Keane Winner Moves Everton Into Top Four

It was a curious thing but Everton came to Wolves with a couple of questions to answer even after winning four of their previous five Premier League games.

How would Carlo Ancelotti's side respond to a setback in their most recent league fixture, against West Ham United on New Year's Day?

And how would they cope without talismanic centre-forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin?

The reply to both queries was very well indeed.

Everton claimed three points, securing a sixth away win of the campaign when Michael Keane headed an emphatic winning goal with 13 minutes remaining.

Ancelotti's side climb to fourth, four points behind Premier Leauge leaders Manchester United.

The decisive goal arrived when Wolves only partly-cleared a James Rodriguez corner from the right.

Andre Gomes recovered the ball on the left and supplied a terrific cross which found Keane, moving between Rayan Ait-Nouri and bulleting his header inside the left post.


Alex Iwobi had opened the scoring for Everton on six minutes, with Ruben Neves levelling soon after.

Everton caught Wolves off guard with a formation which had Lucas Digne playing on the left of midfield, on the France international’s first Premier League start since 22 November, at Fulham.

For 14 minutes, the home team couldn’t escape their own half – and when they finally did, they were a goal behind.

Iwobi started and finished the move for Everton to hit the front, scoring his first Premier League goal since a header against Wolves on his full league debut for the Club 16 months ago.

The winger steered the ball infield for James, continuing in the Number 10 position he filled against Rotherham United on Saturday but popping up on the right.

What came next was something we grew very used to seeing in this season’s opening months.

James would have known Digne was accelerating into the penalty area but had a look to be sure.

The pass, raking across 40 yards, was characteristically on the money.

Digne’s controlled, volleyed cross represented the height of technical excellence, the ball arriving into Iwobi’s path for a first-time strike into the bottom right corner.

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02:37

ANCELOTTI: ADAPTION WAS KEY

Blues boss impressed by players' attitude after 2-1 success at Wolves.


That first foray from Wolves, however, yielded an equaliser, eventually.

Pedro Neto did the initial probing but was swallowed up by defensive bodies, Neves taking over and similarly obstructed, so feeding Nelson Semedo on the right.

Tom Davies intervened at the expense of a corner, which was partially cleared by Yerry Mina.

Wolves left-back Ait-Nouri alighted on the loose ball to burst to the byline.

The nimble young Frenchman fired in a cross which split Keane and Ben Godfrey.

Neves strode in behind that pair to turn home on the volley.

Emboldened, Wolves duly enjoyed a purple patch, albeit they were limited to only one clear-cut chance in that period.

It fell for Fabio Silva and was saved by Jordan Pickford.

Leander Dendoncker’s pass released Neto on the right. He turned back onto his left foot to roll in a ball for Silva, who shot first-time with his right foot.

Pickford, though, was equal to the Portuguese’s strike, diving low to his right to save.

Everton were playing with energy and ambition and looking more dangerous than anticipated without Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Indeed, popular opinion was that we might be in for a stalemate here, with Wolves missing their own totemic centre-forward, Raul Jimenez.

Ancelotti is big on the need to adapt, though, and opposite number Nuno Espirito Santo is similarly resourceful.

The result was plenty of neat passing and moving in both sides’ final thirds and lots of purposeful off-the-ball running from midfielders.

Abdoulaye Doucoure, fresh from producing the decisive goal in Everton’s FA Cup victory over Rotherham United three days ago, was full of running and frequently his side’s most advanced player.

Fellow midfielder Davies was surging forwards and always trying to be positive with his passing.

Iwobi, meanwhile, continued to push Wolves back.

On 20 minutes, he married turn of pace with a measure of ambition to create an opening for himself.

Iwobi dribbled infield, passing to James, and continuing his forward run, leaving behind Romain Saiss, who was attracted to the ball.

James was typically precise with his through pass, slicing open the Wolves backline to pick out Iwobi.

The shot was directed across Patricio but too close to the keeper, who held on down to his right.

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01:36

KEANE PRAISES EVERTON'S STRENGTH AND SPIRIT

Matchwinner reflects on squad's mentality after 2-1 win at Wolves.


Mina headed beyond the far post from a Gylfi Sigurdsson corner right before half-time, after Pickford had opted for safety first and pushed a weaving Neves strike round the post.

Dendoncker was over with a header from a Joao Moutinho free-kick soon after the restart, Doucoure booked for tripping Neto to concede the set-piece.

Everton’s full-backs, Godfrey and Mason Holgate, suppressed their own attacking ambitions – but Hogate did advance to swing over a ball that needed a touch from Conor Coady to deny Sigurdsson an opportunity.

The excellent Neves teed himself up for an audacious volley from 35 yards which dipped too late to trouble Pickford, who took off just in case.

Iwobi remained the biggest thorn in Wolves’ side.

The former Arsenal player was bright and progressive and his positivity won Everton the corner from which Keane ultimately headed in.

Iwobi fed Gomes, on for Davies, and – again – continued his run, gathering the ball from James for an effort which squirmed behind off Coady.

