MATCH CENTRE

Brilliant Gray Strikes Late For Dramatic Everton Victory

Demarai Gray tore off his shirt and raced gleefully to the corner of Goodison Park where the Howard Kendall Gwldays Street End meets the Bullens Road Stand.

The excellent Gray, whose earlier effort off the bar had been turned home by Richarlison for Everton’s equaliser, jubilantly slid on his knees after settling a barmy contest on a night of high-drama at Goodison Park.

It was indicative of the game’s momentum that the announcement of six minutes of added time was greeted with a roar of encouragement from the majority inside a ground that was shaking to its foundations by the end.

Evertonians have a nose for this kind of storyline, the potential for a defining late twist.

They bellowed for Andre Gomes, on as a second-half substitute and integral to Everton tuning this game on its head, to drive forwards one more time.

Gomes answered the call, making ground to feed Gray, who took off on a straight line across the edge of the penalty area, dodging the attention of Ben White to crash a shot across Aaron Ramsdale and in off the post. How Goodison celebrated. It felt like a huge moment in Everton's season, a huge moment for the mood around the Club.

Really, until the turnaround, you wondered about Everton’s luck. If they didn’t have bad luck, they’d have no luck at all, the prevailing thought.

Everything happens in threes, goes one saying. Mercifully for Everton, it proved inaccurate.

Third time lucky, however, now there would be something in that one, if any luck had been involved in Everton’s equaliser with 11 minutes remaining.

As it was, the goal from the brilliant, persevering Richarlison, was a result of endeavour and drive and a steadfast refusal to throw in the towel.

Twice Richarlison thought he’d scored in this match, twice the VAR got involved to frustrate the forward.

The second disallowed goal felt like a hammer blow. Everton were trailing to Martin Odegaard’s strike in first-half stoppage time and, to the naked eye, Richarlison looked onside when he gathered a pass from Doucoure to blast home.

When Doucoure won the ball high up the field roughly 20 minutes later – the midfielder playing in a more advanced position following a second-half tweak from Rafa Benitez – Arsenal were on the back foot.

The ball eventually found its way to Gray on the left and he exhibited the confidence of a player in rich form to shoot from 20 yards. It came back off the bar – the latest piece of misfortune for Everton, it seemed – until Richarlison coolly returned the ball whence it came and into the back of the net.

We know football is an unforgiving sport, in the habit of administering a kick to the solar plexus when you’re most in need of oxygen.

If we needed a reminder of the game’s cruel nature, it was delivered in spades here.

The first example came as the match neared half-time.

Richarlison athletically headed Andros Townsend’s 44th-minute right-wing free-kick beyond the despairing, helpless Ramsdale and Goodison exploded, a cacophony of joy.

The first sight of a replay raised some doubt over Richarlison’s position when Townsend lifted in the ball from the right.

Had the Brazilian strayed offside? By the slenderest of margins, concluded Stuart Attwell, the VAR.

Everton were on top, playing with aggression and purpose and roared on by a defiant home support.

But barely two minutes passed between Richarlison hitting the net and Arsenal going in front with their first legitimate attempt.

Kieran Tierney fastened onto a pass down Everton’s right and shoved the ball out of his feet to cut back a delivery for the advancing Odegaard.

The Norwegian adjusted his body mid-air to meet the cross left-footed. Jordan Pickford, hitherto relatively unemployed, had no chance with the finish caressed inside his right post.

It was a goal against the run of play. Sure, Arsenal had seen more of the ball but it was the hosts creating chances and operating with greater urgency and intent.

The same pattern steadily became ingrained in the second 45 minutes – following a frenetic spell of end-to-end football lasting around 10 minutes immediately after the resumption,

And on 57 minutes Everton believed they had the equaliser that would have qualified as fair reward for their effort and energy and desire.

It would have been thoroughly deserved for Richarlison, too, the South American seen beating the turf in frustration after Odegaard’s goal.

Richarlison took Docuoure’s pass in his stride and hammered a clinical strike past Ramsadale.

Goodison went berserk again. A couple of minutes later, the ground erupted for a very different reason. Richarlison was judged to have positioned the end of his big toe beyond Gabriel Magalhaes, as Doucoure played the pass and Everton were denied again.

This setback felt crueller than the first.

Everton, ironically perhaps, rattled Arsenal in the 27th minute, coinciding with a vocal show of support from a large majority inside Goodison.

Gabriel, perhaps distracted by the growing crescendo, presented possession to Gray who, for once, got his pass wrong.

