Sky Sports plans fail as Everton and Luton supporters trade barbs

<a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Dwight McNeil;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Dwight McNeil</a> (R) of <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> and <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Ross Barkley;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Ross Barkley</a> during the Premier League match between <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Luton Town;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Luton Town</a> and Everton FC at Kenilworth Road on May 03, 2024 -Credit:Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Branthwaite brilliance

Jarrad Branthwaite has had plenty to celebrate of late – most notably opening the scoring in Everton’s first Merseyside Derby victory at Goodison Park since he was eight years old – but after the wild jubilation he showed after Alisson Becker, one of the world’s best goalkeepers, found his shot against Liverpool too hot to handle, the defender was almost as animated here when blocking a shot from Andros Townsend in the dying seconds.

With Luton Town needing the points much more than the Blues now and pushing for a winner late into stoppage time, their substitute and former Everton winger Andros Townsend let fly but Branthwaite flung his body in the way to deflect the effort wide. Realising the importance of his interception, the young Cumbrian clenched his teeth and his first in jubilation in what proved to be the final kick of the game.

Blues boss Sean Dyche – himself a former centre-back – has questioned defenders celebrating what he calls “doing their job” at times this season but with their Premier League status already confirmed and his players still throwing themselves at the ball, perhaps the stern taskmaster might even allow Branthwaite to enjoy this particular moment?

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Cutting banter

After what has been the most-traumatic season in Everton’s history off the pitch, loyal but long-suffering Blues were finally able to enjoy themselves on the trip down to Bedfordshire with the pressure off but that didn’t mean this game lacked edge.

Even if Luton would have had a sniff of catching their visitors, you imagine this contest would have been played at a fever pitch – that’s obviously why Sky Sports schedulers switched it to Friday night as they hoped to be voyeurs on what they imagined would be a relegation ‘six-pointer’ – but thankfully a hat-trick of Goodison wins last week ensured that Dyche’s men went into the fixture with their Premier League status secured. The game actually felt more like an FA Cup team between a top-flight visitor and a plucky underdog host, backed by a vociferous crowd in compact settings, and much of that is testament to the fact that this term Everton were only involved in a battle to stay up because of their points deductions.

With the clock ticking down, visiting Evertonians decided the time was right to taunt the Hatters with a rendition of “going down.” While fans of the hosts had let themselves down earlier with tiresome chants of “sign on,” they were quick-witted enough on this occasion to hit back with “going bust.”

As Everton now look forward to a last ever season at Goodison as a Premier League club – 777 Partners’ UK-based director of international accounting, Keith Steele was watching on here – the club now needs to sort itself out in terms of ownership ahead of a crucial summer of rebuilding. Dyche has provided a platform to build on ahead of the stadium move. But eight months on from Farhad Moshiri agreeing a deal to sell his entire 94.1% stake in the club, the ownership issue has still to be resolved.

Dom on the spot

Some 73 penalties had been awarded to Everton’s Premier League rivals this season before Beto saw their first spot-kick saved by West Ham United’s Alphonse Areola on March 2 but over the past month, Dominic Calvert-Lewin has put the Blues’ woes from 12 yards out behind them.

Make no bones about it, when Everton were awarded their penalty against Newcastle United at St James’ Park – eventually, like against both the Hammers and here at Luton, a VAR check was required first – it was a high-pressure moment, but Calvert-Lewin rose to the occasion to emphatically end his scoring drought. Unfortunate to have seen efforts taken away from him against Tottenham Hotspur both at home and away, the centre-forward went 23 matches without registering but now he’s put such frustrations behind him.

The 27-year-old – who overcame illness and injury to head home in front of the Gwladys Street to seal the 2-0 win over Liverpool – returned here to net his fourth goal in his last five outings. The effort took him to 54 for Everton in the Premier League, just two shy of Tim Cahill, the club’s third-highest all-time scorer in the competition and ahead of Abdoulaye Doucoure as the team’s top scorer this season.

Jack the lad

Everton will be a Premier League side next season but we still don’t know about Jack Harrisons parent club Leeds United who with one game to go look like they might have to negotiate the play-offs to secure an immediate top-flight return.

The winger’s future therefore – like the ownership issue at Goodison – remains in the balance. The Blues are not understood to have inserted an option to buy in the 27-year-old’s loan deal but if the Yorkshire side remain in the Championship next term then they might find it difficult to hold on to him.

Like a lot of players in the Everton squad it’s been an up-and-down campaign for Harrison but while we’ve not always seen the kind of early promise he displayed with a wonder goal on his first start against Bournemouth – in a pool of players where there is more graft than craft such ability is a rare commodity – he has demonstrated a willingness to dig in and respond to the manager’s demand for even his wingers to do the hard yards.

Here we saw the two sides of Harrison again as he gave the ball up cheaply in the build-up to Luton’s equaliser but then stuck to his task diligently and almost restored their lead. As the hosts pushed late on though, he made a crucial block to keep out a goal-bound effort and such dedication to the cause might make him a tempting option to keep on further, even if funds remain tight this summer.