James’ corner wasn’t convincingly cleared and Gomes and Keane combined to restore Everton’s advantage.

Wolves mustered a forceful response, Everton forced to call on all their defensive resilience and, on one occasion, the woodwork.

Ancelotti barked at the defensive wall to jump after Doucoure was penalised for a handball.

They did as they were told but Neves’ free-kick cleared them nonetheless, clipping the angle of post and bar.

Dendoncker flashed a header past the post form a corner during five minutes of stoppage time but Everton, with Seamus Coleman on for James, completed the job to move into the Premier League's top four.

Ancelotti’s Plan Comes Together Early

Carlo Ancelotti conjured a gameplan in the absence of gun striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin nobody could have foreseen. Least of all Everton’s opponents.

It’s fair to assume Wolves probably didn’t expect Lucas Digne to start on the left of midfield, for one.

Indeed, a number of observers saw the names on Everton’s teamsheet and expected to see a three-man backline.

We had to wait only six minutes for a glimpse into the thinking underpinning Ancelotti’s approach, a 4-4-2, with Digne and Iwobi flying down the flanks and James Rodriguez supporting Gylfi Sigurdsson in attack.

Alex Iwobi scored the goal which put Everton in front but the winger’s contribution went beyond the finish guided inside Rui Patricio’s left post.

Collecting a pass tight to the right touchline from Yerry Mina, Iwobi quickly fed James Rodriguez.

In tactical terminology, Iwobi then embarked on a third-man run. Plainly speaking, he did what all kids are told to do: Iwobi didn’t stand and admire his pass, he kept moving.

James, meanwhile, speared a pass which travelled across 40 yards for Digne, arriving in the penalty area.

The Frenchman watched the ball onto his left boot, demonstrating exquisite vision and execution to steer it first time on the volley for Iwobi, speeding into the box.

He opened up his body and defeated Patricio for the forward’s first Premier League goal since scoring against the same opponents on his full Everton debut in September 2019.

Shutting Up Shop

We expected Everton’s now familiar back-four to be split-up following the return to fitness of Lucas Digne.

With the former Barcelona player needed on the left of midfielder, however, this obdurate unit continued in miserly fashion.

The concession of too many goals was Carlo Ancelotti’s primary bugbear early in the campaign.

Even as Everton were scoring three, four and five, Ancelotti was warning the tendency to let in a couple of goals a game during that period would ultimately cost his side.

After his assertion was proved correct, the manager moved to tighten Everton.

Necessity forced his hand when it came to employing Ben Godfrey and Mason Holgate as full-backs.

But the pace and discipline and defensive intelligence of the two young Englishmen have been integral in stemming the tide.

It is a measure of the reliability of Michael Keane and Yerry Mina in the middle of defence that it goes without saying the pair were immaculate here.

Keane’s towering headed goal was reflective of a performance of stature and composure.

The one goal Everton did concede was only the fifth shipped in eight Premier League matches.

They’ve not let in more than one in a Premier League game since the 3-2 victory at Fulham seven-and-a-half weeks ago.

On two occasions in that period, one goal has been sufficient to win the game.

It took one in each half at Molineux but this was another assured, measured and organised defensive display from Everton.

And their Italian manager must be very pleased indeed.

Banishing Away Blues

Everton’s victory was their fifth in seven Premier League matches – and extended an unbeaten away run to five games.

Both sample sizes are sufficient to draw the conclusion Carlo Ancelotti’s side is trending in the right direction.

To Everton’s form on their travels first.

This sixth win of the season on the road surpasses the five away victories claimed in each of the past two campaigns.

Ancelotti partly attributes that upturn to the absence of supporters from stadiums.

But gaining points away from Goodison Park is becoming a habit and that is encouraging for both the short and long-term.

What’s more, Everton are succeeding at traditionally difficult and inhospitable grounds: Tottenham Hotspur, Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and now enterprising Wolves all defeated on their own patches.

Those results can’t fail to create confidence and belief.

Moving to this season’s bigger picture, Everton are entering a critical juncture.

They came into this contest seventh after a four-match winning sequence was checked by West Ham United in an attritional New Year’s Day contest.

Everton hit back from their previous defeat by Leeds United with an unbeaten five-game stretch.

This season’s first loss – at Southampton – by contrast, was followed by two more reverses.

There are signs, then, that one of this team’s stated aims – namely, quickly stopping the bleeding following a defeat – is being realised.

The ability to recover from disappointment at the first time of asking is a hallmark of every successful side.

So, too, the depth and resolve to cope without key performers.

Shorn of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and with Richarlison fit enough only for the bench, Ancelotti altered his team’s shape and approach to accommodate the finesse of James Rodriguez and Gylfi Sigurdsson up front.

The switch worked a dream, with Alex Iwobi and Michael Keane supplying the game's two critical moments.

With a trip to Aston Villa scheduled for Sunday, Everton started an important week on a positive – and increasingly familiar – note.