After what has been a tumultuous summer for Everton, Rafa Benitez could have been forgiven for wondering what else could go wrong for his side when a boneheaded error from central defender Michael Keane allowed visitors Southampton to take the lead at Goodison Park.
Earlier, the new manager had received a round of warm applause when he was announced on the tannoy prior to the game, but as the halftime whistle went with the Toffees behind, boos could be clearly heard across the stadium that was finally filled to capacity after over eighteen months of pandemic-enforced restrictions.
Rafa made a couple of in-game swaps during the break, with centrehalves Keane and Mason Holgate changing sides and Richarlison going into the #10 role of the 4-2-3-1 and Demarai Gray pushed wide left. It immediately sparked the Blues who won a series of corners on that side of the pitch, resulting in the Brazilian’s equalizer.
And then with Andros Townsend fading as the game entered the last quarter of an hour, he sent on Alex Iwobi who almost immediately found Abdoulaye Doucoure to hammer home a shot. Late on, Richarlison drifted out to the right and his delightful dipping cross was met with a sumptuous header from the diving Dominic Calvert-Lewin to cap off the scoring at 3-1.
Speaking after the game to the BBC, the England striker revealed what the manager had said to the team in the dressing room at the break.
“We were told at half-time to stay calm and stay cool. It wasn’t an ideal start to the first game of the season with fans back in the stadium. It didn’t quite go to plan in the first half but the main thing was not to panic and stay relaxed.”
How important was it for the team to get the new manager a home win in his first game?
“I think it’s always important to get off to a winning start. We knew what we had to do going into the game. Winning the first game sets you up and we need to take that into the next game.”
His strike partner Richarlison has been playing non-stop football after the previous campaign ended but did not look remotely fatigued today.
“He’s had a tough summer with games and he deserved his goal today. He got the goal that made the difference and got us back in the game.”
Calvert-Lewin scored early and often last season and though he was on the periphery of the game at times today, he bagged a goal late on to secure the victory.
“It’s a great feeling to score with fans being back in the stadium. I felt like a kid again. I scored a few last season but with no fans. That was a special one.”