It has been quite the week for Everton Football Club. Even for their standards the past few days have plumbed new depths.
The woeful defeat to Liverpool’s reserves was the final straw for many fans, with the usual feeling of gut-wrenching disappointment manifesting itself in the form of all-out fury, featuring training ground protests and a player arguing with fans on social media.
I usually wouldn’t condone angry trips to Finch Farm to have it out with the players but on this occasion I think it was justified (especially as reports of threats of violence were wide of the mark, they just wanted answers). And fair play to Marcel Brands for listening to their concerns and tempering what could have become a nasty situation.
Fabian Delph is far from Everton’s biggest problem but his reaction to some supporters on social media doesn’t help. As frustrating as it may be, he has to ignore the abuse and do his talking on the pitch.
In the middle of this wild, royal blue maelstrom of emotion is Carlo Ancelotti. He has seen this all before and is not going to be overawed by it. His calm and authoritative pre-match press conference was that of a man in control and who knows what needs to be done. Just listening to him speak for 15 minutes made me feel better about the club’s future.
The yawning chasm between the fans and the players is arguably as wide as ever. But not for a long time has the man in the dugout had such universal support.
In a way, Sunday’s defeat does not change much. We know there needs to be wholesale changes to the squad and it was the usual culprits who attracted most of the supporters’ ire. But what it may have done is speed up some players’ departure through the exit door, with Ancelotti likely to have a clearer idea of who he wants to keep and who to let go.
The focus now, as urged by Ancelotti in his press conference, is to show a positive response.
Everton supporters are quick to let players know if they let their standards slip. But they will also back you to the hilt if you show willingness to improve. A good performance and result on Saturday will begin to heal some wounds.
After avoiding relegation and reaching the FA Cup semi-final last season, some eyebrows were raised, from the wider football world at least, when Brighton chose to dispense with manager Chris Hughton shortly after the final game of the campaign.
Seagulls supporters will view things differently, pointing to a turgid, overly defensive style of play. Their FA Cup run also masked a poor run of league form that yielded just two wins from seventeen games and very nearly cost them their place in the Premier League.
The decision was further justified by the appointment of Graham Potter, who built up a promising reputation at Swedish side Ostersunds followed up by an impressive season-long spell at Swansea.
Potter employs a much more attacking brand of football, guiding the club to the safety of mid-table. They actually have two fewer points than last season, though the hope is they will avoid a spring slump this time around.
They also go into this game having lost three of their last five matches, including a home defeat to Championship side Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup last weekend.
Brighton 3-2 Everton - October 26, 2019 (match report)
A VAR-induced horror show at the Amex as Everton suffered yet another gut-wrenching defeat. The Toffees led 2-1 with 10 minutes to go but Brighton were awarded a penalty via VAR for an innocuous “challenge” by Michael Keane on Aaron Connolly, with Neal Maupay duly converting. Then, in the fourth minute of stoppage-time, Lucas Digne scored an own goal to complete the most miserable of afternoons on the south coast.
Liverpool (A - FA Cup) Lost 1-0
Man City (A) Lost 2-1
Newcastle (A) Won 2-1
Burnley H) Won 1-0
Arsenal (H) Drew 0-0
Sheffield Wed (H - FA Cup) Lost 1-0
Chelsea (H) Drew 1-1
Bournemouth (H) Won 2-0
Tottenham (A) Lost 2-1
Sheffield United (H) Lost 1-0
Everton have no fresh injury concerns ahead of the game, with Alex Iwobi still sidelined with a hamstring problem.
Andre Gomes is due to return to individual training next week as he continues his recovery from a broken ankle, while Jean-Philippe Gbamin is still training on his own as he builds up his fitness after a thigh problem.
What they said
Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti: “We have to look forwards. We have a great opportunity to improve our position in the table.
“I understand the fans’ frustrations, it is normal when you lose a derby.
“I hope tomorrow the atmosphere will be good. We need the support of our fans and a great performance to react well after the defeat.
“We have worked well this week and I hope tomorrow we will give a good performance. And most importantly try to win.”
Brighton boss Graham Potter: “Carlo is a big name and I’m fortunate in this league because every week we’re coming up against the best which of course can only help you improve yourself. I’m looking forward to meeting him and coming up against him in the match.
“They are a good side who have invested a lot of money in their squad over the last few transfer windows.
“They have a lot of talent and I’m sure they’ll want to react to the defeat to Liverpool at the weekend and we have to be ready for that.”
To say the players need a response is an understatement. While Evertonians are understandably furious, they will once again return to Goodison in numbers to get behind the team. Given the paucity of options I don’t think there will wholesale changes so many of those who stank the place out at Anfield will be given another chance. That could impact on the crowd, who may turn if the team falls behind. An early goal to begin exorcising the ghosts of last weekend is essential.