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Gritty Cardiff win shows Everton have turned a corner

This time, a familiar story had a happier ending. At last, the Blues are finding ways to break teams down

Everton FC v Cardiff City - Premier League
Gylfi Sigurðsson’s seventh goal was enough to edge Everton past Cardiff
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

When Everton eased to a 3-1 win against Brighton & Hove Albion three weeks ago, manager Marco Silva labelled it their best home performance this season.

A poor conceded goal aside, the Toffees put in a largely flawless showing that day, as the terrifying trio of Bernard, Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurðsson combined time and again to pierce the Seagulls’ defence wide open.

While Saturday’s narrow 1-0 home over lowly Cardiff City did not outshine the Brighton performance, Silva may, in fact, have learnt more about his side from the triumph against the Bluebirds.

Against a newly-promoted side languishing in the relegation zone with the second-worst defensive record in the league, to predict a hammering could hardly be considered the most outlandish statement.

But in truth, it was never going to be that sort of game. Cardiff were predictably resilient, if unambitious, embodying the sort of Yorkshire grit long-associated with their wily Sheffield-born manager Neil Warnock.

Everton FC v Cardiff City - Premier League
Cardiff were well-organised and proved tricky opponents for Everton on Saturday
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

On paper, it bore all the hallmarks of an exact replica of the 1-1 home draw with Huddersfield Town in September, when Everton simply could not penetrate an overcrowded, dogged line of defenders.

And for the first half on Saturday, it played out exactly according to the script. For all of Everton’s possession and endeavour, they lacked the sort of creativity that arrived in droves against Brighton, while a 43rd-minute booking for time-wasting for Cardiff goalkeeper Neil Etheridge rather typified the visitors’ unenterprising approach.

Crucially, though, this time the winning goal came, as Gylfi Sigurðsson stroked a rebound into an empty net just before the hour mark after Etheridge had saved from Theo Walcott; the sense of catharsis emanating around Goodison as palpable as the acrid taste of smoke from the pyrotechnics in the away end.

While not even Warnock could deny Everton warranted the three points, it was the sort of game the Blues would have thrown away last season, and in that respect made it just as satisfying a win as the more emphatic victories against Brighton or Fulham, for instance.

The Whites’ far more open, cavalier attitude played right into Everton’s hands when they visited Goodison in September; though Silva’s men had to bide their time before breaking the deadlock, a comfortable win never seemed in doubt from the moment Sigurðsson opened the scoring, and so it transpired, as Fulham were on the end of a 3-0 beating.

Games against more creatively limited sides like Cardiff and Huddersfield are an entirely different kettle of fish, so for Everton to have now demonstrated they can find ways to win various kinds of football matches is further evidence of the enormous progress already made in Silva’s first season in charge.

Everton v Huddersfield Town - Premier League
Everton came unstuck against Huddersfield in September
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Cardiff were, of course, forced to alter the game plan following the goal, and Everton were arguably a little underwhelming in the final half-hour - at least from an attacking sense.

But ultimately, the three points never looked under threat from the moment Sigurðsson scored his seventh goal this season, and Everton fairly comfortably held on to a win which lifted them to sixth, their highest league position for two years.

The Blues will face a wholly different test in next Sunday’s Merseyside Derby, and with second-placed Liverpool’s electrifying front three, improving defence and excellent home record against Everton, the Toffees will inevitably be underdogs to take anything from the game.

Silva will not adopt as negative an approach as Sam Allardyce famously did at Anfield last season, when Everton escaped with a rather fortuitous point despite managing just three shots and 21 per cent of possession, much to the bemusement of Reds boss Jürgen Klopp.

Liverpool v Everton - Premier League
Wayne Rooney’s penalty rescued a point for Everton at a snowy Anfield last December
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

But even if Everton walk back across Stanley Park empty-handed yet again, Silva can at least take heart, ahead of consecutive home games against Newcastle United and Watford FC, that his team have now showed their ability to cut open even the most congested defences.

This is a problem Silva inherited, rather than one he created; think of the 1-0 home defeats to Stoke City, Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion under Roberto Martínez, the latter of which saw Everton create 34 shots to no avail, or the late equaliser needed to rescue a point against bottom club Swansea City under Ronald Koeman.

We already knew Everton could pass their way to three points under Silva, but on Saturday, they showed a welcome new facet to their game, the like of which Evertonians have not seen since perhaps the days of David Moyes.

Cardiff may have had the manager from the Steel City, but it was Silva whose side possessed steel in spades on Saturday.