“Every game is a must win,” said Sean Dyche last week, and nothing has changed after Everton twice let slip a lead away at Nottingham Forest to only come away with a single point. The Blues still sit in the relegation zone in 18th place, just a point above bottom-club AFC Bournemouth, but also only five points away from a lofty 12th place as the lower half of the table has compacted in recent weeks.
Tomorrow the Toffees take on high-flying Brentford who are sitting up in ninth place in the table and with aspirations of making a run for a European berth, riding an unbeaten streak since late October.
A win for the Blues coupled with other favourable results elsewhere could certainly spark a recovery, but Thomas Frank’s combative side have a reputation as a side difficult to beat and with good reason.
Everton have continued to lose games despite playing a lot better under Dyche as errors still pepper their performances, and it’s no surprise that the only games they’ve won under the former Burnley manager have been when they scored first. In that respect, the Bees are a masterful side when they are the first to find the back of the net, unbeaten in 22 games including 18 wins.
Only Bournemouth and Leicester City have dropped more points from winning positions than the Blues, who are tied with Leeds and Wolves on fifteen points frittered away.
Brentford are just one of the sides jostling for the mantle of ‘best of the rest’ that for so many years Everton had worn. Wily manager Thomas Frank has a well-organized and physically dominant side that fights hard all game long, as embodied by striker Ivan Toney who has cemented his reputation in the top flight.
The Bees haven’t been particularly busy in the transfer market this season, but did work on strengthening their left flank with fullback Aaron Hickey and wide forwards Kane Potter-Lewis and Mikkel Damsgaard coming in during the summer.
Everton 1-1 Brentford, 27 August 2022
Frank’s side did the double over the Toffees last season, and were unfortunate not to have spanked the Blues in the earlier fixture this season after hitting the frame of the goal thrice before finally getting a late equalizer through Vitaly Janelt in a 1-1 draw, Anthony Gordon having given the Blues the lead in the first half.
All eyes are on Dominic Calvert-Lewin as it’s looking more and more like Everton’s survival in the Premier League hinges on his availability. He was pictured training in full at a snowbound Finch Farm earlier today so there is a chance he could feature tomorrow. Fullback Vitalii Mykolenko missed out last week with an illness, and will likely be a late decision on his availability.
For the visitors, Lewis-Potter picked up a knee injury in training that will see him out for a couple of months. The only other absentee is back-up goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha. .
What They Said
Everton boss Sean Dyche: “I think [the Nottingham Forest game was] about building on the mentality that I’ve been speaking about since I’ve been here.
“That is the mentality to perform but also to take on whatever comes in front of you, with the way that we work and that’s to have it tight enough defensively where we can affect games but also loose enough where we can affect it openly.
“I thought for large parts [of the Forest game], particularly in the first half, we were very good on both. Aside from a mistake and a soft one against Villa I thought it was a pretty thorough performance, to be honest. I thought we were good against Leeds.
“There are strong signs but signs don’t give you anything. You don’t just win because there are strong signs - you win because you get everything right throughout a 90-odd minute match.”
Brentford boss Thomas Frank: “I think Sean has definitely put his mark and his coaching style on them already. They are running much harder - you can see that visually, but also on the numbers. They are very organised and, defensively, very difficult to break down.
“I want to praise Arsenal for winning 4-0 [against Everton] but, until the first goal, and we know that happens in football matches, they didn’t have a sniff in 40 minutes or so before Bukayo Saka’s goal.”
Everton are exactly where they were last season, with 22 points in the bag and twelve games to play. Last season they were able to pick up five wins in those remaining games to ensure survival, but there were also Watford and Norwich City adrift at the bottom of the table. This season looks like settling all three relegation spots could come down to the last few weeks of the campaign.
The Toffees abysmal away form means they will need to start banking home wins wherever they can, and while it will not be easy this weekend, it might be just the tonic the club needs.