Doucoure Scores Stunner As Benitez Makes Winning Start

Abdoulaye Doucoure spoke excitedly on the eve of this season about a new role under Rafael Benitez.

Midfielder Doucoure was going to play further forwards, he wouldn’t be tethered to a deep position for 90 minutes.

And, reckoned the Frenchman, this subtle shift would propel him back into the goals.

Certainly, he fancied a notable improvement on the three he scored last season.

How prescient Doucoure appeared after 76 minutes today. How astute, too, the Everton manager, afforded a tremendous reception from a raucous crowd before kick-off.

It was 1-1 when Doucoure stole the show – Richarlison maintaining his golden glow to strike on 47 minutes and level Adam Armstrong’s first-half opener for Southampton.

In truth, it looked like Everton had rather rushed a free-kick in a promising position when Allan shuffled the dead ball to Doucoure.

Doucoure got it out of his feet and found Seamus Coleman, who awkwardly scooped the ball into the penalty area with the outside of his right boot.

Alex Iwobi knocked it down for Doucoure, who spun a full 360 degrees to escape the attentions of James Ward-Prowse.

Then the moment that caused Goodison Park to erupt.

Doucoure walloped the ball from 18 yards into the roof of the net. Alex McCarthy, very good in Southampton’s goal, didn’t have a cat in hell’s chance of stopping it.

The noise inside Goodison ramped-up further still when Dominic Calvert-Lewin met Richarlison’s 81st-minute cross with a diving header to essentially confirm Benitez would enjoy a winning start as Everton boss.

Indeed, the raw excitement following Calvert-Lewin’s finish was a match for the pre-game emotion when Goodison rocked as fans filled every seat in the ground for the first time since 1 March last year.

Everton ran with the emotion and swarmed all over Southampton in an opening 10 minutes utterly dominated by the home team.

Allan, Everton’s deepest-lying midfielder – he routinely plugged space between his centre-halves – brought the first save out of McCarthy on three minutes.

He started the move, too, poking the ball forward for Demarai Gray, who fed Calvert-Lewin on his outside.

No question, Calvert-Lewin would have preferred to be one of those in the middle waiting for the delivery, but he made a decent fist of a cross that was only partially cleared.

Allan, arriving at speed at the edge of the box, shot low but too close to McCarthy.

Everton initially employed Richarlison high on the left, perhaps a nod to Southampton having an 18-year-old Premier League debutant in Valentino Livramento at right-back.

The globetrotting forward was a hub of activity beneath his closely cut peroxide top.

He seemed unfortunate to go into the book after falling following contact from Oriol Romeu in the box on 29 minutes.

Earlier on, around 17 minutes, Richarlison gathered in a long pass from Jordan Pickford and raced down the left to send over a ball that was a yard too far in front of the stretching Calvert-Lewin.

With the South American busying himself out wide, the position behind Calvert-Lewin was filled by Gray.

The signing from Bayer Leverkusen swapped passes with Coleman on 10 minutes to arrow in a cross that Calvert-Lewin touched wide under pressure from Jack Stephens.

Everton encountered relatively little bother until they conceded.

Coleman, Michael Keane and Mason Holgate defended their penalty area at intermittent junctions, using a mix of anticipation and different body parts.

Armstrong headed over at the near post when Ward-Prowse whipped in a fifth-minute free-kick.

But Southampton’s goal, on 22 minutes, hadn’t felt as if it was coming. And it fleetingly stuck a pin in the balloon of euphoria swelling inside Goodison.

Keane, sizing up options in front of him, hesitated in possession. The persistent Che Adams pounced, stealing the ball to hurry it forwards for Armstrong.

The striker, playing his first game for Southampton following a transfer from Blackburn Rovers, escaped the attentions of Holgate to bustle into the area.

Pickford did all he could, closing the angle and leaving only the tiniest portion of his goal visible.

Armstrong’s finish, however, was tremendous, guided with the inside of his right boot, across Pickford and into the top-right corner.

Everton had been close to grabbing the lead for themselves 60 seconds before Armstrong struck.

Richarlison was hauled back after escaping a tight spot in the middle of the pitch.

Coleman briskly rolled the free-kick to Andros Townsend, whose inswung left-foot delivery travelled through a crowd of bodies to the far post, where McCarthy denied Richarlison a shot at goal.

