“Every game is a must win,” says Sean Dyche. But some games really feel more must win than others – starting with the trip to Nottingham Forest on Sunday.
The Toffees go into the game back down in 18th place after a horrific week featuring defeats to Aston Villa and Arsenal.
The latter defeat in midweek means all the other sides around Everton now have a game in hand, further reducing the margin for error in the run-in.
Forest go into the game four points and five places above Everton after a turnaround in form since the World Cup. A win for the Blues could see them leap back out of the drop zone and drag Forest back into the mire. Defeat though and the Blues could be cut adrift.
It is little wonder then that the atmosphere among Evertonians this week has been rather bleak,
Yes, the performance against Villa wasn’t that bad and a defeat at the Emirates was expected, but the way the team capitulated after conceding the first goal against the Gunners was worrying. They had done OK for the first 40 minutes as well, albeit displaying a complete lack of cutting edge.
If they are going to dig themselves out of trouble it is likely to come from a string of scrappy 1-0 wins as it is tough to see them getting anything from a game when they concede first.
Nottingham Forest’s first season in the Premier League since 1999 looks set to be a successful one as they take on the Blues looking to nestle themselves safely in mid-table.
It is testament to the superb job Steve Cooper has done in his short time in charge when you consider they were bottom of the Championship when he took charge in September 2021.
Since securing promotion via the play-offs at the end of last season the club have signed 30 new players in bid to secure survival. Some teething trouble was inevitable given all those faces, but the club stuck by cooper and even rewarded him with a new contract even when the club sunk to the bottom of the table early in the autumn.
That loyalty has been richly rewarded, with Forest winning and drawing four of their 11 Premier League games since the resumption to move up to 13th place, four points clear of danger.
They are particularity strong at home, where they have not lost in the league since September – a run of eight games. They do, however, go into the match with a point to prove after being thrashed 4-0 at West Ham last weekend.
This will be Everton’s first trip to the City Ground since September 1998, when two goals from Duncan Ferguson earned all three points.
Everton 1-1 Nottingham Forest, 20 August 2022
Everton struck late to earn a point against Forest when the teams met at Goodison in August. Brennan Johnson’s goal looked to have earned all three point for the visitors but Demarai Gray’s leveller salvaged a draw.
Sean Dyche will make a late call on Dominic Calvert-Lewin as the striker continues his recovery from a hamstring problem.
James Garner, a former Forest loanee, could return after making a second appearance for the U21s in midweek. Nathan Patterson also played in that game but is not yet ready for a comeback.
Andros Townsend is still making his way back to fitness from that long-term knee injury.
What they said
Everton boss Sean Dyche: “Since I have been here, I have seen it [players stepping up]. I think that’s been obvious, I hope, with most of our performances.
“There’s been players who have been saying, ‘I am ready’. We want that to continue. We want that positive edge, we want that to continue. That thing rubs off with players.
“Some players play in that way where they are making the difference, and that rubs off very quickly. We want more players to take that on and more players to join in with that mentality when people are playing right at the top of their game.
“That’s why training is important. Why preparation is important. To give them the freedom when they get out there to go and take it on. To have that edge to their performances, we are trying to build that mentality constantly.”
Nottingham Forest boss Steve Cooper: ”Our priority is for us to be at our best because if we do that, it means we can continue to build. We can also use the low moments to build because we’ve had some difficult results and performances but it’s part of the process of getting to where you want to be.
“Everton are up next and you need to think about what it takes to succeed against them, but we’re also very clear that we need to look after ourselves because in the end that’s the most important factor of where you end up.
“You want to be here playing in the Premier League, playing for something and we want to play with the anticipation of doing well and succeeding, we want the players to have the mindset that they can achieve good things and the game can’t come quick enough.”
If this isn’t a must win then it is at least must not lose. Everton need to find at least five wins from somewhere and the majority are likely to be from Goodison. But they have to start picking up points on the road otherwise even that will not be enough.