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Everton fans are finally allowed back into their beloved stadium this week. They may think twice about whether to bother.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side became history makers by losing to Sheffield United, meaning that no Everton side has ever had a worse home record.
“I am really embarrassed,” the Italian admitted after a ninth Goodison defeat. “I have to take the responsibility and hope the players take the responsibility. I hope the supporters wake us up.”
Ancelotti will be grateful for the eternal faith of his followers. Such a dismal run could make Wednesday’s visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers the first 6,500 capacity fixture that does not sell-out, after hopes of a glorious homecoming in a late surge for European qualification were trashed by a teenager making his first Premier League start.
Daniel Jebbison’s name was not even printed on the Everton match programme. But the hosts will remember him as much as the Sheffield United fans wondering whether they would have been condemned to the championship had they seen the 17-year-old a few months earlier.
What is soul-destroying for Everton is how they were deservedly beaten by the bottom club, leaving them to contemplate how a relegated side claiming only its sixth win in 36 Premier League games looked like they wanted the points more.
This season promised so much for Ancelotti, notable away wins swelling optimism even amid prolonged home discomforts. There was still so much to play for heading into this game, and they still have an outside chance if rivals capitulate.
But to see hopes virtually extinguished by a Sheffield United side doomed for months, averaging a goal every two games in their horrific bounce-back-down season, was Ancelotti’s worst Goodison experience yet.
“We lost a great opportunity. Our chance is less than before,” the Italian said.
The all-or-nothing nature of the fixture ought to have benefited his team, yet it was Sheffield United relishing playing without pressure. Shackles released, the Blades offered a reminder that next season they might join Norwich and Watford in the yo-yo club. Unleashing England Under-18 international Jebbison was a nod to the future by caretaker manager Paul Heckingbottom, a major hint from where his club’s promotion surge might emanate next year.
It took the 17-year-old seven minutes to venture into what - for most of his team-mates - has been an undiscovered country this season. He scored a goal
“A fantastic moment. It could not have worked out better. He deserved it,” said Heckingbottom. “We believe in him and believe in him. Now he has a different type of expectation.” Jack Robinson broke through another frontier by claiming an assist, teeing up the opening goal with a cross from the left into the six-yard box where Everton’s defence generously vacated the premises. Jebbison should have had a second later in the first half when Mason Holgate’s slack backpass sent the striker into a one-on-one with Jordan Pickford.
The England keeper was up to the task, but this was symptomatic of an abysmal performance by Ancelotti’s side. The Italian has been at a loss to understand the contrast between home and away form. It is so bad even Sheffield United have double Everton’s home points tally in 2021. This was as harrowing as any of the defeats.
Yes, the home side should have equalised before half-time when Aarron Ramsdale produced a double save to deny Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. That followed James Rodriguez’s cross, the Colombian having spent the previous 39 minutes cloaked in such anonymity, one wondered if he was sheltering from the torrential rain.
Ramsdale earlier pushed aside Allan’s clever attempt with the outside of his right foot, and saved a Calvert-Lewin header after 20 minutes.
But desperation consumed Everton early, inexplicably standing by as the visitors passed the ball as if Manchester City’s ‘B’ team. The visitors were also feistier in their tackles, so there was no obvious half-time remedy for Ancelotti beyond asking his players if they really want European football next season.
He took action by replacing defender Mason Holgate with midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson. Sigurdsson’s first contribution was to pass directly to John Flack, a worrying sign the mediocrity was contagious.
Ancelotti’s switch to four at the back made Everton more balanced. The urgency was still woefully lacking, and Sheffield United’s defence was so secure they could have been forgiven for feeling they had sunk a division three games early.
A second goal for the visitors was as plausible as an equaliser, although it was pure application that got them over the line, the tireless David McGoldrick typifying the effort Everton so lacked as Heckingbottom took a notable scalp into his Bramall Lane job interview.