Right-back Coleman, beginning his third straight season as Everton captain, added to the thunderous noise rolling around Goodison with a welcome-to-the-Premier-League tackle on Southampton newbie Romain Perraud, brought in from Brest in France.

Everton’s best chance of a first-half riposte to Armstrong’s goal arrived 12 minutes before the break.

Mohammed Salisu clumsily barged Calvert-Lewin, who had his back to goal 18 yards out.

Lucas Digne put the free-kick into a gigantic wall – then heaved a sigh of relief after directing the loose ball back towards his own goal and needing Keane to be on his toes to deny Armstrong another opportunity.

Armstrong did have a go at scoring his second on 41 minutes but the hard-hit drive was beaten out by Pickford at his near post.

Pickford’s task moments earlier was more straight forward but no less important, the England keeper sharply down to his right to stop Keane’s intervention on Adams’ pass – intended for Theo Walcott – dribbling inside the post.

When Richarlison volleyed high into the net two minutes after the restart, then, Everton were level.

The change in mood and confidence was tangible.

Suddenly Everton, with Gray moved to the left and Richarlison through the middle, had their visitors on the ropes.

Richarlison stepped over a cross from Digne but Ward-Prowse was stationed to block a shot from Keane, still up from one of a rush of corners.

Townsend dashed down the right, leaving Perraud in the distance, and hung up a cross the was met powerfully by Doucoure but thudded into the startled Richarlison.

Southampton were by no means content to hang back and cling on for a point.

Pickford twice stood strong under his bar to clear dipping Ward-Prowse corners and authoritatively held a third.

Adams was a constant menace and the excellent, mobile Armstrong didn’t allow Keane and Holgate to switch off for a second.

Gray twice sprinted clear down the left – his first cross bundled behind by Salisu, the second snaffled by McCarthy.

When Coleman had his first crossing opportunity, on 74 minutes, the ball in was good but missed by substitute Iwobi.

No matter.

Coleman and Iwobi were soon linking again before Doucoure took over to send Goodison into a frenzy.

With Doucoure’s fizzing strike, the air was sucked from Southampton.

Richarlison – where on earth does he get the energy? – looked fresh as a daisy as he raced onto a return pass from Iwobi.

The Brazilian hooked his right foot round the ball for a terrific cross that invited Calvert-Lewin to stoop and force a header through McCarthy.

Evertonians, rejoicing over their return to Goodison, had gone through the full songbook prior to kick-off.

Calvert-Lewin’s goal, signalling three points for Benitez in his first match in charge, prompted them to start all over again.

Richy Back With A Bang

Who, when Richarlison declared his intention to play two major tournaments this summer, expected to see the Brazilian in an Everton short before September?

The idea he might feature on the opening day of the season? Well, that seemed faintly ludicrous.

Richarlison, however, is a rare beast. He boasts extraordinarily deep reserves of energy and an accompanying love of playing football.

How else to explain a player getting through a combined 13 fixtures – starting 11 of them – across the Copa America and Olympic games, in a period spanning the middle of June and first week of August?

Never mind that the two most recent games – Olympic semi-final and final matches – each lasted 120 minutes.

The message from Rafa Benitez was clear, however. Everton’s new manager insisted Richarlison wanted to repay Everton for getting behind his Olympic ambitions and here was the first instalment of gratitude.

A goal two minutes after half-time to draw Everton level and transform the mood of this contest.

Everton came out for the second half looking like a side that had heard and shared some half-time home truths.

The football was quick and aggressive and direct and won a couple of corners, one after the other.

Che Adams cleared Lucas Digne’s second delivery but only as far as Townsend on the edge of the box.

Townsend hooked the ball back into the scrum of bodies positioned in front of Alex McCarthy.

Richarlison watched it drop onto his left instep, swiping his foot through the ball to direct it like a tracer bullet into the roof of goalkeeper McCarthy’s net.

It was the pivotal moment in this match and one which showed precisely why Benitez wanted his golden man back at the first opportunity.

Richarlison departed to a standing ovation on 89 minutes, after adding an assist for Dominic Calvert-Lewin – and releasing Alex Iwobi for a low shot saved by McCarthy.

What a player he is.

