Richarlison’s delicious first-half strike settled a highly-charged Goodison Park contest in Everton’s favour – and extended the Blues’ unbeaten home run to a fourth match.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side had a number of chances to add to their lead – they had 14 shots to Brighton’s nine – but had to survive a flurry of nervy episodes late in the game.
Everton, denied a fifth-minute penalty following a VAR review, came close again through Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison.
But they were indebted to Jordan Pickford for a terrific late stop from Glenn Murray to preserve their lead.
Everton claimed the advantage their superiority merited seven minutes before half-time.
Richarlison continued his run into the penalty area after passing to Bernard and, via Lucas Digne’s low delivery, reclaimed possession 12 yards from goal.
The Brazilian spun with one deft left-foot touch and scored with his right boot, planting a precise finish past Mat Ryan.
Everton started the match at a fair lick and really thought they were due a penalty after five minutes when Theo Walcott appeared to be the victim of a tug from Lewis Dunk in the area.
Calvert-Lewin injected impetus into the move with a smart flick on Djibril Sidibe’s pass to find Richarlison.
His first-time ball found Walcott racing behind Dunk, who seemed to instinctively reach out, unbalancing the Everton player.
Referee David Coote opted against pointing to the spot and a VAR review – which was a while coming after the ball refused to go out of play – backed up the man on the field.
Chances for Brighton to escape their own half were in short supply, with striker Neal Maupay a lonely soul at times during a first half Everton dominated.
Tom Davies spoke this week of wanting to dictate the tempo of matches and his energy and bite were valuable in the hosts’ midfield.
Bernard, meanwhile, was supplying guile by the bucketload.
His return pass for Richarlison was a mite too hard and enabled Ryan to smother.
Another crafty pass for Calvert-Lewin played in the striker behind Adam Webster but too tight to the dead-ball line to produce anything of note.
There was a shot from Bernard, too, but only after the South American employed some dazzling footwork to befuddle two Brighton defenders.
The ball alighted with Bernard about 20 yards out after Gylfi Sigurdsson’s free-kick was half cleared.
As defenders rushed to block, Bernard feinted and walloped a shot which thudded into towering centre-back Webster.
Bernard again after 37 minutes, haring through the middle and sliding a pass right for Richarlison, whose low drive was fended off by Ryan.
Duffy’s touch following a wicked right-wing Sigurdsson free-kick 60 seconds after Everton’s opening goal was just sufficient to distract Michael Keane, the defender not able to untangle his feet to shoot.
Former Everton centre-half Duffy was jonnie-on-the-spot after 10 minutes, too, heading clear with Richarlison poised to meet a ball hung in by right-back Sidibe.
Richarlison was frustrated again when Calvert-Lewin’s inswung cross from the left evaded him at the far post.
Brighton as an attacking force in the opening 45 minutes?
Alireza Jahanbakhsh was too high with a volley from Martin Montoya’s deft lay off. And that was your lot.
Duffy clattered Calvert-Lewin in the box five minutes after the restart as Everton earned successive corners and tried to kill the contest.
Only one goal in the red, though, Brighton had a puncher’s chance.
Leandro Trossard took a swing on 53 minutes and smacked the top of the bar from 18 yards. That near miss came moments after Keane used his legs to repel a Maupay drive.
Digne and Richarlison teamed up again soon after but the forward’s effort squirted wide off a defensive body.
Ryan fielded Calvert-Lewin’s prod at goal after Bernard danced to the byline to centre – and before he could catch his breath Ryan was confronted by Calvert-Lewin once more.
The forward resisted Dunk’s pull to race to the 18-yard line and thrash a shot which Ryan pushed out to his right.
Brighton introduced a rush of attack-minded players and it always felt as if they remained in the game.
One of those substitutes in Murray connected with a Trossard cross to draw a fine stop from Pickford with eight minutes remaining.
Meantime, however, Everton had kept pushing for a second. Calvert-Lewin used his hand to force the ball in after Keane hit the bar with a header – that from a corner earned when another Richarlison blast was diverted over.
Hearts momentarily sunk all around Goodison, save for the pocket for away fans, with two-and-a-half minutes to play.
Maupay forced through a pass for Murray, whose hook at goal on the stretch appeared for all the world destined to nestle inside Pickford’s left post.
Mercifully, it dropped the other side of the woodwork and spared the home team.
Three points here makes it 14 from 21 – or two per game – from Everton’s past seven Premier League matches.
Carlo Ancelotti has won three of four league games in charge, to boot, collecting the baton from Duncan Ferguson and running with it.
Goodison Park is re-establishing its reputation as an Everton stronghold, too.
This victory makes it four unbeaten at home in the top-flight. Everton have conceded only once in that period, too.
A productive run has lifted Everton to 28 points and only four adrift of sixth spot.
