McNeil’s superb strike gives defiant Everton vital win at Nottingham Forest

<span>Photograph: Nigel French/PA</span>
Photograph: Nigel French/PA

Dwight McNeil’s first goal of the season enabled Everton to extend their impressive away record and move to within two points of the safety zone as they showed their off-field fight against their 10-point penalty will be matched on the pitch.

The left winger scored with a superb shot with the outside of his boot midway through the second half as Everton won their third successive away match in the Premier League, making it 13 points from seven games on their travels. The result should give their supporters belief that their top-flight status can be secured, regardless of the outcome of their appeal against the penalty for breaching the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules.

Forest, with only victory in 10 matches, failed to find enough “guile and creativity” according to their manager, Steve Cooper. Heart and soul may not be enough if they cannot re-find their rhythm, especially now they have misplaced their unbeaten home record over these past two games. Trips to Fulham and Wolves this week are looking significant for Cooper.

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“We shall not be moved” sang the Everton fans in the Bridgford Stand after the final whistle and Sean Dyche is urging them to keep the faith as they await the result of the appeal, which is likely to come next month. “What do you do until there’s more news?” the Everton manager said. “We spoke with the players. It’s out of our control so we’ll control the controllables and one of them is us, with the mentality to perform.

“To get that first win after that news is very pleasing. It blows belief into the fans, into the group, into the players, because they still have to look at the table at some point. We have to wait and see what an appeal will bring, so in the meantime we’ve got to get on with business.”

Morgan Gibbs-White takes a shot for Nottingham Forest against Everton.

Everton appeared to be lacking a cutting edge with Dominic Calvert-Lewin out with a muscle injury. His replacement, Beto, half-volleyed over the crossbar after Odysseas Vlachodimos, duelling with McNeil, failed to get a clean punch on James Tarkowski’s long ball down the middle during the first half.

Forest rallied, with Anthony Elanga swivelling to shoot just wide, Morgan Gibbs-White striking an effort into the side-netting and Felipe, on as a half-time substitute for his first appearance of the season, nudging a shot against the outside of a post early in the second half. But they did not manage an effort on target until Murillo’s shot was palmed aside by Jordan Pickford in the 87th minute.

They also continued to look vulnerable, with Abdoulaye Doucouré revelling in the space he found behind the Forest midfield. Murillo had to clear off the line from McNeil before the winger struck midway through the second period.

Everton had continued to press with a barrage of crosses. Most of them were headed away as Forest defended doughtily. But then Jack Harrison exchanged a one-two with Idrissa Gueye down the right and saw his deflected cross reach McNeil coming in from the opposite flank. There was scant cover as the winger swerved a superb half-volley into the far top corner.

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Dyche knows all about McNeil’s quality from their time together at Burnley. “He’s been terrific in his work ethic, which is something we ask of all of our players,” the manager said. “And I know he’s got ability and he showed that today, not just with his goal, which was a fine strike, but other parts of his game: his control and his understanding is improving all the time. But that’s built on the fact that he will do the hard yards to do well for the team, and they are good qualities to have.”

Forest went for broke, as they had to, deploying Callum Hudson-Odoi and Elanga as wing-backs with Orel Mangala sitting in front of a back three. But Everton love this kind of situation; they have not lost under Dyche after scoring first. They were not about to change that narrative now.