Everton clamped a firm grip around Leeds’ throats from the first whistle and didn’t let go at any stage of a stirring contest that finished with Evertonians singing the name of manager Frank Lampard for the second week running.
The sight of Richarlison sprinting to stop a pass out of defence with six minutes remaining and receiving a thunderous ovation epitomised a relentless Everton performance.
Leeds, ordinarily so vibrant and dynamic, were no match for the ambitious and aggressive home side.
By the time Richarlison’s shot deflected off Anthony Gordon and past Illan Meslier with 12 minutes remaining – the two Everton players might have to fight it out for credit for that one – the game was long since settled, whatever anybody tells you about the perils of a two-goal lead.
Everton scored three and, for the first time in 13 matches, conceded none.
Gordon was at the heart of so much of Everton’s brightest play, as he so often is, and had a notable role in the two goals his side scored inside 13 first-half minutes.
Donny van de Beek, on his first start for the Club, excelled in the centre of midfield. The Dutchman’s passing was crisp and resourceful and positive. He won possession in dangerous areas and, more understatedly, was perfectly positioned to collect any number of loose balls.
It is, perhaps, unfair to single out individuals, however, because there were excellent Everton performances everywhere you looked.
Lampard might have talked down the importance of this game in public but that message certainly didn’t translate to those on the field.
Leeds looked shellshocked by the speed of Everton’s pressing in the opening minutes. A rushed ball out of defence dumped the visitors in a spot of bother inside two minutes.
Allan was the recipient, the Brazilian feeding Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who ushered in Gordon, screaming down the left.
Diego Llorente got back to make the tackle as Gordon drew back his foot to shoot – but that would be the last time for a while that Leeds got close to Everton’s young attacker.
Gordon left Llorente on his backside after five minutes, eventually aiming a shot Meslier saved low to his left.
Even so early in the game, the pressure was building to an extent where it appeared Leeds would be powerless to resist.
Goodison roared its approval when Alex Iwobi raced back to dispossess Rodrigo – the busy Iwobi would get a similar ovation for hounding a trio of Leeds defenders one after the other later in the half – and a goal felt imminent.
Jonjoe Kenny was playing in an unfamiliar left-back position but looked perfectly at home dodging a Raphinha deep in Leeds territory after 10 minutes.
The outside-of-the-right-boot cross was too high for Calvert-Lewin, but the home team kept play alive on the opposite flank.
When the ball arrived at Gordon’s feet in the penalty box he supplied Van de Beek first time. The cross was low, directed towards Calvert-Lewin at the back post.
A sliding intervention denied the Everton striker but served up a chance for Seamus Coleman, involved at the outset of the passing exchange and now moving at full pelt to leap headfirst and score his first goal since May 2019.
Everton were all over Leeds but despite the flow and complexion of the game, far from easy street. The Yorkshire side scored three goals in each of their past two away matches, a 3-2 win at high-flying West Ham United and the 3-3 draw with Aston Villa three days ago.
Mason Holgate applied a vital touch when Dan James threatened to escape in the box.
But the real warning shot came from the former Valencia forward Rodrigo, who couldn’t resist when a ball sat up 25 yards from goal and clattered a 25-yard effort against the bar.
More frustration for Rodrigo in first-half stoppage time, the Spaniard curling against the frame of the goal from 20 yards.
By this time, Everton were two goals to the good.
If the opener was all intricate passing and bright movement, then Everton’s second goal was far simpler in its execution.
Gordon hung a right-wing corner to the back post, where Michael Keane – playing his 150th Premier League match for Everton – planted a powerful header beyond Meslier.
It was the fourth goal scored by an Everton defender in three halves of football at Goodison Park.
The rest of the opening half belonged almost wholly to the home team.
Meslier saved from Gordon and Iwobi bent narrowly wide after Van de Beek’s hassling turned over possession and enabled Richarlison to tee-up the winger on the edge of the box.
Gordon scorched down the left for a cross the was meekly defended at the front post but the work of Leeds’ left-wing-back Leo Fuhr Hjelde – on as an early substitute for the injured Stuart Dallas – was much more convincing, the Norwegian throwing himself in the way of Richarlison’s eventual strike.
Meslier dived to his left to deny Calvert-Lewin a first Everton goal since 28 August, at Brighton, following terrific approach play from Van de Beek and Iwobi.
Marcelo Bielsa, the Leeds manager, was frustrated enough to burn his substitutions at half-time, hooking Raphinha and Mateusz Klich and sending on Tyler Roberts and Adam Forshaw.
There was little sign of a change of the tide, however, when Meslier dived to his left to hold a Gordon strike shortly after the restart.
James was wayward with a shot in the box for Leeds but the visitors were being prevented from gaining any rhythm of fluidity.
Everton were comfortable defending fractionally deeper, erecting two sturdy four-man barriers for Leeds to negotiate.
But if the away side were being granted more of the ball, it was Everton carrying the greater threat.
Lampard’s side counter-attacked with pace and energy, stretching Leeds and continuing to rush the visitors in possession.
Dele replaced Calvert-Lewin for a home debut with 18 minutes remaining and 60 seconds later Iwobi’s shot on the turn was blocked.