Debut Boys Shine

The grey clouds banking above Goodison Park prior to kick-off couldn’t have been more incongruous.

This was a day of light and hope and as the floodlights positioned on all four stands of this old stadium cut through the gloom, Everton emerged to a roar that will live long with those who heard it.

Jordan Pickford instinctively punched the air and the Goodison siren and first bars of Z-Cars received the proper treatment for the first time in nearly 18 months.

You’d have needed a heart of stone to remain unmoved.

Debutants Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend walked into this spine-tingling atmosphere and relished their parts in the theatre.

Gray, operating behind striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, was involved in the third minute move that finished with Allan bringing Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy into the game.

There was a quicksilver exchange of passes with Seamus Coleman on 10 minutes and subsequent cross for Calvert-Lewin that told you then and there why he’s been brought to Everton.

Townsend worked like fury up and down the right touchline and always available for the ball on his side of the pitch.

He likes cutting in from the right and had time to pick out a cross when receiving a short free-kick from Coleman on 21 minutes.

The delivery was wicked, zipping through a crowd scene, but McCarthy stole the ball from the feet of Richarlison at the back post.

Townsend again on 35 minutes, from a deeper position and laser-guided with a delivery on the head of Calvert-Lewin, who glanced beyond the back post.

The former Tottenham Hotspur player got his assist in the end, just not how he’d have expected.

Hanging outside the box, waiting for scraps – essentially an opportunity to unfurl one of the player’s trademark long-range howitzers – Townsend found the ball dropping right on top of him.

He fed it back whence it came and Richarlison did the rest.

Townsend is adept at delivering with either foot, so when he escaped down the right soon after the goal, there was no need to manipulate the ball onto his opposite foot.

Abdoulaye Doucoure arrived on cue for a goalbound header inadvertently blocked by Richarlison.

Picking up the baton, Gray flew down the left, scorching past Valentino Livramento and seeing his dangerous centre put behind by Mohammed Salisu.

Townsend earned the ovation he received when replaced by Alex Iwobi on 70 minutes – while Gray kept on running at Valentino Livramento after demonstrating his versatility with an effortless switch to the left.

Captain Coleman’s Triple Ton

Only 25 men have played 300 league matches for Everton and – after this game against Southampton – Seamus Coleman is one of them.

The combative Everton right-back, who has retained the captain’s armband for a third straight season, doesn’t pay much attention to appearance landmarks.

You can confidently bet the household kitty that he’d swap records denoting the player’s longevity for a piece of silverware, in a heartbeat.

It is only fair to acknowledge Coleman’s achievement, nonetheless.

He arrived at Everton in January 2009, determined to persuade the Club to let him to stick around long enough for his football ability to catch up with the innate qualities of spirit and determination and energy and aggression.

Coleman got his stay of execution and 11 years and 296 days down the line is alive and kicking.

A talismanic figure, cited by a succession of managers as the epitome of an Everton footballer.

Coleman knows the Club inside out. He understands what Evertonians want from their players and owns a sixth sense for when Goodison needs a shuddering challenge to flick the switch on.

Goodison didn’t need its pulse quickening today but Coleman legitimately sent Romain Perraud spinning through the air early in the game regardless.

When we talk about Coleman, it is often in tribute to the 32-year-old’s tenacity and honesty. The unquestioning desire to put his body on the line for Everton.

But in a decade-and-more at Goodison, he has evolved into a terrific, intelligent footballer.

Coleman will tell you himself that defending was a weaker suit when he came from Sligo Rovers.

The wholesale commitment that accompanied Coleman to work every day ensured he tightened up quickly enough – and continued getting better and savvier.

He attributes his durability to that daily effort and it is responsible, too, for Coleman’s maturation into a quality all-rounder.

The Irishman has 20 Premier League goals and is only the fifth outfield Everton player to reach 300 games – starting 267 – in the competition.

Coleman signed a fresh two-year deal on the eve of this season.

Today, then, marked the beginning of the next phase of his Everton career.

A driven personality, determined that his finest day in an Everton jersey is in front of him, the player will certainly view his Premier League triple century as a staging post on an ongoing journey.

But there will come a day when Coleman appreciates the gravity of his latest milestone and he deserves to reflect on this triumph of professionalism and ability with an enormous amount of pride.