Everton’s brilliant away form under Sean Dyche continued as Dwight McNeil’s second-half blaster sealed a fully-deserved 1-0 victory at Nottingham Forest.
The Blues dominated large periods of the contest at the City Ground but, just when it looked like they could pay once again for not converting the string of chances they created, McNeil got on the end of Jack Harrison’s cross to smash an unstoppable finish from the left edge of the six-yard box into the top right-hand corner.
That 67th-minute winner made it six victories on the road for Dyche’s men in all competitions in 2023/24 - and third on the trot - and moved Everton to within two points of 17th-placed Luton following their recent 10-point deduction from the Premier League commission.
Dyche made one change to his side from the XI that faced Manchester United six days earlier, Beto spearheading the attack in place of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who missed out with a minor calf injury.
The Blues struggled to keep the ball in the opening minutes of the contest but soon settled in and looked a threat on the counter, McNeil driving the ball to the edge of the area and earning a corner which Odysseas Vlachodimos couldn’t gather before Forest cleared away the danger.
Everton threatened again on 15 minutes as Ashley Young whipped a teasing cross to the edge of the six-yard box that was inches away from the head of Beto.
And more joy came down the right flank when James Garner’s sublime through ball allowed Gana space on the touchline to centre, with Beto just being beaten to a headed finish by Willy Boly.
The Blues were in full control at this point and another chance arrived with 19 minutes on the clock. Vitalii Mykolenko dinked a cross into the area, James Tarkowski nodded into the path of Jarrad Branthwaite who missed the ball as he turned to finish, before Tarkowski did the same with the follow-up.
If they were half-chances, the one that arrived for Everton three minutes later was gilt-edged. Tarkowski turned provider this time, arching a high pass into the box but, when Vlachodimos came off his line and failed to collect, Beto fired over the bar from 10 yards.
Having dominated for so long, Forest had their first chance just past the half-hour mark when a ball across the area fell to Anthony Elanga who snapped a first-time volley wide of the far post.
Dyche’s men thought they had got their lead just before the break when Young fed Doucoure 20 yards out. The Mali international spun and played McNeil clear on goal as the winger did everything he needed to, taking a touch and beating the keeper only to be denied by an excellent goalline clearance from Murillo.
It was another case of ‘should have’ for the Blues and it so nearly punished even more in first-half injury-time when Morgan Gibbs-White fired into the side netting from the edge of the area after the visitors failed to clear their lines.
Forest came out for the second half desperate to improve and it took excellent defending from Mykolenko to track and then take the ball off the dangerous Gibbs-White as he looked to run into space down the right flank.
The hosts threatened again on 53 minutes as a goalmouth scramble from a corner ended with substitute Felipe hitting the outside of the post.
But the Blues were the next to knock of the door in the quest for an opening goal, Harrison passing inside to McNeil whose delightful first-time touch allowed him space 20 yards out before he was brought down by Felipe, who was booked.
As the tussle approached the hour point, it wouldn’t be an overstatement that Everton were dominating, supported by the travelling Blues’ approval as Spirit of the Blues belted out in the away end.
And their reward finally came on 67 minutes. Harrison and Gana played a lovely one-two on the edge of the area, allowing the on-loan winger to drift in a pinpoint cross that just evaded Beto but found McNeil at the back post who took a touch and rifled an unstoppable finish into the top right-hand corner.
Having battled so hard to take the lead, Everton were nearly pegged back five minutes later as a quick Forest free-kick played Elanga through the right side of the area, Mykolenko getting a crucial touch to turn the ball behind for a corner.
Forest started to ramp up the pressure now and it took a quite brilliant block from Garner to deny Yates as he looked to place a low finish past Pickford from 20 yards.
Dyche and his coaching staff were left fuming with 10 minutes remaining as McNeil’s exquisite touch fed Beto who was tripped by Felipe as he turned and looked to break clear. To the disbelief of everyone connected with the Blues, however, the Brazilian was not shown a second yellow card.
That sense of injustice nearly felt so much worse on 82 minutes as a rapid counter from Gibbs-White picked out Elanga in space inside the box but Pickford did brilliantly to race off his line and block his shot.
It was a nervy finish and Elanga went close again two minutes from the end of normal time, curling a 20-yard finish inches past Pickford’s left-hand post.
Four minutes of added time were signalled but Everton held strong, heading away anything that came at them as the full-time whistle came, sparking jubilant scenes from the vocal and defiant Blues in the away end.