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Rafa Benitez was on Saturday night on the brink of being sacked as Everton manager after his side suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at Norwich City to extend their dismal run to just one win in 13 games.
Asked whether he feared for his job, a forlorn Benitez replied: “I am a professional and I have enough experience. I came here to fix issues that were coming from the last five years.
“What I have to do now is analyse the mistakes we are making and make sure we avoid that for the future. The rest is not in my hands.”
Everton owner Farhad Moshiri has previously pledged his full support to Benitez over former director of football Marcel Brands, who departed the club at the start of December. However, pressure to remove Benitez is now greater than ever, with the downward slide continuing and the club languishing in 15th.
Everton supporters sang “you’re getting sacked in the morning” in Benitez’s direction repeatedly at Carrow Road, as well as unfurling a “Benitez get out of our club” banner. One furious fan even charged onto the pitch in an attempt to confront Benitez, although he was left gesturing aggressively at the manager after being apprehended some way from the dugout.
“We are disappointed like the fans,” said Benitez, who claimed he did not see the supporter running towards him because he was concentrating on the game.
“We have to improve things on the pitch, to keep working hard, to have all these players coming back and to be sure that we make the right decisions and try to be better like we did in the second half.
“Overall you can see this team react but we have to be more proactive and we cannot be losing games and conceding quickly. The bad thing is that these mistakes are costing us games and points every week.”
Everton fans' fury at Benitez reaches breaking point
For Everton’s despondent supporters, enough is enough. Upon his departure from the club this week, Lucas Digne explained “sometimes it only takes one person from outside to destroy a beautiful love affair”. That sentiment is shared by a significant portion of Everton fans, who are past breaking point with Rafael Benitez and desperate for the Spaniard to be booted out of their club.
After weeks of watching their side plummet down the table from fourth to 15th, a trip to lowly Norwich City was supposed to be the tonic to soothe their woes. Now, having sunk to a 2-1 defeat to a club that had failed to score in their past six league games, there is a fair chance it will prove the match that ends Benitez’s tenure.
The away fans made sure their feelings were well known, producing anti-Benitez banners and chanting to sack the club’s board, while one supporter even entered the pitch in a furious effort to confront the manager himself. Quite where Everton go from here is unknown, but there is a prevailing feeling that major changes are required after one win in 13 games.
“It is really disappointing because we came here thinking about the win and it is a long journey for the fans who have come to support us. Everyone came here expecting us to win and we couldn’t,” said Benitez. “We have to stay professional, concentrate on the next training session and match.”
So atrocious was Norwich’s goal-scoring record - with a joint all-time, top-flight low of eight goals in 20 games - that an unhappy Dean Smith had pleaded with the home side’s fans beforehand to stop their sarcastic imaginary goals celebrations that had emerged in recent weeks. There was no need for them to delve into the land of make believe here.
The task of Premier League survival may yet prove beyond them, but it was no wonder the Norwich supporters voiced their desire to play Benitez’s hapless side every week, with substitute Richarlison’s superb strike offering no consolation to the visitors. The victory means Norwich are no longer bottom of the Premier League table and their three wins compares favourably to the one apiece for relegation rivals Burnley and Newcastle United.
“The glass of red wine will certainly taste sweeter tonight,” said Norwich manager Dean Smith. “It hasn’t tasted so sweet for a while.
“Really proud of the players because they gave it everything today. I said to them before the game: ‘It’s not the be-all and end-all game, but we are getting that way and it's time for actions rather than words’.
“We wanted to get our fans behind us by putting in a performance and showing the energy and verve that we needed and I thought we did that.”
Everton’s wretched defence only had itself to blame for both Norwich goals, with Michael Keane’s own-goal starting a 90-second period that was central to their downfall. Sensing pressure from Adam Idah behind him in the 16th minute, the Everton centre-back stuck his leg out to intercept Josh Sargent’s low cross from the right, but only succeeded in poking past a stationary Jordan Pickford at the near post.
If there was an element of good fortune about the opener, there was none for Norwich’s second. Having robbed the ball in his own half, Brandon Williams gallivanted down the left flank and perfectly bisected the Everton centre-halves to pick out Idah on the edge of the penalty area. The Ireland forward’s first touch was not particularly helpful to his cause, but such was the space he was gifted that it did not need to be, and he snuck the ball past Pickford as the goalkeeper charged off his line.
For an Everton away end that had not seen a win on their travels since August, the fury boiled over. Encouraged by the home fans’ rendition of “you’re getting sacked in the morning” in Benitez’s direction, the Everton supporters soon claimed the song for themselves, bellowing it while angrily unfurling a “Benitez get out of our club” banner that had first emerged before kick-off.
It was all too much for one Everton fan, who decided he had seen enough before 30 minutes were even on the clock, and charged onto the pitch in a failed attempt to confront Benitez. The culprit was apprehended and hauled off before he could get close, gesturing aggressively in the direction of the Everton manager as he departed.
Benitez had turned to new £17 million signing Vitalii Mykolenko to fill the Digne void and the former Dynamo Kyiv left-back almost plunged his new club even further into doom five minutes after half-time when he inexplicably gifted the ball straight to Idah with a shocking backpass. Much to the debutant’s relief, Idah’s effort to round Pickford was ruined by another poor touch and he was unable to get his shot away.
Brought off the bench soon after, Richarlison finally gave the away fans something to cheer with a spectacular goal on the hour. Having failed to fully clear an Everton corner, Tim Krul punched the secondary cross only as far as the Brazilian, who scored an acrobatic bicycle kick from the penalty spot.
That was as good as it got for Everton though, and they could have lost by a wider margin had Milot Rashica not seen his breakaway effort hit the post with the final kick of the game.