If the future ownership of Everton is a confused picture, there were few doubts about this being a season of struggle. Amid a highly welcome first win of the season were signs a thin squad has enough to survive, and whoever becomes their new owners might have a Premier League going concern on their hands.
Though if Everton are to struggle, on the balance of their comprehensive win, the chances are Brentford, already short of Ivan Toney, now racked by an injury crisis, will be down there too. Though this was a first defeat of the season, home form has deserted them, energy levels failing to deliver the yield of the past two seasons; three points from four matches at the Community Stadium is way under par.
“The first five games of the season we performed very well,” said Thomas Frank. “This was hopefully a one-off. We need to come out with a completely different mindset and performance in our next game.”
As dusk descended, Everton strolled into a decisive lead, Dominic Calvert-Lewin scoring the third, and a team previously sapped in confidence was winning rather easily, against expectation. Though in the raw, energetic signing Beto, the leadership of the inspirational James Tarkowski, starring against his former club, and a powerful midfield perhaps there always was sufficient quality.
“I thought it was a similar performance to ones we didn’t win in that we created chances,” said a delighted Sean Dyche. “It was a worthy win in the end.”
Injuries have clearly upset the balance of Brentford, now without the excellent Rico Henry for the season. Coupled with Ben Mee’s more temporary absence with a muscle injury, a defensive reshuffle was required before Frank’s options were further reduced when a pre-match mishap ruled out Kevin Schade.
To counter Brentford’s raiding full-backs, Dyche had slapped five – and considerable muscle – across the middle. James Garner’s neater distribution replacing Arnaut Danjuma was the only change from last week’s submissive loss to Arsenal. It proved highly successful as Garner excelled in a scampering role off the flanks. “I like the way he can play the game,” said Dyche. “He can adapt very well.”
Everton’s strong start got its early reward. Tarkowski, booed by unforgiving Brentford fans for enforcing his 2016 move to Burnley, nodded down Garner’s cross for Abdoulaye Doucouré to score.
There were multiple chances to double the lead. Beto flicked on for Dwight McNeil to fire wide, the lone Portuguese striker a constant menace. A pressured Ethan Pinnock presented Vitalii Mykolenko with a miscued clearance the Ukrainian failed to convert. Next, Doucouré almost repeated his goal by taking down Tarkowski’s lofted pass and hitting the angle. Free-flowing, almost swaggering, this was surely the best Everton had played all season.
And yet, within moments of Doucouré’s miss, Brentford had their equaliser, Mathias Jensen firing beyond Jordan Pickford and off the post. Such a setback sent Everton, beyond Beto, who remained threatening, briefly back into submission mode.
Sent out early, encouraged back out of their shell by their manager, Everton began the second half as strongly as the first. That Brentford retained a latent threat on the counter was the worry for Dyche and his assistants, Steve Stone and Ian Woan, with whom he remained in constant discussion.
Beto flashing a header wide from another prompting Tarkowski chip proved his last contribution, with Calvert-Lewin coming on. “I’d still like to play two strikers when I can,” said Dyche. “But it’s got to suit the players.”
Frank had meanwhile reconfigured his defence into a trio but a set piece – usually one of Brentford’s strong suits – proved their undoing. The boos ringing out signalled it was Tarkowski climbing highest to reach McNeil’s arrowing corner.
“This is by far our worst,” admitted the Brentford captain, Christian Nørgaard. “We struggled to get to grips with the basics.”
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The third soon followed. Garner robbed the idling Nathan Collins and supplied Calvert-Lewin for a goal taken with considerable confidence considering the one-time England striker only scored twice in the entirety of last season.
“You can see the emotion at the end with the lads and the fans,” said a smiling Calvert-Lewin. “When I came off against Aston Villa my own fans booed me off.”
His relief was obvious, though if Everton are to avoid the abyss, then the unity and quality shown at Brentford must be repeated many times over.