Everton came away from Nottingham Forest with all three points after a solid battling performance at the City Ground where the home side have been difficult to beat in recent years for even the bigger teams. Dwight McNeil’s arrowed shot in the second half was the only goal in the game marked by the Blues once again spurning half-chances, but Steve Cooper shouldn’t have any regrets as his side were decidedly second-best especially in the midfield where James Garner sparkled.
The 22-year-old spent 18 months on loan at Forest when he was still with Manchester United, and enjoyed his return to the City Ground yesterday.
“[Forest are] very good at home. They’ve shown that against some big teams, but this season, we’ve been very good away, so we knew we had a good chance. I’m happy with the way I played and with the way the team played. We came here to do the job and we did that.
“I think against United, the scoreline didn’t reflect the way we played. I thought we did well - especially in that first half against United. We knew coming into this game, with how we played then, we could play the same way.
“We created a few chances in the first half, and we knew we could get that opener. Dwight scored a top goal, which he scores every day in training, so I’m pleased for him and pleased for the team.”
Everton’s fortunes have been on an uptick since Sean Dyche switched to using the double pivot of James Garner and Amadou Onana after a dynamic showing in the Carabao Cup Third Round win over Aston Villa. Garner has the fourth-highest minutes played for the Blues this season, behind Jordan Pickford, captain James Tarkowski and the indefatigable Abdoulaye Doucoure.
The versatile Garner has lined up for England’s Under-21 side as a right back and has played as wide midfielder and fullback for Dyche when needed, but has cemented a spot in the middle in the last couple of months, culminating in a Man of the Match award yesterday.
“I think that was probably my best [performance for Everton] so far. I think my overall game today was good. I don’t know what it was, but I was like a bit of a magnet today - the ball just kept on falling to my feet, and I just seemed to be in the right positions and making the right decisions for the team.
“I’ve been very patient, and I’m not that patient of a guy, really! I’ve come into the team and played in positions that I’ve not really played throughout my short career. I’ve finally got my chance in midfield, and I feel like I’ve taken it. The competition is very high so I need to keep on playing well and keep on pushing on my teammates.”
There has been a renewed sense of unity both on and off the pitch with the recent decision from the Premier League to dock the Toffees ten points after the Financial Fair Play rules breach investigation was concluded, and Garner echoed that sentiment.
“It’s important we stick together. We’ve gone through a rough and tough few weeks, but we’re all in it together. We can all control what we can.
“Us as players, we can control what happens on a matchday, so we didn’t want to be aiming for relegation battles. We want to be aiming as high as possible.”
Yesterday’s win sees Everton climb up to 18th spot, two points clear of Sheffield United at the bottom and two behind Luton Town with nine points. The Blues are back in action on Thursday night when they host Newcastle United in a midweek league fixture.