Everton needed perfect response as chaos shifted to embarrassing Nottingham Forest

Idrissa Gueye of Everton celebrates his goal with Abdoulaye Doucoure (L) during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Nottingham Forest at Goodison Park on April 21, 2024 -Credit:Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images
Idrissa Gueye of Everton celebrates his goal with Abdoulaye Doucoure (L) during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Nottingham Forest at Goodison Park on April 21, 2024 -Credit:Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Everton’s week began in humiliation but Goodison Park united to land a massive blow that sent a relegation rival into farce.

As those in blue applauded the supporters who backed them despite the collapse at Chelsea days earlier, decision-makers at Nottingham Forest were signing off a statement that should have been scrapped in embarrassment.

As a result, the headlines from a win that took Everton to the cusp of Premier League survival will instead focus on the desperate claims of bias Forest launched at officials after the final whistle. That Everton, days after a 6-0 humbling at Chelsea, should not be the team that ends this week in chaos is testament to the significance of this crucial win.

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It is also testament to the power of Goodison and the resilience that appeared to have been lost across a difficult few months at Everton. Before the match, supporter group the 1878s spent days telegraphing the importance of rallying behind the players at another time of need - the third season in a row. They acted again and the Gwladys Street and Park End were resplendent with flags, banners and cards as the players emerged from the tunnel.

Those players - and Sean Dyche - knew it was their responsibility to respond on the pitch after days of frank, candid soul-searching at Finch Farm. They did, and this 2-0 win moves Everton five points clear of the bottom three with a game in hand and a superior goal difference to Luton Town, the team at the top of the relegation zone.

Idrissa Gueye and Dwight McNeil’s goals place Everton in a commanding position over both the Hatters. They also open a gap to struggling Forest, clearly the reason for a social media outburst from the club that claimed they should have had three penalties. The message said club calls for Stuart Attwell had been ignored before the match - claiming him to be a Luton supporter - and added: “Our patience has been tested multiple times. NFFC will now consider its options.”

That message must have been drawn up as Goodison stood in concern while Beto lay stricken on the pitch following a clash of heads with Morgan Gibbs-White in stoppage time. During the gaps from home supporters singing Beto’s name, cries from some in the away end included a rendition of ‘sign-on’ directed at those in the stands around them. If this is truly a time for reflection then maybe Forest should also consider calling them out. Beto was stretchered off amid concern but, while further detail of his condition was yet to be shared, he was able to speak to medical staff during his treatment and after the game Dyche said there were "positive signs".

The injury to Beto was the only cloud over Everton on a sunny afternoon that has re-defined the relegation battle. The club still has work to do but act one of three in a week at Goodison has done much to ease the pressure going into the Merseyside derby and then the visit of Brentford. This is a win that makes it far more likely that Wednesday’s derby will be the penultimate one in the league in this famous stadium - not the last.

Forest will point to big decisions at big moments in this game and this was a rare afternoon in which VAR proved helpful to Everton. Of the three big calls that Forest alleged went against them, two were in the first half and checked by VAR. The first, with the game goalless, saw referee Anthony Taylor wave away claims of a foul by Ashley Young on Gio Reyna. VAR reviewed and found there to be minimal contact. The ECHO understands a handball claim late in the first half against Young was dismissed as his arm was deemed to be in a natural position given his movement at the time.

By that point, Everton’s most unlikely hero had defied the fears of a stadium to help his side take a major step towards Premier League safety. When Murillo’s tame header bounced to the edge of the Forest area there was a collective wince around Goodison as Gueye wound up to shoot. Too many supporters have cried in anguish too many times when the central midfielder has ended promising attacks with a wild effort from long range. Yet this time Everton’s smallest player produced a seismic moment as he screwed a half-volley beyond the scrambling Matz Sels. It was a snapshot of inspiration that sent a roar of celebration and relief around L4 and the Blues to the brink of survival.

Gueye’s strike also released the pressure on a club after one of its most humiliating experiences of a torrid three years of fighting relegation. The hammering at Chelsea on Monday caused shockwaves in the dressing room. It was a capitulation that had echoes of the home thrashing by Newcastle United 12 months ago, a result and performance that convinced many in Royal Blue that the Championship beckoned. On that Thursday night, the shambles was summed up effectively when Everton won a free kick on the edge of the area and Gueye, rarely afforded such an opportunity for this side, stepped up to take responsibility and promptly wasted it. One year on, memories of that and other torrid efforts flashed through the minds of supporters as Gueye ran onto the loose ball. This time the 34-year-old left fans with a memory they will savour.

Gueye was also key to the goal that sealed this win. McNeil had scored with a rasping effort when Everton won at Forest in December and he was afforded too much time and space on the edge of the box after Gueye broke up an attack with the away team pushing forward. He laid the ball to McNeil, who exchanged passes with Abdoulaye Doucoure and then sent a pinpoint low effort in off the post.

This was not easy for Everton. In Jordan Pickford they were forced to rely on one of the figures whose crucial saves at pivotal moments have been a reoccurring theme of recent fights against the drop. For his spectacular stop against Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea under Frank Lampard and the penalty save from Leicester City’s James Maddison last season, now enter into the records the stunning close-range block from a powerful back post Chris Wood half-volley on the stroke of half-time. Gibbs-White sent wide from a glorious chance at the start of the second half and there was then the third penalty appeal, again involving Young for a challenge on Hudson-Odoi.

But just like in the aftermath of Newcastle last season, when Everton picked up eight points from the final five games to stay up, Dyche managed to find a response when it mattered. Because of that, those in Royal Blue shirts were able to look those in the stands in the eye amid the celebrations on the final whistle. Forest, meanwhile, were left scrabbling for survival on the pitch and credibility off it.