Rooney rides in to rescue Everton and take heat off Koeman
Striker scores from the penalty spot in the dying minutes to earn point away to Brighton
Everton’s Wayne Rooney scores from the penalty spot late on to equalise in the Premier League game against Brighton at the Amex Stadium. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters
Brighton 1 Everton 1
This match was moved to Sunday afternoon so it could be shown live in India yet those tuning in across Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and elsewhere would have been forgiven for turning off early given the very English contest on show: plenty of huff and puff but very little quality.
For Ronald Koeman it also made for grim viewing up until 90 minutes and with his side 1-0 down following Anthony Knockaert’s goal moments earlier. Everton were struggling again and losing again, with Koeman having to endure taunts from the home supporters of: “You’re getting sacked in the morning!” But then came salvation – a converted penalty from Wayne Rooney that providing his beleaguered manager with some respite on an otherwise difficult afternoon.
The former England captain, back in the side having been dropped for the 1-0 defeat against Burnley before the international break, sent Mathew Ryan the wrong way after Brighton’s captain, Bruno, elbowed Dominic Calvert-Lewin in his desperate attempt to clear a Glyfi Sigurdsson corner. It was a late sucker punch for Chris Hughton’s men, who were on course for a third successive victory on home soil but just what Everton, and Koeman, needed during this grim time for the Merseyside club.
This would have been a fifth defeat in eight Premier League games had they not responded to Knockaert’s close-range finish on 83 minutes and questions really would have been asked about the long-term future of their manager. As it is, Koeman can breath easier and may well reflect on the excellent double save Ryan made in second-half injury time.
Intrigue lay in Koeman’s starting selections and whether or not he would bring in young talent, specifically Jonjoe Kenny, Mason Holgate and Tom Davies, in order to reinvigorate a side that lost in such stodgy circumstances against Burnley. In the end, only Holgate of that trio was selected and instead the most notable change to the Everton team, lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, were the return of two relative old-timers in Rooney and the captain, Phil Jagielka.
Speaking of old-timers, Glenn Murray was chosen to start for Brighton for only the second time this season, with the 34-year-old deployed as the hosts’ lone centre forward in a 4-4-1-1 formation. It took Murray some time to make a meaningful contribution in this contest, however, given Everton’s impressive start. The visitors were immediately on the front foot, pressing high up the pitch, forcing their opponents back and using the ball quickly and purposefully.
They also played with genuine width, something that has been missing from the Merseysiders’ play for much of this season, with Calvert-Lewin looking to stretch Brighton from the left flank and Nikola Vlasic doing the same from the right.
Brighton were struggling to create any attacking momentum but they maintained discipline in their defensive shape and kept Everton pretty much at arm’s length until the 19th minute when Idrissa Gueye produced the first shot on target – a low drive following a quick shift of passes across Brighton’s area by Rooney and Sigurdsson that forced Ryan into a low save.
That should have been the moment Everton went for the kill but instead it was Brighton who took charge. The hosts got up the pitch and on 31 minutes Knockaert and Shane Duffy fired shots at goal in quick succession, both of which were blocked by a diving Everton body, the second leading to appeals of handball against Michael Keane. The referee, Michael Oliver, was not moved, as was the case shortly afterwards when Murray went down in the area under a challenge, again from Keane.
The start of the second half was a frantic affair, with players from both sides hurtling around but not really going anywhere. Very little football was being played and that which was lacked quality, such as Murray’s poor touch on 51 minutes as he attempted to take Pascal Gross’s square pass in his stride and Nikola Vlasic’s shot on 53 minutes that was sliced wide after the Croatian kicked the ball against his standing foot.
In between that, Holgate forced Ryan into another save having skilfully got away from Solly March and on 56 minutes Everton’s chances of creating more goalscoring opportunities could have been advanced had Oliver dismissed Davy Propper after he trod on Gueye’s calf. It certainly looked like a red card offence but the referee, perhaps somewhat unsighted, only booked the Dutchman.
On 68 minutes, Koeman took off Gueye and brought on Oumar Niasse, the man whose two goals secured victory against Bournemouth at Goodison Park last month. Hughton reacted with two substitutions of his own shortly after and it was the first of them, José Izquierdo, who had the next meaningful attempt on goal, a rasping shot from distance that forced Jordan Pickford into a low save.
As was the case in the first half, Brighton were suddenly on top and, again like in the first half, looked on in frustration and anguish as Keane blocked a seemingly goalbound shot from Knockaert. The England centre half was at it again on 83 minutes but this time Knockaert was not to be denied, following up and finishing past Pickford .
Cue bedlam among the home supporters, who shortly afterwards began taunting Koeman. The Dutchman may well have been fearing the worst, and especially after Izzy Brown forced Pickford into a flying save moments later. But then Rooney rode to the rescue.