This was not quite the crowd-pleasing performance Carlo Ancelotti will have been hoping for as his Everton side attempted to draw a line under the nightmare that was Anfield, though at least it was a second home win for the new manager and another three points to add up to a reasonable haul of nine from four games in charge.
While Ancelotti will have been pleased that the home crowd got behind the players after some expressions of discontent in midweek, he will be aware that the mood might easily have shifted had Brighton grabbed a draw with one of a couple of late chances. Such a result would have flattered a rather pallid Brighton performance, but after failing once again to turn their superiority into goals Everton knew they were living dangerously.
“The result was most important but our performance was good for 60 minutes,” Ancelotti said. “We can continue to improve on our consistency and intensity, at least we have time to work now we don’t have so many games all at once.”
Graham Potter acknowledged his side could have earned a point in the end, but was honest enough to admit it would have been unmerited. “I can’t sit here and say we deserved anything,” he Brighton said. “We didn’t do enough in the final third.”
Everton could have had a penalty in the opening minutes but VAR agreed with David Coote that Lewis Dunk had not fouled Theo Walcott in the area, even though the defender clearly had a handful of the winger’s shirt as he tried to reach Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s flick.
Walcott was not exactly playing on the wing, when Everton were in possession he and Bernard tucked in behind the front two so that the formation was a quite narrow 4-2-2-2. Bernard was in just such a position when he slid ball forward for Calvert-Lewin midway through the first half, for the striker to send a cross across the face of goal that neither Mat Ryan nor Richarlison could quite reach.
For the most part, however, the home side’s first-half efforts tended to break down on the edge of the Brighton area, either through a lack of real width or the inability to find a telling final pass.
That changed just before the interval when Bernard finally brought Lucas Digne into the equation on the left, instead of funnelling everything through Djibril Sidibé on the right. Digne laid off almost immediately to Richarlison, who had started the move, and though the situation at first looked unpromising once the Brazilian had half-turned to bring the ball on to his right foot he was able to place a shot into Ryan’s bottom corner.
Brighton were obliged to step up their attacking efforts in the second half – or actually produce some attacking efforts after a fairly unproductive first period – and Leandro Trossard offered some encouragement to the travelling support in the Bullens Road stand by cutting in from the left and hitting the top of Jordan Pickford’s bar.
As in the first half, Everton were enjoying most of the possession, with Brighton content to keep numbers back and make it difficult for the home side to find a way through. The crowd rose in excitement when Calvert-Lewin escaped his markers to set up a shooting opportunity, then groaned in disappointment when he put his attempt too close to Ryan in the Brighton goal.
The ball did find the back of the net with just over 10 minutes remaining, but Calvert-Lewin forcing the ball over the line after Digne had taken the slowest corner in the history of the Premier League failed to survive a VAR check, which detected handball.
The visitors had their best moment shortly after that, when the evergreen Glenn Murray produced a glancing header on target from Trossard’s cross, only to see Pickford fling himself across goal to keep it out.
There was still time for another Murray near miss before the end, as Ancelotti sent on his defensive substitutes to protect a slender lead.
“To be a manager is to be challenged every week,” Ancelotti said. If he enjoys a challenge, he has picked the right club.