As it happened
Full time, Everton 0 Sheffield United 1
It's a defeat which will come as a crushing blow for Everton, whose European hopes are crumbling before their eyes.
Sheffield United can be delighted with a hard-fought win. Nobody will be happier than Jebbison, having marked his first Premier League start with a match-winning goal.
Robinson is booked for time wasting at a throw-in. Sheffield United are determined to hold on for the win.
Coleman gets the ball out on the right but, as he tries to cross, he slips on the wet turf and falls flat on his face.
It feels like a visual metaphor for the game, really.
Coleman gets a cross into the danger area and Sheffield United panic, allowing Bernard to get on the ball and work himself an opening.
Much to his teammates' exasperation, he overplays it and eventually dribbles out of play. Almost nothing has gone right for Everton this evening.
George Baldock gets a yellow card for dissent after barging over Calvert-Lewin just outside the area.
Digne steps up and pings a cross into the box, but Sheffield United defend well and get it away.
Ancelotti rolls the dice
... with Bernard and Andre Gomes on for James and Doucoure.
Sheffield United could so easily be 2-0 up.
Stevens gets down the left unchallenged and finds McGoldrick five yards out. He turns and shoots, but it's deflected narrowly wide. Egan gets a free header at the ensuing corner, but it's blocked.
Digne finds Sigurdsson with a cross, but it's a little bit too high and he can only head it up into the air.
Sheffield United win a corner and McGoldrick gets a free header, but he can't get it on target.
Godfrey has a bang from distance, but it's speculative and goes well wide.
Ancelotti doesn't look too happy about it. Everton are getting a bit desperate now.
Ramsdale saves again!
Sigurdsson threads through Richarlison and, with the angle narrowing, he thrashes a shot on target. Ramsdale does well to push it round the near post.
Fleck pumps a ball into the box, Egan heads it back across goal and McGoldrick almost gets on the end of it, only for Calvert-Lewin to pop up with an excellent defensive header.
Ben Godfrey fouls Jebbison and Sheffield United have another free kick.
They play it short and, just as Basham shapes to cross, James wipes him out. Moss rightly books him.
After a choppy spell in which both sides struggle to keep the ball, James fouls Fleck out wide and Sheffield United have a free kick in a dangerous area.
Oliver Norwood whips a delivery into the box and Egan risest highest, but he nods over.
Sigurdsson finds Calvert-Lewin with a clever through ball, but John Egan does well to get back and tackle him cleanly.
James shimmies past three players in midfield before freeing up Doucoure on the right, but his cross is blocked before it can find a teammate.
Second half kicks off
... can Everton turn things around here? Or will Sheffield United earn a confidence-boosting win? Let's find out.
Everton make a half-time change
... with Mason Holgate coming off for Sigurdsson. That's a statement of intent from Ancelotti.
Half time, Everton 0 Sheffield United 1
Everton will be really, really disappointed with their first-half performance.
Where Sheffield United have shown an intensity which has been all too rare this season, Everton started slowly and only really asserted themselves in the last 10 minutes. While the visitors have Ramsdale to thank for going in 1-0 up at the break, they deserve their lead.
Michael Keane floats a long ball up to Richarlison in the area and he attempts to volley past Ramsdale, but the shot flies high and wide.
Incredible double save from Ramsdale!
James curls a ball into the box and Richarlison heads low, but Ramsdale gets down to parry. Calvert-Lewin smashes one from point-blank range on the follow-up, but the keeper somehow leaps up and gets his body in the way.
James Rodriguez gets a sight of goal and unleashes a long-range shot, but it's deflected and sails harmlessly over the crossbar.
Everton get two corners in quick succession, but squander both of them.
Jebbison has two great chances to score!
First he gets in on goal and tries to dink one over Pickford, who makes the save. He gets on the ball again moments later, swivels and shoots, but there's a mass of blue shirts in the way.