Everton confirmed their first-half superiority when Richarlison angled home his 10th goal of the season in all competitions – and eighth in the Premier League.
The Brazilian’s finish was of the highest order and we’ll come to it shortly.
But the football which preceded Everton’s goal is worthy of revisiting.
Bernard had not long advanced through the centre of the park and set up Richarlison for a shot saved by Mat Ryan when Everton took a similar route to goal.
Everton had not shied away from going direct to Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison in the opening 38 minutes – but they had played some clever and incisive stuff, too.
Gylfi Sigurdsson was decisive in possession with a pass punched forward for Richarlison.
He sustained the momentum by feeding Bernard and continuing to progress.
Bernard, meanwhile, rekindling his attractive left-sided partnership with Lucas Digne, slid a pass to the overlapping Frenchman.
Digne would have been met by the sight of a crowd scene when he raised his head.
The former Barcelona player retained his cool, cutting the ball back for Richarlison, who was still separated from the goal by a pack of Brighton defenders.
The 22-year-old dragged the ball back with the studs of his left boot, pirouetting to deceive his opponents and creating the opening to shoot.
Undeterred by the ball being transferred to his unfavoured right boot, Richarlison calmly slotted across Mat Ryan and inside the keeper’s left post.
Once erroneously accused of “ruining” the transfer market, Everton’s brilliant South American has 21 Premier League goals from 57 appearances in the competition for the Club.
He only cost £50m, too.
Carlo Ancelotti wanted a reaction from Everton following last week’s Cup exit and in terms of energy and intensity from the outset he got it.
Everton relentlessly went after their opponents, Tom Davies harrying and hassling in midfield, Gylfi Sigurdsson retreating to fill gaps and front pair Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin chasing and preventing Brighton passing from the back.
A word for Sigurdsson’s industry, here. He coughed up possession on the hour mark but furiously chased back to successfully make amends.
The Icelander is more comfortable in an advanced position but has been asked to play a disciplined holding role over the past month. He did what was required, joining Davies to provide protection for his back four and resisting his natural urges to gallop forwards when the likes of Bernard and Richarlison were making merry.
Brazilian Richarlison was breathing down Shane Duffy’s neck as the defender dawdled in his own penalty box 10 minutes before half-time.
Lost amid the drama as Everton screamed for a penalty after five minutes was the ball spinning off Calvert-Lewin and narrowly over after the Englishman had blocked goalkeeper Mat Ryan’s clearance.
Centre-halves Mason Holgate and the recalled Michael Keane held a high line and more often than not tried to win possession high up the field. Certainly, Neal Maupay leading Brighton’s line spent more time with his back to goal than facing it.
In possession – and Everton had most of the ball – the home side were forceful and never predictable.
Jordan Pickford and Holgate both lifted passes over the top seeking out Calvert-Lewin. Bernard was more intricate, looking to thread teammates into dangerous areas.
Sigurdsson, too, was prepared to put the ball at risk to look for the forward option.
Everton’s urgency stopped Brighton from locating the fluidity which has positioned them among the neutrals’ favourites this season.
Equally, Graham Potters’ three-man backline was spending long periods very close to its own goal.
The pressure told when Richarlison pounced to put Everton in front – and the intensity of the hosts’ work on and off the ball did not dip, as Ancelotti’s team pocketed maximum points to make it 14 claimed from their past seven matches.
Carlo Ancelotti flexed his formation for this game, deploying Richarlison in the slipstream of frontman Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Italian Ancelotti confessed this week he was leaning about his players on the job and settling on his tactics accordingly.
The Everton boss, stalking the perimeter of his technical area for the entirety of the game as is his wont, has opted for tweaks to his system and personnel since taking charge last month, rather than employing any swingeing changes.
His alterations nearly bore early fruit when Richarlison’s initial run on four minutes stretched Brighton’s defence and created space for Dominic Calvert-Lewin. He turned the ball round the corner for Richarlison whose first-time pass released Walcott in the box.
Walcott, whose penalty claims went unheeded on that occasion after he was tugged by Lewis Dunk, spent large parts of the game in a narrow position.
The same was true for Bernard on the left. Djibril Sidibe and Lucas Digne, then, were responsible for supplying Everton’s width from their full-back berths.
Indeed, the French pair were vital outlets, with Brighton strung out across the park – four midfielders stationed in front of a back five.
And the plan came together perfectly for Everton’s deadlock-breaking goal. Bernard moved inside, freeing space for Digne to hurry forwards and cross.
Ancelotti reacted when Brighton, emboldened by their slender deficit, gained a second-half foothold.
On came Fabian Delph for Bernard in the 72nd minute to add midfield ballast, with Walcott making way for Seamus Coleman two minutes later.
Ancelotti’s final change saw Yerry Mina on for Digne and Everton switch to a back-five.
The move paid off as intended, Everton seeing the game out and winning a third Premier League game in four.