In the Carabao Cup Everton certainly enjoy being beside the sea: twice in two years in this competition they have departed the Lancashire coast with victory over Fleetwood Town.
This win was far harder than the 5-2 rout of 2020 when Carlo Ancelotti was in charge, as the 14th-ranked League One team went close to proving the banana skin in waiting they appeared.
But Everton’s class, as it should, prevailed and Frank Lampard can be grateful for a first win of the campaign following an insipid start in the Premier League that has yielded a solitary point from the nine available. “They made it tough for us,” said the manager. “I was pleased with the attitude – though we could’ve been more intense at times.”
After a blast of Phil Oakey and Giorgio Moroder’s Together in Electric Dreams from the PA, the opening half began with Jakub Stolarczyk suffering a scare when Salomón Rondón went close to charging the No 1’s clearance down.
Scott Brown, once of Celtic and Scotland, was taking charge of only a seventh game in management, his Town record at kick-off reading two wins, three draws and a defeat. He saw his men, configured in a 4-2-3-1, threaten when the Liverpudlian Ged Garner shot on Asmir Begovic’s goal was blocked before Carl Johnston unloaded and the Toffees keeper saved.
Lampard’s XI was strong as it featured Nathan Patterson, Alex Iwobi, Michael Keane and Seamus Coleman with the £60m-rated Chelsea target, Anthony Gordon, a replacement. He denied the latter decision was to protect the club asset. “No, he had a small heel injury and didn’t train yesterday but was fit to play if needed. The situation hasn’t changed. We are aware of Chelsea’s interest but Anthony is an Everton player,” the manager said.
Lampard was asked about a report claiming that the forward has told the club he wishes to join Chelsea. “I would never discuss a conversation like that. I have a good relationship with Anthony,” he said. “We don’t need Anthony to go to [add] more players – [but] we need help with the squad there [the final third].”
Tom Davies had been slated to start but a knock during the warm-up meant Demarai Gray was drafted in and he would prove the tie-winner. Before this, Everton were slick. Iwobi fed his left wing-back, Rúben Vinagre, whose cross, aimed at Rondón, should have fashioned the opener but the No 9 missed his header. Brown’s men could be as cute. A ploy had Ged Garner, playing behind namesake centre-forward, Joe, spinning off the front to link with Harvey Macadam or Cian Hayes in midfield.
Rondón, again, should have scored when Dwight McNeil floated in from the right and poked a ball to him but his effort was wide. Brendan Wiredu now committed a far bigger howler by passing straight to McNeil. As Brown wheeled away in horror on the touchline the No 7 found Iwobi who fed Gray and as Stolarczyk charged out the late replacement made no mistake.
Fleetwood had a streetwisdom that could be traced back to the combative midfielder of Brown’s playing days. The Scottish slang for this is “gallus” and there was plenty when Town flooded Everton’s area, Drew Baker went down in a melee, and the Highbury Stadium faithful howled unsuccessfully for a penalty.
Tom Reeves, the referee, was not impressed but the Cod Army, defiant, continued in sledgehammer mode, trying to crash through the blue wall. Joe Garner might have done so when hitting a pile-driver but Vinagre, flinging himself at the ball, stymied him. At the other end Patterson twice let fly and twice found his radar awry. Next, Amadou Onana was upended, causing a derisory Brown howl at what he rated as ham-acting, and Town kept pressing. It caused Everton to dig deep and reach for quality to push the opponent back, Iwobi spraying one curving ball wide to Coleman that oozed class.
If not quite enough to prevail so, too, did Town’s approach. Brown and his charges sent their fans home proud.