But Everton’s third came soon enough. Allan burst from midfield, eschewing an expansive passing option for a punched ball into Richarlison.
He shifted it out of his feet and struck a 20-yard left footer that travlled inside Meslier’s right post via a clump off Gordon.
Anwar El Ghazi was next on for an Everton debut, before Dele slashed wide when trying for a first goal for the Club.
But it was Everton’s third substitute in Salomon Rondon who drew a reflex save from Meslier in the closing seconds, the striker meeting a Dele cross on the full and hammering his strike on target.
It was around this point that Goodison began serenading the Club's new manager. Carry on like this and he'll have to get used to it.
For the first time since taking charge Frank Lampard chose to field a midfield four and the Everton manager would have been gladdened by a quartet of excellent performances.
Alex Iwobi was the surprise pick, the ex-Arsenal player beginning only his eighth Premier League game this season – and first since 16 December, at Chelsea.
Operating primarily on the right, Iwobi was a hub of energy, more than once receiving roaring plaudits from all sides of the stadium for his chasing and closing. He unsettled Leeds defenders, forced mistakes and was a key figure in Everton maintaining a stranglehold over their opponents.
Iwobi was bubbling with confidence in possession. One pass behind a defender to present Dominic Calvert-Lewin with an opportunity was exquisitely weighted and Iwobi wasn’t far off with a low strike that rushed past the upright before half-time.
Donny van de Beek’s home debut was barely an hour old when the Howard Kendall Gwladys Street End launched into a chorus of the Dutchman’s name.
He gained his instant popularity with a shift full of clever, probing passing, tireless running and plenty of tackling and intercepting.
Van de Beek blocked off the route into the visitors’ strikers, denying his midfield opponents the room to strike the sort of passes he excels in himself.
Plenty will be said about Anthony Gordon elsewhere. The Goodison Academy graduate took the game to Leeds from the beginning and was instrumental in Everton acquiring an immediate upper hand.
He flew past defenders with the ball at his feet, was prepared to shoot whenever the chance presented itself and had a huge hand in both first-half Everton goals.
Gordon’s appetite for hard work is insatiable, to boot, the 20-year-old closing and challenging and never allowing a white shirt a moment to breathe.
Stitching it all together at the base of midfield was the selfless Allan, who finished the afternoon with an assist for fellow Brazilian Richarlison – or Gordon, depending on the Premier League’s goals panel.
Allan steadfastly sat in front of Everton’s back-four, providing an attacking licence for those ahead of him. There was nothing flash about the South American’s display and he’ll get his name in the paper for passing to Richarlison 12 minutes from the end.
But this was an illustration of self-denial that helped nullify usually expressive Leeds and deserving of its share of praise.
Coleman and Everton Reap Rewards For Bravery
The goal that underlined Everton’s fast start was indicative of a team playing on the front foot.
How often does your full-back convert a diving header from inside the six-yard box, after all?
The most recent of Seamus Coleman’s 26 Everton goals came in a 2-0 victory over Burnley at Goodison Park on 3 May 2019.
He’s been on a tighter rein since then, an orthodox full-back as opposed to the flier who raided up and down the right flank in the opening decade of his Everton career.
Coleman received full reward for his renewed adventure after 10 minutes, when it would have been perfectly understandable for the defender to hang back and err on side of caution.
Everton initially kept play alive after Jonjoe Kenny’s skilfully struck ball from the left travelled too high for Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
A crisp exchange of passes grew in urgency when Anthony Gordon turned a ball forward for Donny van de Beek.
The Dutchman’s low cross was cut out before it reached Calvert-Lewin, the ball spinning up and across goal.
And Leeds would have been reflecting on a significant let-off if it wasn’t for Coleman, charging forwards to throw himself at the ball and put Everton in front.
The old Sixty Grand chant started on cue, Evertonians lauding a third goal scored by a defender in two home matches following strikes for Yerry Mina and Mason Holgate against Brentford seven days ago.
Eager to get in on the act, centre-half Michael Keane celebrated his 150th Premier League appearance for the Club by leaping to convert Gordon’s corner 13 minutes later.
Frank Lampard was keen to play down the significance of this match, but Everton played like a side that recognised the imperative of three points.
Against a Leeds team Lampard reckons boasts “physical output and energy way above anyone in the league”, Everton didn’t suffer by comparison with their visitors’ intensity and endeavour.
Backed by a cacophonous Goodison Park, the hosts ran and tackled and competed like their very lives depended on it.
In the context of Everton winning one of the 15 Premier League matches prior to this one, games in hand on the majority of teams around them were a scant source of comfort.
What this club and its supporters really needed was something for the here and now, a performance to deliver optimism for the season’s closing months.
The hunger and aggression – and confidence – shown against Leeds provide a springboard for next week’s visit to Southampton, and beyond.
Above all, the tangible effect of this result, drawing Everton within one point of Leeds, having played one game fewer, and away from the bottom three, are potentially revitalising.
No, this wasn’t ‘must-win’, as Lampard was eager to stress. There’s too long left in the season for that sort of talk.
A much-needed win, though? No doubt about it.