Everton At Double For Norwich Win

Win your first three home games of the season. It sounds straightforward.

Until you consider Everton hadn’t managed a trio of victories at Goodison Park to open the campaign since 1989, 32 years ago.

Neither Manchester City nor Chelsea, two genuine title contenders. started this term with nine points from nine on home turf.

This, then, was a notable success for Everton to add to the wins over Southampton and Burnley.

More satisfying than those results, perhaps, because Rafa Benitez’s team received a punch on the nose this week.

They came out swinging, showing no sign of a hangover from the midweek penalty shootout loss at QPR.

It was a show of resilience and faith in the manager’s methods and a pleasing demonstration of a capacity to score goals even when stripped of the pivotal striking pair of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison.

There was a first Premier League appearance for 18-year-old Academy graduate forward Lewis Dobbin in the closing minutes, too.

Everton have 13 points from six games and are level with City in second.

They wrapped this one up in minute 77. Norwich relinquished possession under fierce Everton midfield pressure.

Demarai Gray took over to speed forwards, leaving Pierre Lees-Melou treading water in his slipstream.

Abdoulaye Doucoure, meanwhile, advanced to Gray’s right and when the pass came it was perfect for the Frenchman.

He steadied himself, then arrowed a shot across Tim Krul for a second goal of the season. Doucoure is only three short of the target of five Benitez set him at the outset of the season.

There was no clear indication of the compelling vignette about to unfold as Norwich fiddled about with the ball on the edge of their own penalty area on 25 minutes.

One loose touch too many invited Allan to intervene and burst into the box. Ozan Kabak wasn’t prepared for this development and involuntarily hung out a leg.

Allan tumbled over and immediately turned his gaze back at referee David Coote, who wasn’t interested.

Replays, however, revealed Kazak’s studs had sunk into the Brazilian’s thigh.

Fortunately, VAR Lee Mason had access to the same rerun and after being advised to look again, Coote reversed his decision.

Norwich delayed as much as possible and Krul went off for an unnecessary wander.

Goodison Park switched between indignation and vocal support as only it can, chants of Everton and impatient boos repeatedly trading places while the penalty wait went on.

Townsend, then, stood face to face with Krul four minutes after Kabak’s clumsy challenge.

Of the two men with 40,000 pairs of eyes on them, Krul had the penalty pedigree – Townsend last scored one in normal time back in January 2019.

The Norwich keeper has saved a bundle of them and, at the 2014 World Cup, Holland manager Louis van Gaal introduced Krul in the closing minute of a quarter-final with Costa Rica, purely for the ensuing shootout.

Krul saved twice and the Dutch advanced.

No such outcome for Krul here, however.

He was duped by Townsend’s bending approach, seemingly expecting the Everton player to go for the right corner.

Townsend went left of centre and sprinted away cock-a-hoop after scoring his fourth goal in seven starts for the Club.

It was Townsend at the vanguard of Everton’s initial attempts to make inroads against a Norwich side fielding three imposing centre-halves and defending deep.

There was little room for Everton’s forwards to run behind – it didn’t happen until the quicksilver Gray dashed in for a shot blocked by Kabak moments after Townsend’s opening goal.

Townsend began with a cross stood up from the right, then generated audible gasps with a tremendous left-footed inswinger that needed only a touch to defeat Krul but raced into the grateful keeper’s gloves.

Lucas Digne on the left was a similarly consistent early source of service for the hosts’ front players.

A trio of defenders massed around Salomon Rondon to prevent the striker from getting an attempt away after Digne delivered following a flowing move featuring Doucoure, Gray and Alex Iwobi.

Another volleyed cross from the Frenchman fell for Rondon but Kabak did enough to stop the shot.

Everton tried various methods to unlock their disciplined visitors.

Brandon Williams sprung high to stop Townsend racing onto Michael Keane’s terrific ball from deep.

Doucoure took the view that if the ball wasn’t doing the work, he’d have to help it along.

The Frenchman strode through the centre of the field, unstoppable, to feed Iwobi.

Gray cleverly allowed the cross along the floor to run for Rondon, who helped the ball to Townsend for an effort fielded by Krul at his feet.

Krul was rooted two minutes later when Gray left Mathias Normann standing to flash in a ball that neither Iwobi nor Rondon could reach in time to convert.

Normann, the Norwegian midfielder on loan from Rostov in Russia, tried to inject purpose into his team’s football.

A Norwich attack right before half-time petered out from a promising position but when the ball eventually arrived with Normann, 30 yards out, he took aim, forcing a sprawling Jordan Pickford to push round his right post.

Townsend tricked himself into space for a right-foot strike that rushed past Krul’s left post five minutes after the break.

But just as it seemed Everton were preparing a sustained assault on Norwich’s goal, the away side began causing trouble.

Allan was brilliantly positioned to deny Teemu Puki a run at goal on the counter – and minutes later, Pickford took off for a fabulous one-handed save from the bottle-blonde Normann’s rising 30 yarder.

Ben Gibson, up for a free-kick, made weak contract on Kenny McLean’s delivery when anything substantial would have had a very good chance of going in the net.

Lees-Melou began seeing more of the ball, as Norwich grew in confidence and started keeping possession in dangerous territory,

But the French midfielder was left in Gray’s slipstream with 13 minutes remaining and could only watch like the rest of us as Doucoure took over to confirm the three points were staying right here in L4.

