Gray Nets First Everton Goal In Leeds Draw

If you enjoy football that quickens the pulse, then you’d have savoured Elland Road on Saturday afternoon.

This was a terrific contest. Fast and intense and aggressive. Tackles flew in, attackers employed skill and speed and imagination and defenders put their bodies on the line.

It was a fearless, stirring effort, all round.

A sell-out crowd bought into it wholesale, gripped by the ebb and flow, the jeopardy and the uncertainty.

Everton led twice and both times Leeds hit back. None of the game’s four goals appeared decisive. There was resilience and determination all over the field and setbacks were greeted with compelling responses.

There are two types of tight game. The cat-and-mouse sort, where safety-first is the prevailing policy.

And the ones like this – a harum-scarum tussle, with both teams going all-out to win.

It was about right, then, that after losing a lead in front of a home support scenting blood, Everton returned for the second half in offensive mode.

And Demarai Gray’s first goal for Everton fleetingly stunned the home team.

Abdoulaye Doucoure charged forwards, aiming a pass right for Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Pascal Struijk intervened but only succeeded in directing possession back to Doucoure.

He picked up where he’d left off, advancing to roll another pass, going left this time, Gray the recipient.

The forward initially appeared to have miscontrolled. Perhaps that deceived Stuart Dallas, who stood off his opponent. Fatally, as it transpired.

Gray recovered his poise to flash a drive across Illan Meslier and into the far corner. He was absolutely ecstatic.

Mateusz Klich had drawn Leeds level on 41 minutes – 11 minutes after Calvert-Lewin struck from the penalty spot.

Leeds second equaliser came from the seriously talented left boot of Raphinha on 72 minutes.

Everton, against expectation inside a stadium reaching fever pitch, finished the stronger of the teams.

With Rafa Benitez out of his technical area and frantically barking orders, Andros Townsend, Richarlison and Doucoure all had attempts at claiming the three points.

Manager Benitez’s large exhale of breath when the full-time whistle blew was reflective of an afternoon when oxygen was in short supply.

Doucoure, perhaps emboldened by his howitzer against Southampton seven days ago, sent an effort skipping past Meslier’s post inside 20 seconds.

And that wasn’t it from the Frenchman in an attacking sense, Doucoure forcing Meslier to dive right to push a 20pyard drive round the post three minutes before half-time.

That pair of efforts sandwiched a breathless first-half. This was football played at breakneck speed, with skill and imagination and endeavour on offer in equal doses.

Leeds were predictably fired-up. This was a meaningful occasion for the home team, the first time supporters here had the opportunity to fill Elland Road for a Premier League game since April 2004.

A wall of noise developed around five minutes before kick-off – if you weren’t waving a yellow Leeds United flag you were in the overwhelming minority – and the hosts poured forwards in numbers from the beginning.

Michael Keane snuffed out the threat when a cross from the left was aimed at Patrick Bamford and Yerry Mina headed and kicked clear on multiple occasions.

For all their intensity and daring, however, Leeds didn’t carry the same final-third menace as their opponents.

To Everton’s goal first, which capped a controlled period of play and came after a series of half-chances.

Lucas Digne got forward to stand a ball up to the back post for Calvert-Lewin.

The striker was on the wrong side of Liam Cooper and made for the cross, scenting an unencumbered chance at goal.

Cooper was alive to the danger late, panicked and placed both arms around Calvert-Lewin’s waist, applying just enough force to fell the Everton man.

Referee Darren England didn’t see enough wrong to award a penalty but – eventually – was told to consult his pitchside monitor.

England returned to point to the spot and Calvert-Lewin buried the penalty inside Meslier’s right post for his second goal in two games.

There was a pleasing fluidity about Everton’s front four players, who never stood still.

Alex Iwobi, starting after a fine contribution off the bench against Southampton, did the hard yards, tracking back to prevent Jack Harrison from crossing.

Gray was similarly industrious. And when he had an opportunity to run at his opponents, the Englishman seized it.

