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Beesotted’s Jem Rampling rounds up a result to celebrate on a cold afternoon at New Griffin Park.

Overall performance  

Not an easy game to write about, this one lacked any clear narrative and will be quickly forgotten. Two teams on poor runs of form, two forward lines mostly failing to achieve what they were setting out to do, two midfields struggling to exert their influence on the other. The result hinged on a VAR-directed penalty, earned by Onyeka sharply putting his head in the path of Townsend’s boot, and on such small margins are scrappy matches won.

The game started at a slow pace, hinting at insecurities on both sides. Noticeably lacking in intensity, the first twenty minutes were characterised by loose passing as Everton looked for the overlap and Brentford were targeting set pieces and long throws. Neither seemed to be working.

It came to life from a Brentford corner. Pickford, exuding his characteristic nervous tension, flapped at an inswinger and the bounce allowed Onyeka to win the decisive penalty. The decision took a while, and in the following voided passage of play Mbeumo deserves great credit for chasing down Everton’s most dangerous break before putting in an impressive last ditch blocking tackle on Rondon. But once Darren England went to the touchline to review the decision, we knew which way it would be called. And when Toney steps up to the spot, you just know…

For a brief moment after the goal the Bees came to life with some incisive attacking play, opening a couple of opportunities for Mbeumo and one for Janelt, all fluffed. Then it was back into the shell with cautious, stuttering progressive play. Fernandez was called into an important save when Rondon turned Jansson in the box, a save for which he can feel he earned his clean sheet.

The second half rarely came to life. Demarai Gray provided some class when introduced but found his teammates not on his wavelength. A lack of accuracy in the Bees game invited pressure, but Everton were limp and lacked the quality to capitalise.  Still, as the minutes passed and the team sat deeper, abdicating more and more possession, my corner of the West Stand was a taught and nervous place. To counter, Shandon Baptiste made an important twenty minute cameo from the bench, providing energy and control into a flagging midfield before relief came at the final whistle.

All in all, a mixed performance. A clean sheet and three points are reasons to go home happy. But it felt a little directionless, a little messy. And Everton were there for the taking. While it might not be right to say it could have gone either way, it was probably fitting that it was decided by a penalty. Then again, as far as penalties go, Ivan’s are a thing of beauty.

Best Performers 

Toney, as always. But for all the scrappiness of the midfield battle, some good individual performances came from the midfield today. Janelt grew as the game developed, the intensity of his press matched by the strength of his tackling. Norgaard was ubiquitous, calming but occasionally off with his passing. Onyeka lasted the full ninety and provided a certain direct threat. If only they could play a little more as a midfield unit.

Our clean sheet perhaps owed as much to Everton’s attacking incompetence as our defensive strength. Henry, before being put out of action by a clumsy collision with Canos , was looking every bit the top-level player we know him to be. The unfairly maligned Goode is doing all he can to prove his right to feature and looks a better fit than Roerslev for that third centre back slot. He deserves to be taken seriously now.

Room for improvement 

Our ball retention is not currently good enough for the Premier League, and we invite pressure on ourselves more than we can afford to do. It cost us momentum and goals in our previous two games and would have cost us today against a better attacking force than Everton. The short passing game is not where it needs to be, the temptation to hoof the ball long in the approximate direction of Ivan Toney is a concerning short-cut that we revert to far too often. To my eyes we are sitting back and playing last minute football far too early in these games.

The quality in possession extends to our playing out from the back, which is more stagnant than we are used to. There is caution and negativity in our approach, passes are falling behind the intended player, slowing the progression of play and making it harder to beat the opponents’ press. The sharpness of the pass-and-move that characterises our best play has gone astray.

It is fair to reflect that the players are required to do much more off the ball in this than in previous seasons, against a fitter and higher calibre of opponent. This may contribute to a shift in focus, and the continued tendency to wane towards the end of games. Injuries abound, potentially for similar reasons, and the bench simply has to support if we are going to thrive in this league.

A word on the opposition 

Everton supporters believe they are underachieving and they are clearly an unhappy club. The reaction of their fans at the final whistle had the hint of a #Teams like Brentford gripe about it. Perhaps they are entitled to expect better football, perhaps not. But dishonour sits not with their supporters but with their players, who disgraced themselves in refusing to put the ball out for Henry’s injury moments after Canos had done so for Digne. That was unacceptable, and quite shameful, and deserving of all the vitriol and spittle directed at them from their own fans at full time.

Summing Up 

This was certainly our most functional result of the season.  We won’t meet many teams with less bite than Everton this term but, in our current run of form, it was simply a game to be won. We weren’t particularly impressive, nor were we incisive, but the defence was organised and the clean sheet really matters. Three points in this league buys a brief cushion and we can be happy with a seven point buffer to 18th, with a frenetic month ahead of us. It was a crap game, but I haven’t looked forward to Match of the Day this much in weeks….

Jem Rampling