Everton were left scratching their heads as to how they didn’t make it a fruitful trip to London for a fourth time this season as a largely encouraging display could not prevent a 2-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur.
Having come back from the capital with victories at Brentford, West Ham and Crystal Palace this term, Sean Dyche’s men certainly did enough to triumph in north London. But first-half goals from ex-Blue Richarlison and Heung-Min Son dampened another away display of positives that saw the Blues carve out numerous chances and finally reduce the deficit with nine minutes left courtesy of Andre Gomes, on his first appearance since May 2022.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin also had a second-half strike ruled out by VAR for what appeared a harsh foul by Gomes in the build-up, while substitute Arnaut Danjuma hit the bar in injury-time, with the ball staying out by a matter of inches.
But, despite seeing their four-match winning run in the Premier League come to an end, there was once again plenty of reasons for Everton to take heart.
Dyche made one change to his side from the midweek Carabao Cup quarter-final with Fulham, Vitalii Mykolenko recovering from a minor groin injury to return to left-back, with Jarrad Branthwaite going into central defence once more in place of Michael Keane.
After a promising start from Everton full of pressing intent that saw James Garner rob Cristian Romero of possession, it was Mykolenko who had the first chance of the contest, reacting quickest to a cleared Dwight McNeil corner to crack a first-time half volley that took a deflection on the way to being gathered by keeper Guglielmo Vicario.
The Blues threatened again on seven minutes, McNeil winning the ball from Oliver Skipp 25 yards out from Everton’s goal and starting a rapid counter to play Dominic Calvert-Lewin through on goal. The No.9 was at a tight angle to apply the finish and, as he took an extra touch to steady himself, Romero was able to divert his finish behind for a corner.
Having made such an impressive opening, Dyche’s men were behind two minutes later, Brennan Johnson drilling in a low cross from the right and former Goodison favourite Richarlison netting with a first-time finish.
Despite that blow, Everton stayed focused to keep creating chances. On 15 minutes, Amadou Onana slid a through ball through the left channel where McNeil dragged a low drive the wrong side of the post and, moments later, Mykolenko’s pinpoint cross picked out Calvert-Lewin to plant a header that Vicario palmed away.
On the balance of play, the scores should have been level. Instead, it was 2-0 within 18 minutes as the hosts doubled their advantage. Having come into this match without conceding in their past four league matches, Dyche would not have been happy with the manner of this one, Johnson receiving the ball from a short corner and drilling a low shot that Pickford parried, only for Son to react first and scuff the rebound into the net.
Dyche was then forced into a change midway through the first half, Idrissa Gana Gueye having to go off to be replaced by Gomes.
Continuing the pattern of much of the first half, Everton kept on carving out opportunities and finished strongly as they looked to claw their way back.
Calvert-Lewin did well to find space on the left byline and cut a pass across goal for Onana to fire over, before James Garner had time and space from 15 yards out but lacked power in his finish to hit the ball straight into the arms of Vicario.
And a frustrating first half was summed up during five minutes of added time when Gomes whipped a sublime crossfield pass to play Harrison clean through, only for the winger to delay his finish and allow Spurs to clear.
There was still time for the Blues to mount more pressure, Harrison going close again as Spurs survived to clear for a corner. From the resulting set piece, Onana clearly looked to have his shirt pulled inside the area but there was no VAR check to look at a possible penalty.
The harshness of the half-time scoreline was summed up by the shot count of 9-5 in Everton’s favour, the key difference between the teams being able to find the telling moments inside the box.
Everton thought they had a deserved route back into the match minutes into the second half, Gomes doing well to rob Emerson Royal of possession to play in Calvert-Lewin on the right side of the area and the Blues striker producing a precise finish into the bottom left-hand corner.
As Emerson stayed down, a VAR checked seemed inevitable, though, and it duly came as referee Stuart Attwell was called over to the monitor and ruled out the strike, much to the disbelief of manager Dyche and Evertonians as Gomes’ challenge was shown on the big screens inside the stadium.
The frustration continued hitting the hour mark, Harrison picking out Garner inside the area with a lovely outside-of-the-boot pass. The midfielder did everything right to find space and control the ball, only to see his angled finish kiss the outside of the post.
As Everton piled forward to get a goal their play deserved, Spurs’ threat on the counter was always going to come into play and it took a fine save from Pickford to turn Dejan Kulusevski’s goalbound shot around the post with 15 minutes later.
Moments later, Garner found Gomes 20 yards out as the midfielder drifted into the area but watched his fierce strike hit the side netting.
Arnaut Danjuma came off for Jack Harrison to face his former side and was the next to threaten, creating space and seeing his shot deflected out for a corner.
From that set piece, Everton finally got the goal their play fully deserved with nine minutes remaining.
The corner was drifted to the six-yard area and, as Spurs cleared, Gomes was on hand to angle a precise finish into the bottom left-hand corner.
Back in the contest, it was so nearly 2-2 moments later as Danjuma was sent clear down the left, the forward taking a touch and opting to go high with his shot, Vicario turning over the bar.
And it was the former Spurs loanee who was to be involved in the last talking points, hitting over the bar when well placed before, somehow, watching his strike with seconds left smack the bar and then bounce on the line, staying out by inches.
It summed up a hugely-frustrating afternoon for Everton but was one that yet again shows the huge progress being made under Dyche.