On 17 minutes, he showed Ayling a clean pair of heels before defeating Cooper for pace and sending in a ball that Calvert-Lewin was painfully close to meeting. Any touch from the forward and it would have been a goal.

Meslier got to the ball in front of Calvert-Lewin when Gray popped up on the left to burn past Dallas and provide another good delivery.

Richarlison, another whose confidence is sky-high, cracked a shot into Cooper after 10 minutes. A run into the box soon after ended with the Brazilian shooting into a crowd of bodies.

Leeds evidently planned for Richarlison. He was on the end of strong challenges from Ayling, Phillips and Struijk before he’d got that first shot away.

If that Everton front four were flexible in their movement, swapping positions and creating space, then the midfield duo of Doucoure and Allan were disciplined and implacable in front of Everton’s backline.

Twice in quick succession around the 15th minute, Allan intervened tellingly on the edge of his own box.

The Brazilian, a vital sentry in front of his back-four throughout – Allan noticeably stood in front of Klich and Raphinha to try to cut-off the supply lines into the mobile Leeds pair – got in the way of a Ayling shot to deflect behind.

The corner was directed back to Kalvin Phillips and it was Allan, again, sprinting to close the England midfield and deflect the ball on a loping trajectory past Jordan Pickford’s left post.

If this sounds like Allan was merely spoiling and thwarting, that would be unfair.

He passed forwards and, in one passage robbed Dallas and brushed off Ayling for a surge down the left.

Raphinha had first go at responding for Leeds following Calvert-Lewin’s goal, a curler form 20 yards fizzing past Pickford’s right post.

The same Leeds player was wide on the opposite side with a low strike five minutes before the break – by which time the scores were level.

Raphinha was involved again, hooking on a ball down the right. Bamford reached it ahead of Keane and sped forwards to feed Klich, who forced his strike into the left corner.

Iwobi volleyed over from inside the box and Bamford and Mina went into the book for an altercation which was something and nothing.

A 15-minute break did nothing to douse the flames and a game that was electric from start to finish got another shot of energy from Gray’s clinical strike five minutes after the restart.

Leeds were reeling for a period.

Calvert-Lewin shot directly at Meslier from close range after a sharp give-and-go with Gray.

And Meslier was out quickly to narrow the angle after Iwobi brilliantly slid a pass inside Struijk to release Calvert-Lewin one on one.

Leeds, inevitably, came again.

Richarlison and Doucoure made vital clearing headers and Pickford beat away a rising striker from substitute Tyler Roberts at his near post.

The equaliser came with 18 minutes remaining.

Phillips cross from the left broke off Struijk for Cooper, who guided the ball back to Raphinha.

The South American’s strike, from 12 yards, was fast and accurate and unstoppable.

Would Everton shut the game down, take a point from one of the Premier League’s more difficult away assignments?

Not a chance. Richarlison bent fractionally wide from the 18-yard line and, with three minutes remaining, Seamus Coleman was off target with a left footer from distance.

Andros Townsend, on forIwobi, carried the ball forwards for an effort saved by Meslier low to his left.

Elland Road – the majority at least – held its collective breath when a Doucoure strike deflected off Cooper and meandered marginally the wrong side of the post from an Everton perspective.

Keane headed straight at Meslier from the resultant corner.

Leeds had a stoppage-time flurry and Fabian Delph needed to be on point with a challenge close to his own goal.

Mina hooked the ball clear of Bamford in the closing seconds, the whistle sounded and Benitez's big intake of breath told us all we needed to know about a pulsating game of football.

DCL Stays Cool In White Heat Of Elland Road

Four minutes he had to wait, around 240 seconds between Dominic Calvert-Lewin feeling the hands of Liam Cooper grabbing his midriff and depositing a penalty past Illan Meslier.

The question was, as Calvert-Lewin glanced to his left, waiting for the go-ahead from referee Darren England to shoot from 12 yards – did he have the nerve?

With Leeds fans banked behind the goal into which he was shooting and a din engulfing Elland Road, could Calvert-Lewin block out the noise and silence a riled home crowd?

You bet he could.

