right, when Fernandes’ inviting cross found the striker bouncing between two defenders.
Everton had threatened little. Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s difficult recovery from a long-term injury has tested the patience of the home crowd, as did Allan when he was stripped in midfield by Cristiano Ronaldo. Still, Everton found a lifeline in the aftermath. Gordon challenged himself to regain possession and suddenly his team was on the front foot. Richarlison’s attempt to find Iwobi inside the area was intercepted by Nemanja Matic, starting in place of the injured Scott McTominay, but his touch found Gordon alone outside the box. He drilled a shot on goal, David de Gea had covered it, but it took a massive hip deflection from Harry Maguire and sailed past the poorly started keeper. Some considerable weight on Everton lifted.
Keane passed from a Gordon free kick moments later. Richarlison nearly doubled with a deflected second goal when, after catching Pickford’s long clearance beautifully, his shot looped over De Gea via Victor Lindelof’s heel. The goalkeeper reacted superbly to tip his bar. The same couldn’t be said for his teammates.
The visitors lost Fred to injury in the first half, but the introduction of Paul Pogba did nothing for the urgency or creativity of their performance. Rangnick begged for a response on the touchline, Ronaldo also expressed annoyance, earning a late booking for kicking a dead ball into the crowd, but the end product was non-existent. The few promising situations they created were repelled by Godfrey and Keane, who delivered a vastly improved second-half display.
Everton looked to protect their lead for much of the second half, but a penalty appeal was overturned when Gordon battled with Alex Telles. Neither the referee, Jonathan Moss, nor VAR have been moved.
There was angst in the home ranks when fourth official Martin Atkinson signaled five minutes of time out. Ronaldo had a great chance as Maguire headed his way but Pickford again made a vital save and Everton were pardoned.
Richarlison, Iwobi and Mykolenko all collapsed to the ground in exhaustion and relief at the final whistle. They are not finished yet.