Gray’s inaccuracy, however, worked in Everton’s favour, a ricochet off Gabriel Martinelli directing play to Richarlison. He swiftly found Doucoure but the Frenchman’s shot on the turn lacked conviction and dribbled wide.

In the blink of an eye, Everton were coming again. Richarlison collected a return pass from Townsend to clip an effort that squirmed wide of the far post off an Arsenal leg.

Townsend stood over the corner, making as if to whip the ball into the penalty area scrum. It was a ruse, the pass going short to Gray. He took off from a standing start, jinking into space and thundering a cross that flew unmolested across the face of goal.

Arsenal, as you might expect from a team managed by Mikel Arteta, are neat and controlled in possession.

But the passing game installed by the Spaniard extends to every part of the field. As such, there is joy to be had in getting after Arsenal when they circulate the ball deep in their own territory.

This much was clear from kick-off when the visitors worked play back to Ramsdale, who heaved a giant sight of relief when he cleared before the arrival of the rapidly-approaching Townsend.

Everton were all over Arsenal every time the visitors tried to set up play from their defensive third.

And they were getting stuck in elsewhere, to boot.

Ben Godfrey summoned memories of his bone-jarring challenge on the Gunners’ Dani Ceballas in the fixture last year – there were echoes of Phil Neville clattering into Cristiano Ronaldo, too – when hurtling into a 50-50 with the game Takehiro Tomiyasu.

Godfrey claimed the honours and the acclaim of all four sides of the stadium.

When Godfrey stole in front of Buakyo Saka in a similar area – around halfway – the Everton player’s aerial boot guided the ball upfield for Richarlison.

The Brazilian duly fed Gray, who dashed forwards 15 yards to unleash a strike that travelled over Ramsdale’s bar.

Richarlison controlled an awkward ball 10 minutes before half-time, hooking his low cross from the byline into the middle. White, the Arsenal centre-half, had time to put his foot on the ball and wallop clear.

Everton, hungry and on the front foot, recycled possession – but Anthony Gordon’s eventual shot was resisted by a defensive body.

By this time a distraught Yerry Mina had hobbled off 30 minutes into his comeback following nine weeks out with a hamstring issue, Mason Holgate, available after suspension, replaced the Colombian.

Arsenal had very little to show for their generous share of the ball. Their most progressive football, around 18 minutes, involved Tierney, Odegaard, twice, and Saka but met an ugly end when Thomas Partey skied a strike from 25 yards.

Ramsdale did well to touch over a dipping Gordon cross soon after the restart, the Arsenal keeper then fielding a bouncing attempt from Gray.

Gabriel, at the other end, peeled round the back to meet an Odegaard free-kick but the header was tame and straight at Pickford.

Another Tierney centre was out of reach of Martinelli at the near post, while White decisively intervened when Doucoure tried to connect with Gray’s beeline into the box.

You could hardly credit Everton’s ill fortune when Attwell drew his lines back in Stockley Park and determined Richarlison had run too soon when Doucoure released the pass the striker gathered to blast beyond Ramsdale.

Benitez promptly sent on Gomes for the Portuguese’s first Premier League action since 18 September at Aston Villa.

The change, which saw Townsend substituted, seemed designed to get the mobile Doucoure closer to striker Richarlison.

Allan, meanwhile, retreated a few yards, providing a safety net for the raiding trio of Gomes, Gordon and Gray.

Partey scampered back to deny Gomes a shot when the midfielder chased after Gray’s pass into the box.

But Everton had their leveller in quick time, Richarlison reacting fastest when Gray’s impudent effort bounced back off the bar.

Goodison was whipped up and urging on the hosts, who initially responded with driving runs from Gomes and Allan.

Arsenal, though, were not in the mood to settle for a draw. Godfrey did brilliantly to leap in front of a goalbound Odegaard strike and Eddie Nketiah headed against the post from close range after meeting Saka’s deep cross from the right.

Seamus Coleman was next to block from Odegaard, to all intents and purposes, we thought, saving Everton’s point.

Not so. Gray had other ideas, receiving the ball from Gomes to cruise across the fringe of the area and let fly with a devastating strike that thudded the inside of Ramsdale’s post and deflected into the net.

Ramsdale smothered from substitute Alex Iwobi deep into stoppage-time and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, on to aid Arsenal's push for a leveller, dragged wide from a promising position. We'd had our share of twists and turns for one night. All that was left was for the Evertonians to give their team a mighty ovation when it was all over.


Bargain Gray's Priceless Strike

Evertonians already have one song about a bargain signing, the purchase of Seamus Coleman for a puny £60,000.

There is every chance the same supporters will be dreaming up something similar for Demarai Gray soon.