Seamus Coleman wants a penalty after the ball bounces up onto Robinson's arm in the box, but Jon Moss and VAR ignore his appeals. Sheffield United bomb up the other end and Enda Stevens almost tees up Jebbison again, but Everton scramble it clear.
Chris Basham is then booked for a mistimed lunge on Digne as the Everton man tries to counter-attack. Not long afterwards, John Fleck forces Jordan Pickford into an acrobatic save. It's frantic, chaotic football.
Digne crosses from deep and finds Calvert-Lewin ghosting into space, but he can only head straight at Ramsdale.
David McGoldrick cuts inside and has a pop from distance, but it's well wide.
After two games without a goal, Sheffield United look genuinely dangerous here.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin strides forwards and hits one, but it's deflected out for a corner.
Sheffield United clear as far as Allan on the edge of the area, who curls a shot with the outside of his boot and forces Aaron Ramsdale into a diving save.
GOAL! Everton 0 Sheffield United 1
Jebbison! He's scored!
Robinson slaloms into the box and whips the ball across the face of goal. Jebbison, on his first Premier League start, stretches out a leg to poke home.
Abdoulaye Doucoure makes inroads through the middle, stress testing Sheffield United's defence before playing in Lucas Digne on the left.
He gets a dangerous cross into the box, but it's cleared.
We're underway at Goodison.
Teams are in the tunnel
... and kick off is only a few minutes away. It's football time, baby!
A word on Jebbison
On loan at Chorley in the National League North earlier in the season, Jebbison made his Premier League debut last weekend when he came on as a second-half substitute in the 2-0 defeat to Crystal Palace.
He's about to get his first start for Sheffield United. That's not a bad week for a teenager, all told.
Three changes for Sheffield United
Sander Berge and Oliver Burke are both injured, so Heckingbottom has brought in Ben Osborn and 17-year-old Daniel Jebbison to replace them.
Kean Bryan drops to the bench, with Jack Robinson coming into the starting line-up in his place.
James returns from injury
... having last played in the Toffees' 1-0 win against Arsenal in late April.
Gylfi Sigurdsson makes way to accommodate him. Other than that, Everton are unchanged from the side which drew 0-0 with Villa in the midweek.
Sheffield United team news
Everton team news
Ancelotti warns Everton not to underestimate Sheffield United
It's been a heart-in-mouth few weeks for Everton but, going into their last three games of the season, they still have a chance of securing European football.
Their last few results have been a rollercoaster, two setbacks against Aston Villa – the first a 2-1 defeat at Goodison Park and the second a drab goalless draw in Birmingham – coming either side of a hugely important win against European rivals West Ham.
After the Hammers' 1-1 draw with Brighton on Saturday evening, Everton have the chance to draw level on points with victory against Sheffield United. While it would require a highly improbable set of results elsewhere for Carlo Ancelotti to guide his team to Champions League qualification, that would put them within touching distance of the Europa League.
Sheffield United may be rock bottom of the table and already relegated, but Ancelotti has warned his players not to take their opponents lightly. "We have to respect a team that was relegated, but is going to fight for this game because they want to finish the season with dignity," he said in his pre-match press conference.
"That is absolutely normal, and we have to pay attention because [our] home run [is] not good. We would like to close this season at home with two good results."
Everton haven't won at Goodison since their 1-0 victory against Southampton in early March, so Ancelotti's concerns about their home form are fully justified. They will need to get out of that rut to achieve their short-term objectives, with Wolves making the trip to Merseyside next week.
Paul Heckingbottom, meanwhile, has called on Sheffield United to focus on their remaining Premier League games despite their imminent return to the Championship. "It's a real strange situation for everyone, the staff and board and fans. Everyone I meet is talking about next season and that's no good, because we've still got games to win," he said.
"If that's solely the focus, you're not going to be in the best mind for the games between now and the end of the season... we're expecting to give everything to try to get points and hoping that we win."