There is nothing like a match day, especially one under the Goodison lights. After missing the Southampton game due to work, I had been counting down the days until I took to my seat in the Park End, 561 days after doing so last. It felt like I had never been away. I was greeted by the same stewards and the regulars I hadn’t seen for just under two years and it felt like I was back where I belong, home.
That didn’t stop the pre-match nerves kicking in as I took my seat. The last time Everton played under the lights to a full crowd, we were 2-0 up against Newcastle after the 90th minute and somehow didn’t come away with all three points, a match I remember far too well. A medley of Everton songs turned any anxiousness into pure anticipation as I waited for Z Cars to raise the hairs on my neck once more.
Within the first minute, we looked a bit nervy at the back and Richarlison was rolling around on the floor, normality had resumed. A depleted Burnley crowd were in full voice as their team looked to kill any potential momentum we could create, leading the first half to draw to a miserable close at 0-0.
I understand why we chose to play a five back formation, as the aim was to nullify Burnley’s clear aerial threat, something we managed for the first half. However, this took away our ability to create any openings that would threaten the clarets which really held us back and made for uninspiring viewing.
That being said, Burnley’s Dwight McNeil looked a danger for them in the first half. He put in a searching cross for Chris Wood, who arguably should have done better with the chance. McNeil also didn’t stop running and I got the feeling that if Burnley were going to create anything it would have come from him. If Everton were to go in for him in the future, I think he would be a perfect fit for our club and I would welcome him with open arms.
We started the second half unchanged, but we looked a lot more lively. James Tarkowski clattered into Richarlison with a tackle that nearly knocked him into the Burnley end, which got the crowd going a bit, something these players seem to thrive on. Then, as if by script, Burnley went 1-0 up through a Ben Mee header. How many times have we seen this as blues?
Unlike many of our teams in the past, we just didn’t give in. Every single player on that pitch deserves credit for digging deep and contributing to turning the game around. After Michael Keane equalised with a free header from a tremendous cross by Andros Townsend, the manager made a change and brought on Andre Gomes for Ben Godfrey, allowing us to have an extra man in midfield.
I can’t express how important it is to have a proactive manager at the helm, who knows when to change the system in order to change the flow of the game. This formation change worked to no end, allowing us to take the game to Burnley. Almost instantly, Andros Townsend scored an early contender for goal of the season with a thunderous left footed strike, before Demarai Gray latched onto a searching through ball from Abdoulaye Doucoure to clinically slot away his third goal of the season.
The ground was electric. The buzz of watching your team score a goal, especially one that turns the game back in your favour is like no other. I’ve missed going ballistic with my dad and my best mate and tonight’s game has certainly made up for lost time. Sadly Doucoure had a goal ruled out for offside, otherwise I think we could have gone on to score even more, as the momentum was fully with us and we were playing some incredible football, before Burnley slowed the game down again.
It’s clear that the crowd appreciated the effort the team put in tonight, epitomised by goalscorer Demarai Gray receiving a standing ovation for his contribution as he was replaced late on by Alex Iwobi. Although the first half was unmemorable, there was not one player on that pitch who did not give everything they had, something us Evertonians haven’t been always been able to say in recent years.
I knew I had missed going to the game, but tonight really drove it home just how much. After experiencing almost every emotion within about 20 minutes of the second half, I have been reminded of how little time we have left at Goodison Park and how we all need to treasure every last second we get there. My dad even proclaimed his newfound love for Rafa Benitez, which I think says it all.