Everton v Huddersfield Town: Five Things We Learned

by Paul McNamara

Sam Allardyce began his reign as Everton’s 18th permanent manager by overseeing an ultimately comfortable 2-0 win over obstinate Huddersfield Town at Goodison Park.

That’s six goals scored and none conceded in the space of four rather productive days for the Blues.

We saw Wayne Rooney dazzle in midfield against West Ham United on Wednesday, when, by Allardyce’s judgement, the 32-year-old demonstrated the cunning, vision and nous to prove himself a sound long-term bet to excel in Everton’s engine room.

New boss Allardyce claimed on the eve of Huddersfield’s visit that the Toffees’ performance, as they targeted back-to-back victories, would tell him an “awful lot” about his players.

Here, we pick out five talking points from an afternoon that saw Everton answer their manager’s demand for consistency – and ensure the Yorkshire club’s wait for a league success against the Blues will extend into a 62nd year.

Gylfi on song

Gylfi Sigurdsson’s post-match message was unequivocal. “The confidence is coming back,” the Icelander said, the conviction of his words matching the assurance and authority he had displayed across the preceding 90 minutes.

Sigurdsson was actually referring to the robust mental condition of his team. But no player embodies Everton’s renewed belief more than their Club-record signing.

Cast your mind back two months. The Toffees were playing Burnley at home and struggling to inject any urgency or fluency into their attacking work.

Consequently, any scoring opportunities represented rare currency indeed. Which perhaps explained why, when the ball landed at Sigurdsson’s feet in front of goal at the Howard Kendall Gwladys Street End, the midfielder snatched at his shot and dumped it into the gloves of goalkeeper Nick Pope.

Yesterday, with the scores still locked at 0-0 – and openings, once more, at a premium – Sigurdsson found himself in a similar spot, both literally and metaphorically speaking.

He was in the same penalty box and, courtesy of Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s delicious flick, had the chance to steer the narrative of the afternoon in his team's favour.

What happened next, perhaps, gave us a glimpse of what confidence – an intangible quality, after all – really looks like.

Instinct took over. Without a second thought, Sigurdsson swiped his right boot through the ball, stroking it conclusively into the bottom-left corner and, effectively, setting Everton on course to win the match.

This continues an emerging theme. Sigurdsson has been directly involved in a goal for his side in each of the Toffees’ past four games.

The perfectly weighted pass for Oumar Niasse at Crystal Palace, a glorious strike against Southampton – the fact you fancied his chances of hitting the jackpot as he drew back his right foot to shoot at St Mary's constituting a nod towards Sigurdsson’s inherent class – and the corner plonked on Ashley Williams’ head to complete Everton’s rout of West Ham.

Factor in the fabulous pirouette and pass that released Calvert-Lewin to win a penalty against the Hammers, and there is little doubting that Sigurdsson is hitting his straps in an Everton shirt.

No change

Allardyce admitted he had been enormously impressed as he watched Everton put West Ham to the sword from his main stand vantage point on Wednesday.

A cynic might have suggested the new boss could not say any different. His glowing verdict on his new troops was lent its substance, then, when the teamsheets for yesterday’s encounter rattled off the Goodison printers.

Same again, Allardyce had demanded from his side. And he set the benchmark for consistency by naming the same team that had comprehensively disposed of David Moyes’ men in midweek.

You could forgive any manager new to a job for feeling compelled to make changes, keen to establish his presence, or even make early inroads into justifying his appointment.

Allardyce, though, has been doing this for a quarter of a century. As such he was comfortable enough in his own skin to resist any temptation to shake things up.

The players who had earned three points against West Ham, had similarly earned the right to go again.

This way, relationships develop on the pitch. Witness Williams and Mason Holgate’s burgeoning partnership in the middle of the Blues’ defence, or the intuitive understanding forming between Sigurdsson and Calvert-Lewin.