The 25-year-old cost £1.7m from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer and is paying back that tiny fee – and then some – with a terrific start to his Everton career.

Gray, who paid tribute to the daily motivation provided by Coleman in his post-match interview, has five goals for the season following his crackerjack effort to settle this contest.

That tally surpasses the total Gray has mustered in any of his previous top-flight seasons.

It was a measure of his confidence that with Everton trailing 1-0 and staring at the bleak prospect of a ninth game without victory – an outcome that would have been harsh in the extreme – Gray was prepared to shoot from 20 yards after Abdoulaye Doucoure originally stole possession high up the pitch.

Gray might have concluded his – and his team’s – luck was out when the ball cannoned off the bar.

But after two outrageously close decisions went against Richarlison, the South American pounced to head into an unguarded net.

Former Leicester City player Gray sensed the tide was turning, that this game was up for grabs.

Rafa Benitez’s tactical switch – sending on Andre Gomes for Anthony Gordon and using Allan as a safety valve in front of the back four – freed Gray and his attacking allies to run at Arsenal.

None of them needed asking twice and when Gomes sprung forward he looked up to see Gray in an advanced position.

Gray moved infield, evading Arsenal challenges, to create the space for a shot that left Ramsdale grasping at thin air.

Never mind £1.7m. That goal, in the context of Everton’s season, felt priceless.


Godfrey Whips Up Blues

The light beaming from Ben Godfrey’s eyes threatened to dazzle those housed in the Bullens Road stand.

Godfrey, playing left-back in the absence of Lucas Digne, eyed a ball roughly equidistant from the Everton player and Takehiro Tomiyasu.

Japanese full-back Tomiyasu didn’t shirk the challenge and you suspect Godfrey would have liked that.

The Everton player cleaned out his opponent, winning a juddering duel to unanimous approval from the home supporters – warmed on a chill night by the sight of an archetypal full-blooded tackle.

For Godfrey, the moment felt important, too. He’s had a run in his preferred centre-half role but this was a return to the position where Godfrey excelled over a sustained period following his transfer from Norwich City last year.

Godfrey began the game with an ambitious surge, reading Richarlison’s intentions to collect a ball prodded down the left but slipping after arriving in the box.

He anticipated a ball aimed at Bukayo Saka to get in front of the England forward for a turnover of possession that ended with Demarai Gray driving a shot over.

Godfrey hared forwards with the ball at his feet, covering 50 yards, to slide a low pass to Andros Townsend. The attacker was crowded out and the move came to nothing but it was indicative of Godfrey’s brio and adventure.

At 1-1 and with the Evertonians creating a heck of a din, Godfrey remained alert when Odegaard seemed poised to put a pin in the rollicking atmosphere.

The Scandinavian’s shot would have worked Jordan Pickford but for Godfrey’s exceptional diving block. It was a sound note on which to finish a spiky and courageous performance from Everton's auxiliary left sided defender.


Timely Boost For Benitez’s Blues

The value of this first win in nine Premier League matches for Everton cannot be overstated.

There was no shying away from the pivotal nature of Monday night’s contest. Had Rafa Benitez’s Everton lost to Arsenal, they would have remained uneasily perched in 16th position, five points above the Premier League’s bottom three.

What a difference, then; a leap to the relative sanctuary of 12th, from where tonight’s opponents are suddenly back in view.

Everton are five points behind Arsenal in seventh and only one further place and point adrift of resurgent Manchester United.

Defender Michael Keane spoke prior to this match about the power of three points, the rejuvenating effect of winning a match after a long wait for the buzz of victory.

Nobody in the Goodison Park camp will be declaring all is right in the world after one win but the picture doesn’t half look brighter.

A trip to Crystal Palace on Sunday certainly looks less daunting than would have been the case were Everton going to the capital trying to avoid a 10th winless match.

The carrot at Selhurst Park, now, is the second straight success – which would constitute Everton’s first back-to-back victories since seeing off Brighton & Hove Albion and Burnley either side of the beginning of September – that would catapult Benitez’s side five points clear of Palace and nearer the Premier League’s business end.

There was additional reason for optimism, here, in the continued return of key performers.

Abdoulaye Doucoure completed his third straight 90 minutes and Demarai Gray appears free from the muscle problem that forced his premature exit at Manchester City a fortnight ago.

Andre Gomes came on to play an instrumental role in his team's recovery to win the game.

Everton, meanwhile, found a way to win without the intimidating presence of Dominic Calvert-Lewin up front.

Now it is for Everton to build on this gritty and fully-merited success to welcome Calvert-Lewin back to a team confidently retracing its steps up the Premier League table.

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