Julen Lopetegui toasted Wolves’ first away win of the season with a declaration of hard times ahead for the team that started Boxing Day at the foot of the Premier League. It goes without saying that the same applies for Everton and Frank Lampard.
The new Wolves manager was braver in his second-half approach, bold with his substitutions and rewarded with a fortunate but highly dramatic victory when Rayan Aït-Nouri completed a comeback in the 95th minute. Three substitutes – Matheus Nunes, Adama Traoré and the French defender – combined to punish a careless and cautious Everton display on the counterattack in the final seconds. Lopetegui and Wolves have liftoff, at least from the bottom of the table.
“We must enjoy the three points but we have a hard task in front of us and we have to continue working and improving. We’ve not done anything yet,” said Lopetegui, the former Spain, Real Madrid and Sevilla head coach. “We are aware of our position. I’m happy for our fans and above all the players who have suffered a lot. They need to believe more in themselves. But this is only the first step and tomorrow morning we have to be ready to think about Manchester United. It is going to be a long race and we have to be ready for the good and bad moments.”
Lampard looked physically ill when Aït-Nouri turned Traoré’s cross beyond Jordan Pickford at the back post. With good reason. Everton have lost six of their last eight league games and continue to suffer from a chronic lack of quality, creativity and precision in the final third. With Dominic Calvert-Lewin still recovering from injury Lampard started with Dwight McNeil, Neal Maupay and Anthony Gordon in attack. It was a frontline befitting a relegation-threatened team. With few alternatives on the bench, reinforcements through the January transfer window cannot come quickly enough.
“We were the better team but unfortunately if you’re not clinical these things can happen. We got hit in the end,” said the Everton manager. “It is a concern. If you can’t be clinical, and we had good chances and good situations around the box that we didn’t take, then it’s difficult to get any comfort in a game. We need more options.”
While the ending was torturous for Lampard, the start could not have gone any better for an Everton team needing to atone for a pre-World Cup collapse. Yerry Mina was handed a first Premier League start since the opening day of the season with Conor Coady ineligible to face his parent club. From McNeil’s floated corner, the injury-prone defender brushed aside the weak resistance of Hugo Bueno to steer a glancing header inside the far corner of José Sá’s goal. Mina hobbled off with his obligatory injury late on. Cramp, Lampard hopes.
Wolves recovered slowly, growing in confidence as they passed around the Everton press, and drew level from an expertly worked corner of their own. Everton were never alert to Wolves’ short corner routine. Daniel Podence played it to Rúben Neves, who was granted time and space to float a pass to João Moutinho on the far side of the penalty area. Moutinho, also under no pressure, lofted a beautiful ball back over the Everton defence for Podence to run through and beat Pickford with a close-range volley.
Diego Costa missed a fine opportunity to prey on Goodison’s anxiety when heading tamely at the England goalkeeper from Bueno’s left-wing cross. The full-back also forced Pickford into a save early in the second half. Otherwise it was Everton who created the clearer chances but succeeded in demonstrating why improvement is required as a matter of urgency when the transfer window opens.
Gordon and Maupay missed half chances before Idrissa Gana Gueye intercepted a Nathan Collins clearance and prised open the visiting defence with a perfect pass into Gordon’s stride. The 21-year-old, who is close to signing a new contract at Everton and had worked on his finishing during the break according to Lampard, made it easy for Sá to save low to his left. Maupay sent another effort straight at the Portugal keeper after pouncing on a Collins error.
Wolves were more composed in the second half and attacked in greater numbers, although created little until the stoppage-time sting. The home crowd were in the midst of berating their team’s slow, safety-first approach when James Tarkowski launched one final, long ball forward. It returned with punishing interest. Nunes sent Traoré scampering down the right and, though Costa missed the cross, it fell perfectly for Aït-Nouri to hold off Amadou Onana and convert at the back post. “I always knew this year was going to be tough,” Lampard said, with some understatement.