Allardyce finessed things during the game, tweaking tactics to enable Sigurdsson and Aaron Lennon to impose their attacking wares on Huddersfield.

In short, the new boss provided his players with the platform to show what they could do. And they responded accordingly.

Game changer Holgate

Mason Holgate warrants great credit for his part in Everton recording successive clean sheets this week – the Toffees' having previously failed to shutout any opposition since the victory over Stoke City on the season’s opening day.

The former Barnsley player adopts a positive approach to his defending, swarming all over his direct opponent, seeking to steal in front of the centre forward to nick possession and spring the Blues onto the front foot, whenever possible.

Crucially, Holgate backs himself in a foot race, which has enabled Everton to push higher up the pitch in their past two matches.

West Ham, and Huddersfield after them, were forced to launch their attacks from deep, meaning the Toffees have been defending fewer crosses and threatening balls into their own box.

In turn, Everton are winning the ball in more dangerous areas. The second goal on Saturday, for example, resulted from Idrissa Gana Gueye snaffling possession in Huddersfield territory. 

When Rooney picked up the scraps he was already descending on the Terriers’ rearguard and able to pick the pass which unzipped the visitors’ completely – leaving Calvert-Lewin to do the rest.

"I think he has set his standards now," Allardyce said of Holgate's performance. Rich and fully merited praise for the rapidly maturing 21-year-old.

Shutouts the bedrock of success

Stop your opposition scoring, and your chances of winning increase substantially. It sounds simple.

Keeping clean sheets, though, is anything but – which is why Allardyce drew as much satisfaction from the Toffees denying West Ham so much as a consolation goal last week, as he did from the four Everton put past Joe Hart.

“It was only the second clean sheet we have achieved,” said Allardyce on Friday. “Everybody knows the defensive solidarity of any team defines the success of a football club.”

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow… and two swiftly became three this weekend.

The value of protecting your own goal was underlined during a first-half that represented something of a stalemate.

Huddersfield did not threaten with any regularity. When David Wagner’s team did spring to life, however, they were promptly and efficiently smothered – given no encouragement whatsoever that their more ambitious endeavours would meet with a successful conclusion.

Everton have conceded 14 goals before the 47-minute mark in 15 Premier League matches this term.

When Sigurdsson struck on 47 minutes against Huddersfield, though, he was putting his side in front. Investment in defensive ballast, then, pays out handsome dividends.

It was instructive, too, that Allardyce bolstered his backline with an extra body, in the shape of Michael Keane, following Calvert-Lewin’s strike.

One Huddersfield goal would not have altered the result, but the manager appreciated the wider value of that clean sheet, how another show of impregnability would allow his defenders to walk that bit taller as they emerge from a testing period.

Furthermore, Keane, whose previous involvement came in difficult circumstances at Southampton, was able to stride off the pitch reflecting on his part in repelling Huddersfield’s late, aerial assault on Everton’s box.

Young at heart

When he settled on his starting XI, Allardyce was staying true to one of the tenets which underpins his new club.

Everton’s team contained four players aged 21 or under. More relevant, perhaps, was that a hefty portion of this youth was deployed right down the spine of the Toffees’ side.

We have discussed Holgate, the oldest of the quartet, and his controlled display at centre-half.

In midfield, the experience of Rooney and Gueye was allied to an energetic, fearless performance from 19-year-old Tom Davies.

Calvert-Lewin, meanwhile, goes from strength to strength, relishing the responsibility of stepping into the shoes of some bona fide Club legends as Everton’s centre-forward. 

And what of Jonjoe Kenny – like Calvert-Lewin, still only 20 – outstanding against Huddersfield on what was his 10th start on the bounce?

Worth noting, too, that goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is still three months shy of his 24th birthday.

Davies said last week that he was confident things would go well for Everton under Allardyce.

It would be a tad premature to claim the teenager has something of the Nostradamus about him.

Fair to say Allardyce has made a propitious start to life at Goodison, though.

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