Krul jabbed out a leg to save point-blank and deny Ben Godfrey a goal against his old employers late on.

That would have added gloss to a very satisfying day but ultimately made no difference whatsoever.

Everton were asked questions about their ability to react to adversity and supplied the right answers.

Everything For Nothing

It’s amazing what you can get for nothing these days.

We knew about Andros Townsend’s predilection for the spectacular – and those who hadn’t been paying attention prior to the forward’s arrival at Goodison Park were alerted to a capacity to score from distance against Burnley a fortnight ago.

Townsend is adding the predator’s goals he’s long craved, turning up in front of goal to steer home in both of Everton’s League Cup ties, too.

The 30-year-old has increasingly claimed set-piece duties and his deliveries from corners here were fast and flat and horrible to defend.

And, now we discover, Townsend scores penalties, too.

He was successful from 12 yards at QPR in midweek but the pressure was heightened here.

Everton were off the back of a difficult week – and a half hour when Norwich, with their three pillars in defence, looked a tough nut to crack.

Throw in the expectation attached to playing the division’s bottom side at home and it felt vital for Everton to take their first clear opportunity.

Norwich delayed and deflected, as Townsend stood alone with his thoughts, save for a quick word in the ear from Demarai Gray,

Tim Krul waited as long as he dared before getting himself ready to face the kick.

The Dutchman saves a lot of penalties and was brought in solely for that purpose in a World Cup quarter-final seven years ago.

Townsend didn’t let any of that cloud his thoughts.

The Everton player, who took his penalty four minutes after the foul on Allan, busied himself with a short run up and confidently despatched the strike – Krul taking off to his left and, to his obvious annoyance, out of the way of the ball.

That’s four goals to add to three assists from seven Everton starts for Townsend.

Alternatively, he’s directly contributing to a goal a game.

There’s bang for your buck – and there’s Andros Townsend on a free.

He went off for Anthony Gordon with 14 minutes remaining and the ovation was recognition of not only the penalty he’d scored but a fabulous opening six weeks for Everton.

Demarai The Middle Man

Demarai Gray was tasked with the job of supporting central striker Salomon Rondon, a departure from the wide positions where he’s spent the majority of his fledgling Everton career.

The 25-year-old was consistently on the move. Eager for an early feel of the ball at his feet, Gray dropped deep to provide a crisp return pass for the advancing Abdoulaye Doucoure.

Soon after, he danced past a body dressed head to toe in startling orange for a one-two with Alex Iwobi.

Gray is stronger than his slender frame would suggest and the Midlander resisted frequent buffetings to retain possession.

There is no disguising the player’s turn of pace, however. Mathias Norman was dead in the water when Gray took off from a standing start to send the ball fizzing across the face of goal.

There were regular exhibitions of the player’s close control and ability to trade quickfire passes at close quarters.

Gray’s step over that allowed a low Iwobi cross to travel to Rondon, meanwhile, demonstrated a cute football brain, coupled with the swelling confidence gained from a tremendous start with his new club.

Everton played most of their football in front of Norwich in the opening half hour.

But buoyed by claiming the lead, the hosts began to stretch their opponents when Gray ran behind Grant Hanley for an eventual shot the deflected wide off Ozan Kabak.

Kabak went through the back of Gray in the second half, the Everton player skilfully shielding the ball in a tight spot.

There was a chance for Gray to make a telling contribution on 77 minutes.

He streaked clear of the forlornly-chasing Pierre Lees-Melou but, closing on the penalty box, had a decision to make.

Go it alone or feed the fast-arriving Abdoulaye Doucoure?

Gray plumped for the latter option and his execution was flawless, ushering in Doucoure to seal Everton’s victory.

He went off to thunderous applause not long after, the former Leicester City player’s job done.

Right Reaction

The question over whether Everton could register a third successive home victory from the beginning of the season was accompanied by a contrasting examination of this team’s capacity to respond to adversity.

An unbeaten start was punctuated at five matches following three quick Aston Villa goals seven days ago.

And manager Rafa Benitez and his players were floored by the penalty shootout defeat at Queens Park Rangers in midweek.

Everton remain without two first-rate attackers and their doughty captain, too.

But there was scant time for navel-gazing. No, it was imperative that by hook or by crook, Everton successfully navigated this test against a Norwich City side that played with a confidence belying their winless start.

An organised and dialled-in Everton stifled Norwich’s more expressive players and there was plenty of the fortitude that enabled Benitez’s team to claim six points from those opening two Goodison Park fixtures despite falling behind in both games.

The fast and direct football that characterised the early-season form, meanwhile, was intermittently unfurled, as the home side began to exert a measure of control.

Very few teams – if any – are immune from sticky periods during a season. The key is to stem the bleeding as quickly as possible.

To summon the most extreme example, Manchester City lost six league matches last term but never suffered back-to-back defeats. They finished the campaign with a 12-point advantage over second-placed Manchester United.

Benitez counted the draw with Leeds United in Everton’s opening away game as something of a disappointment. The reaction to that result at Elland Road came in the shape of a trio of victories.

And here, again, was evidence of an ability to absorb a blow and come out fighting.

By pairing the more prosaic attributes of spirit and grit with thrust and ambition, Everton won a fourth Premier League game from six to retain a grip on a top-six spot.