Everton ease the pressure on Allardyce
Everton 2 Brighton 0
Everton supporters are still likely to have more fun this season sending each other "Big Sam Out" messages than watching their team, though in fairness to Sam Allardyce and his players this was not a bad performance in the end.
The home side started slowly but improved, the visitors eventually lost their composure to the extent of going down to 10 men, but only after Everton had scored two well-created goals.
"Only wins will keep me in a job," Allardyce suggested before the game, cleverly inviting his critics to be careful what they wish for, and at home at least the results are holding up.
Leighton Baines made his first appearance since November to give Allardyce a much-needed glimpse of what his backline ought to look like, yet even then Everton were compromised by Ashley Williams' suspension and Idrissa Gueye picking up an injury in training the day before the game. In the latter's absence, Everton were light on defensive midfielders, with Wayne Rooney the rearmost of a forward-minded trio.
As Allardyce teams go that amounted to a fairly attacking line-up, and Everton did indeed spend most of the first half pushing forward. They just did not manage to do it very well. Brighton were prepared to let them have most of the possession and concentrate on keeping their defensive shape, and the home side struggled to find any real openings. Séamus Coleman went close early on from a rare move that led to a sight of goal, but otherwise in the first half Mat Ryan was only troubled by a Phil Jagielka header from a corner and Yannick Bolasie shooting into the side netting when Gylfi Sigurdsson sent over another set-piece cross.
The action had become so tepid it was a shock when Brighton suddenly produced an opportunity. Glenn Murray's shot was probably never going to beat Jordan Pickford.
Everton could not inject any pace into their game, despite the lively presence of Theo Walcott on the right, and never came close to creating an opportunity from which Cenk Tosun might profit. When Rooney set Sigurdsson up for a shot from the edge of the area right at the end of the first half, Shane Duffy threw himself in the way before the ball reached Ryan.
Duffy came up with another block at the start of the second half to divert a Rooney shot that might have been heading for goal, before Everton surprised Brighton by taking the lead on the hour. Bolasie in particular seemed to be enduring a wasteful day, yet after an hour of trying he cut in from the left and floated a delightful cross to the far post, where Walcott popped up beside of Gaetan Bong to pressurise the defender into an own goal.
A goal of such elegant simplicity appeared out of character with the rest of the game, but Everton had effectively lulled Brighton into a false sense of security, the visitors paying the price for a momentary lapse of concentration in defence.
It turned out not to be their only one. All Brighton's hard work counted for nothing after Tosun crashed in a shot off the underside of the bar 14 minutes from the end, just after Walcott had left the field with a muscle strain.
Still adjusting to going behind, the visitors first made the mistake of allowing Baines to carry the ball into the area, then they completely failed to spot Tosun unmarked in front of goal. Once Baines rolled the ball across, the Turkey striker found little difficulty in hitting the target, and Brighton's woe was complete a couple of minutes later when Knockaert collected their first red card of the season for a reckless studs-up lunge at Baines.
There was still time for Duffy to concede a penalty, barging Dominic Calvert-Lewin over in the area, and for Rooney to miss it, or at least to allow Ryan to make a diving save low to his right.
Pickford was called into action in stoppage time, producing a good stop to deny Pascal Gross, but Brighton could have no complaints.
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