Everton launch on-pitch fight against Premier League in bid to avoid relegation

Dwight McNeil

Everton’s fight against the Premier League is now underway, after launching their appeal against a 10-point deduction and producing a victory which proves this team has the quality to avoid relegation.

As the mist rolled in from the River Trent across the City Ground,  Everton removed the gloom that has hung over their club to move closer towards the dreaded dotted line above them.

Here was clear evidence of the siege mentality that manager Sean Dyche has been determined to build, as their anger over the “unfair” sanctions continues to boil.

Dyche never made the grade here as a young Nottingham Forest trainee but has done rather better as a manager, extending his unbeaten record against his old club to eight matches.

Their burning sense of injustice over that 10-point deduction will hang over the entire campaign yet this was exactly the spirited display Dyche will be demanding.

James Garner, the midfielder who was on loan at Forest when the club were promoted two years ago, was outstanding, while James Tarkowski and Jarrad Branthwaite were both impressive. Dwight McNeil’s winning goal was also excellent.

Sean Dyche shouts
Sean Dyche has fostered a defiant spirit in his Everton side - Eddie Keogh/Getty Images

“It’s like another restart for us and I said to the players that we can’t do anything about it,” said Dyche.

“To get that first win after that news [about the points deduction] was very pleasing. In the meantime while we’re waiting for news we’ve got to get on with business.

“The key for us is to stay focused on what we control. I think we’re having a solid season, considering the last couple of seasons.

“Seventeen points would have been a fairly healthy return. Of course it’s changed, but the mentality and the performance levels are right. I never lose belief in what I do or what my staff do.”

While Everton anxiously wait for a verdict early next year, after formally appealing against the points deduction, it could be Forest’s head coach Steve Cooper who pays the penalty.

Cooper is under increasing pressure from owner Evangelos Marinakis and his position comes under further scrutiny after a second home defeat in a week.

Forest were underwhelming for much of the evening and one victory in ten matches is not what Marinakis will be expecting after such vast investment on players.

Ahead of this game the Greek billionaire moved to adopt an united front by throwing his support behind Cooper, with potentially pivotal games against Fulham and Wolves to follow this week. The caveat was that an immediate upturn in results was required.

Evangelos Marinakis
Evangelos Marinakis believes his investment merits a top half finish - Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Cooper will forever be known as the hero who returned Forest to the big time whatever happens, but this feels like a worrying moment for the Welshman.

He insisted Forest should have had a first-half penalty after Ryan Yates was fouled by Abdoulaye Doucouré but admitted it was a poor performance.

“Of course I’m disappointed. It’s far from the result that we wanted,” said Cooper.

“We’ve lost three games on the bounce. I think what’s frustrating is that we’ve lost games knowing that we can do better.

“We’ve not lost games because the opponents have been much better than us, which was often the case last year. It’s not the case this year.”

Many Forest fans jeered after the final whistle, which has been a rare occurrence since Cooper’s appointment two years ago.

He said: “Our support is incredible. I have no problem with anything that our supporters feel because it comes from wanting to support us as best they can.

“We’ve lost two games back to back but we have to own it, not shy away from it.”

The atmosphere was strangely muted and flat all evening and Forest never got to grips with the match, producing only one shot on target.

The closest they came was early in the first half when substitute Felipe, on for the injured Willy Boly, smashed a shot against the post.

Before Felipe’s shot came the moment of controversy which frustrated Cooper, when Yates was seemingly pulled down by Doucouré. The incident went to a Var review but Everton escaped.

It was the visitors controlling the game and inflicting panic on their opponents every time they approached the penalty area.

The crucial goal came in the 67th minute when Jack Harrison’s cross from the right was headed back into the path of McNeil, who directed a rising half-volley across Odysseas Vlachodimos and into the top corner.

Everton's Dwight McNeil scores their first goal past Nottingham Forest's Odysseas Vlachodimos
McNeuil's volley rifled past Odysseas Vlachodimos - Action Images via REUTERS/Andrew Boyers

Forest did respond, with Murillo testing Jordan Pickford with a low shot, while the scourge of Everton – former Liverpool forward Divock Origi – was brought on as a substitute for the final stages, but they never looked capable of snatching an equaliser.

Everton are very much alive and kicking.