All Dwight! McNeil stars at both ends to ensure another narrow win for Everton
Dwight McNeil’s goal after just 35 seconds secured another Sean Dyche trademark 1-0 win at Goodison Park as Everton climbed two points clear of the Premier League relegation zone by ending Brentford’s long unbeaten run.
The winger proved effective at both ends of the pitch as his third of the season was accompanied by a second-half goalline clearance as they recorded a third victory by a single goal in four home games.
McNeil’s strike was Everton’s earliest winning goal in the ground’s 131-year history.
Dyche had spoken on Thursday about having to have better game management and a “relentless mentality”.
That was definitely required in the subsequent 90 minutes as the Bees laid siege to Everton’s goal as they sought to keep alive their unbeaten league run, stretching back to October.
Brentford’s club-record top-flight unbeaten streak of 14, set in 1936, was also ended by Everton at Goodison Park and while this could not be considered convincing by the hosts getting points on the board is their priority.
The Toffees went into the game with 22 points from 26 games, the same as last season when they went on to win five of their final 12 league matches to escape relegation in their penultimate match.
Expectations are the bar will not be set as high as the 36 points needed to survive last season but this was an important step towards that as the club had dropped to next-bottom before kick-off after Bournemouth’s win over Liverpool at lunchtime.
Goodison reintroduced the pre-match siren for Z-Cars – absent since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in respect of their Ukrainian left-back Vitalii Mykolenko – to give the crowd a boost but it had an equally uplifting effect on the team as they took the lead inside the first minute.
Winger Demarai Gray, retained as the nominal centre-forward, was released down the right and he played the ball inside for Abdoulaye Doucoure to tee up McNeil to blast home his first goal since October.
Both goalkeepers had unconvincing first halves but the Bees’ David Raya was the shakier of the two as he came for Gray’s hanging free-kick only to be beaten to it by centre-back Michael Keane, whose header drifted agonisingly wide of an empty net.
When Raya palmed away Alex Iwobi’s cross Amadou Onana volleyed over, although he redeemed himself later by deflecting behind Gray’s near-post shot and then sticking out leg for a reflex stop from Iwobi’s shot on the turn from the resulting corner.
It was probably as dominant as Everton had been since a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace in October, with midfielder Doucoure finding a lot of space in between the lines and Gray and McNeil’s direct running causing the visitors numerous problems.
However, the hosts finished the half still with only the slenderest of margins after Gray had a goal ruled out when VAR ruled Ethan Pinnock’s clearance had come off the forward’s arm before going in from close range when the video evidence looked inconclusive at best.
Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, watched by England manager Gareth Southgate, had fumbled a Bryan Mbeumo shot and sketchily punched Ivan Toney’s shot before the break but did well to block Rico Henry’s downward header with his legs early in the second half just before the diving Seamus Coleman headed a cross over his own crossbar.
A deflected Toney free-kick produced a corner, from which McNeil cleared Pinnock’s effort off the line as Doucoure, who had been so good breaking forward, was briefly asked to sit in front of the back four before Tom Davies replaced Onana.
Brentford substitute Kevin Schade, who Everton were interested in signing in January, headed wide as Goodison’s anxiety levels rose as the visitors pressed for a leveller – but the hosts held on to move up to 15th.