Gueye and McNeil drag Everton closer to safety and leave Forest in the mire

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Idrissa Gueye;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Idrissa Gueye</a> (right) celebrates with with <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Abdoulaye Doucouré;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Abdoulaye Doucouré</a> (centre) and <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Jack Harrison;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Jack Harrison</a> after giving <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Everton;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Everton</a> the lead.</span><span>Photograph: Conor Molloy/ProSports/Shutterstock</span>

It was three valuable points gained for Everton and no one can take them away after they defeated Nottingham Forest in the deduction derby. While lawyers plot the two clubs’ appeals, the talking was done on the pitch for 90 minutes amid a backdrop of financial breaches and the relegation battle but Forest ensured there was more off-field controversy at the end.

Idrissa Gueye and Dwight McNeil settled the result with long-range shots that went in off the post to boost Everton’s chances of staying up and put Forest in further peril. It was error-strewn and short on quality, potentially explaining why two Everton midfielders were afforded plenty of space to pick their spots. Without their deductions, Everton would be safe on 38 points.

“The reality is we are not [safe], and it is a big important win, but we still have got work to do,” Sean Dyche said. “It is fair to say under my watch it would be 38 points and people would be viewing it a bit differently. It is certainly within our capabilities to make sure [we avoid relegation] but it would be handy if people didn’t take points off us. It is not an enjoyable part of my job”

Related: Everton 2-0 Nottingham Forest: Premier League – live reaction

Everton and Forest are brothers-in-arms, as they fight points deductions after breaching profitability and sustainability rules. That has exacerbated their positions, the Toffees are eight points worse off than their on-pitch performance suggests, while Forest have been docked four points – enough to put them in serious danger of relegation, making them frantic about every decision that goes against them, resulting in a tweet complaining about the VAR, Stuart Attwell, being a Luton fan, and asking for him to be withdrawn from the match beforehand.

Starting the day in 16th and 17th emphasised the importance of the occasion for two teams who had won three league games between them in 2024. Within 10 minutes there was frustration inside Goodison Park as the fans did not feel the players were lumping the ball into the box quickly enough. There is a sense the supporters are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, with Dyche their kidnapper. Every misplaced cross or pass was derided in the stands as tension grew, even if the Everton legal team might have a bigger say than André Gomes’s right boot after three awful early set-pieces.

Dyche’s methods do have merits. Vitalii Mykolenko’s cross was headed out by Murillo to Gueye 25 yards from goal, allowing the Everton midfielder to take a touch and aim for the bottom corner via the post. It did not look like there was sufficient power in the shot but it defeated Matz Sels to his right. The groans were replaced with cheers and Everton fans were starting to look up rather than down.

Forest were the more aesthetically pleasing and whenever Morgan Gibbs-White took control of the ball there was hope in the away end that something would be created. Neco Williams and Callum Hudson-Odoi both had good chances prior to the opener but Jordan Pickford was untroubled.

Chris Wood has been reinvigorated under Nuno Espírito Santo, scoring four in his previous five matches. He should have added to his tally when Gibbs-White volleyed into the ground in the direction of the striker rather than the net as intended, allowing Wood to take aim from two yards out, only for Pickford to repel the ball.

Forest claimed they deserved three penalties, none were given and each rejection was justified but the defeated side still posted on X: “Three extremely poor decisions - three penalties not given - which we simply cannot accept.” Before taking aim at a level-headed Hatter.

That and Gibbs-White failing to capitalise on a James Tarkowski mistake, sending his shot wide when through on goal, was adding to Forest’s frustrations as they began to dominate proceedings without creating anything of note.

Instead Everton killed the game off when McNeil was afforded space from a similar position to where Gueye scored, albeit at the other end. He took a touch and rattled a low drive in off the post. This shot was far more ferocious than his colleague’s in the first half and Sels could not have done anything.

There was a worrying moment in injury-time when Beto and Gibbs-White clashed heads, leaving the former unconscious but he was eventually carried off on a stretcher after a lengthy delay, raising his hand to the crowd as he went before being taken to hospital. Asked of Beto’s condition, Dyche said: “Pleasing at the moment, he definitely came around and could understand what was going on - a good early sign.”

With five games to go, and a fixture list including Brentford, Luton and Sheffield United, not to mention the deduction appeal, Everton look close to safety. Forest’s appeal might be more telling, especially with a match fewer to play and a point separating them from Luton in the final relegation spot. They will need to improve on the pitch to maintain their status without the help of lawyers or social media posts.

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