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Everton paraded an expensive recruit before kick-off and Dominic Calvert-Lewin for the first time in four months but any sense of a fresh start for Rafael Benítez was obliterated by Brighton’s maiden victory at Goodison Park. Errors continue to litter Everton performances, from players and manager alike.
Graham Potter celebrated a landmark win and hugely rewarding week with unrestrained glee. Two fine goals from Alexis Mac Allister sandwiched a Dan Burn header to give Brighton a richly deserved triumph and seven points from a demanding festive sequence against Everton, Chelsea and Brentford.
Potter’s side squandered leads regularly last season but underlined their progress by withstanding an Anthony Gordon-inspired recovery and sealing victory through Mac Allister’s stunning long‑range strike beyond Jordan Pickford.
“It’s a great start to the new year and a great end to a really big week for us,” the Brighton manager said. “Historically this is not a good place for us to come as a club. I thought we played well first half and then the goal we didn’t want changed the atmosphere in the ground. We had to see that out and we did it really well.”
Everton had not played for 17 days as a result of three consecutive postponements because of Covid outbreaks. According to Benítez’s programme notes: “We have used the time without matches to prepare as intensively as possible for the challenges Brighton present. This means understanding how to make it difficult for them to impose their style and, equally importantly, knowing how to create the chances to win the game.”
His words appeared ludicrous given what unfolded in the first half. Brighton were the more coherent, composed and dangerous side from the outset. They were aided and abetted by dismal defending from an Everton team that created little plus the approach adopted by Benítez himself. The Everton manager started the first home game of the new year with a five-man defence that featured Seamus Coleman at left wing back.
The France international left-back Lucas Digne was available but, having been ostracised by Benítez and seen the club purchase Vitaliy Mykolenko for an initial £17.9m from Dynamo Kiev, he was left on the bench throughout. Digne received a warm reception from the Goodison crowd when he sprinted along the touchline in the 40th minute and handed his shirt to a young Evertonian after the final whistle.
Benítez said pointedly: “The most important thing for me is to have players on the pitch who want to be there and want to fight for the club.”
Potter’s team swept into an early lead when exploiting the gaps that Everton’s shape was designed to eradicate. Joel Veltman picked out Neal Maupay with a cross from the right that the unmarked striker headed over Michael Keane towards Mac Allister. The midfielder, also meeting no resistance as he arrived in the penalty area, placed a volley inside Pickford’s bottom right‑hand corner.
Everton’s defence was found wanting again when Brighton doubled their advantage. Mac Allister turned provider when he drilled a corner to the near post where Enock Mwepu connected with a glancing header. Dan Burn, all alone at the back post having peeled away from Keane, headed home from close range.
The hosts were handed a route back into the contest almost immediately when Mwepu was penalised for barging into Gordon just inside the Brighton area. The referee, John Brooks, dismissed Everton appeals for a penalty but changed his mind when directed to the pitch-side monitor by VAR. Calvert-Lewin stepped up to announce his long-awaited return to the team in style but, after a short run-up, blazed the spot-kick over the bar. A first half to forget for Everton ended with a predictable chorus of boos.
Benítez’s often-stated belief in a stronger second half to the season is based largely on the availability of Calvert-Lewin. The centre-forward’s physical presence, movement and finishing have been sorely missed since August and he will need time not only to recapture match sharpness but to establish a rapport with those around him. Gordon and Demarai Gray worked tirelessly and were central to Everton’s second‑half improvement, albeit as individuals rather than an effective unit.
Gordon brought Everton hope shortly after the restart with his first goal for his boyhood club. Receiving Allan’s pass, the 20-year-old cut inside Marc Cucurella and Mac Allister before unleashing a left-footed drive that deflected off Adam Lallana and sailed beyond a wrong-footed Robert Sánchez.
Gray and Allan both went close to equalising before Brighton re-established their two-goal lead through Mac Allister. Everton appeared to have dealt with a counterattack when Mason Holgate denied Maupay as the forward raced through on goal. But Keane put his team under renewed pressure with a poor clearance straight to Burn.
The defender found Leandro Trossard and his low cross was flicked on to Mac Allister by Enock Mwepu. Brighton’s match-winner connected perfectly with the bouncing ball and Pickford was left grasping at thin air as the midfielder’s shot found the top corner from distance.
The highly impressive Gordon pulled another goal back when rounding off a flowing move involving Calvert-Lewin and Jonjoe Kenny. Benítez introduced Salomón Rondón – to yet more boos – and, although the substitute created a decent chance for Gordon’s hat‑trick and volleyed over from André Gomes’s cross, there was no reprieve for Everton nor their troubled manager.