Calvert-Lewin’s goals in the Premier League last season – 16 of them – almost exclusively came with first-time strikes: instinctive finishes, when the thought process was short and sweet.

The 24-year-old knew he’d been wronged when Cooper had a handful of his shirt.

Still, it felt like an eternity before England was told to watch a replay of the incident.

The official checked three or four times before putting the Everton striker on the spot.

Calvert-Lewin marched ahead of his teammates to grab the ball, confidently placing it down and back-stepping purposefully to prepare for a committed approach.

He waited and waited, further stirring up the locals – perhaps creating the impression of a player daunted by his task.

If anyone suspected Calvert-Lewin was hesitant, that myth was dispelled in a blur of activity.

Receiving the nod from England, he strode forwards with conviction, spearing the ball inside Meslier’s right post.

It was as comprehensive a penalty as you could wish to see – and indicative of a player with the brio and courage to match his talent.

Everton Pass Elland Road Exam

Everton withstood a severe examination of their character to stare down Leeds United and the thick-end of 40,000 vociferous locals to claim a draw that, with a touch of fortune, could have been more.

This was Everton’s first away game in front of a capacity crowd since a trip to Chelsea on 8 March last year.

More pertinently, this was Leeds United’s first Premier League match in front of full stands at their tinderbox Elland Road home since April 2004.

Back then, Leeds coughed-up a two-goal lead to draw with Charlton Athletic and confirm relegation to the Championship.

They would be away for 16 years – even dropping to the third tier for a period – and fans of the West Yorkshire club had to make-do with watching Leeds’ bold top-flight return last season on their television sets.

The atmosphere in this terrific ground, then, was excitable and partisan – even allowing for the typically enthusiastic backing of a sell-out away following.

Everton demonstrated welcome steel when recovering from a one-goal deficit to beat Southampton at Goodison Park seven days ago.

But this was a different test altogether.

Everton rode a wave of emotion last week, gaining unstoppable momentum following Richarlison’s equaliser.

It was an immediate reminder of supporters’ capacity to influence a contest.

The boot was on the other foot, here, in an atmosphere so far removed from the eerie setting for Everton’s win on this ground in February that it was possible to believe you were watching a different sport.

This version is what Seamus Coleman called ‘proper football’ following the Southampton win.

By extension, Everton needed a proper performance to go toe-to-toe a relentless home side and show last season’s remarkable form on the road – 11 wins from 19 in the league – qualifies as a platform for an ongoing uplift away from Goodison.

Rafael Benitez’s side were focused and tactically alert and matched Leeds for energy and aggression.

There were signs of poise and maturity in the manner the away team let the Elland Road roar wash over them.

Other than a trip to one of the usual suspects squabbling over the title, Everton couldn’t have been handed a more demanding start to their away programme.

Their convincing response to a big ask merited at least one point and provided optimism for the months ahead.

Digne's 100-Up

Replacing a player of the calibre of Leighton Baines is the sort of issue that can plague a club for years.

With the savvy acquisition of Lucas Digne three years ago, Everton managed to plug their Baines-size hole at a stroke.

Digne, entering his fourth Goodison Park season, was making his 100th Premier League start here – and marked the milestone with a characteristically spiky display.

He had his hands full with right-sided livewire Raphinha but enlisted the help of Allan to limit the Leeds forward’s contribution.

Going forwards, Digne dovetailed with Richarlison and Demarai Gray, moving intelligently off the ball to create angles in the image of his predecessor in the Everton left-back position.

On 26 minutes, DIgne had time to look up and floated a terrific ball for Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

The striker would have had a free hit at goal but for Liam Cooper’s tug which, after a lengthy stoppage and VAR review, was punished by referee Darren England.

At 2-1, Digne reined in his attacking instincts, fitting into a resolute back four.

There was a perfectly-executed tackle on Stuart Dallas in the penalty area as Leeds tried to summon a response to falling behind for a second time.

It's not a day when he'll grab the headlines - he rarely does, because we've grown accustomed to Digne performing impeccably in an Everton jersey.