Everton have looked a completely different outfit under Sean Dyche, and they returned to winning ways on Saturday afternoon with a crucial win in a relegation ‘six-pointer’ against Leeds United. Dyche’s career on Merseyside started strongly with a win over title favourites Arsenal, though his side fell to a defeat against local rivals Liverpool last time out.
As for Leeds, they’re currently without a permanent manager after sacking Jesse Marsch less than a year into his tenure at Elland Road – so it’s Michael Skubala taking charge. His first two games as caretaker manager saw the side play Manchester United twice, managing one draw and one loss.
Sean Dyche made just the one change from their starting lineup against Liverpool, with Neal Maupay introduced in place of Ellis Simms. Skubala’s Leeds lineup remained unchanged from their last fixture against Manchester United, though they welcomed club captain Liam Cooper back to the bench.
EVE: Pickford (GK); Mykolenko, Tarkowski, Coady, Coleman (C); McNeil, Onana, Gueye, Doucore, Iwobi; Maupay
LEE: Meslier (GK); Firpo, Wober, Koch, Ayling (C); Adams, McKennie; Gnonto, Harrison, Summerville; Bamford
The first great chance of the game came after thirty minutes, as Idrissa Gana Gueye sailed down the right flank before working his way past Max Wober. Gueye pulled it back to Onana, but the midfielder’s first-time shot sailed well over the bar.
The chances continued to flow – this time it was Leeds who counterattacked well, but Patrick Bamford got in the way of Willy Gnonto’s shot. Skubala’s side continued to search for an opener as they won the ball back in a dangerous area, but Harrison’s strike from the edge of the box was parried away well by Jordan Pickford.
Everton’s most threatening chances were coming via crosses into the box, and Conor Coady headed towards goal – but it was headed clear by Max Sober on the goal-line. Neal Maupay attempted to fire home the rebound, but Weston McKennie was able to block and keep the scores level.
Dwight McNeil sent another fabulous cross into the area, finding Tarkowski at the back post – with the centre-back rising above Robin Koch to send his header goalwards – but it was pushed wide by Meslier.
A coming together between Tyler Adams and Dwight McNeil just before half-time sparked a huge argument on the touchline, resulting in yellow cards for both players – as well as Doucoure and McKennie. In the two minutes of additional time, Willy Gnonto sailed a beautiful cross into the box towards Summerville – but the forward’s header sailed marginally over the bar.
There was nothing to separate the two teams at the interval, despite a frantic first half that could have seen either side take the lead on numerous occasions. Everton had had the better chances throughout the first 45 minutes, while Leeds had failed to register a shot on target.
Everton dominated after play resumed, with Conor Coady finding Mykolenko on the left flank. The Ukrainian pulled it back to Maupay – but the Frenchman’s shot lacked power and was fired straight into the arms of Illan Meslier.
Sean Dyche’s side finally found a deserved opener in the 64th minute, as Iwobi sent a ball over the top from the halfway line, finding Seamus Coleman on the right flank. Everton’s captain hooked a sensational right-footed effort between a poorly-positioned Meslier and the goal-line – eventually nestling into the far netting to send Everton ahead! Meslier should have done better there, and it’s his positioning that lets him down – but he’s not solely to blame. Michael Skubala’s side still hadn’t managed a shot on target – and so blaming the keeper does seem a little unfair.
A relatively quiet final 25 minutes played out until the referee signalled the end of this heated affair, which would see Willy Gnonto receive a yellow card after the match for taunting Seamus Coleman. Three points for the hosts sees them move out of the relegation zone and into 16th – while Leeds drop to 19th. Skubala’s side face rock-bottom Southampton next weekend, though it remains to be seen whether he’ll still be on the touchline for that fixture. Everton can look forward to hosting Aston Villa.