Sean Dyche loses Goodison aura as toothless Everton slide back into Prem’s bottom three

Dave Tickner
Sean Dyche applauds the fans after Everton lose 2-0 to Aston Villa in the Premier League

This is already a very, very silly relegation battle and all evidence suggests it’s only going to get sillier over the remaining twists and turns of 14 rounds of games. There are at a conservative estimate eight teams right in the shit of it and with a different result at Goodison Park today that number would be at least nine.

Aston Villa arrived at Everton having lost three games in a way as the air went out of the Unai Emery bounce. Villa needed a result here, but Everton needed a result.

Care is needed. The temptation to draw certain conclusions from one game to the next will be hard to resist, but the only conclusion of any real certainty is that there are no certainties about who will be in the bottom three when the music stops.

All we can say today is that this feels like more than a winnable game passed up by Everton, like more than three points dropped. It was already clear that Everton’s Sean Dyche-approved route out of trouble this season would be built largely if not almost entirely on restoring Goodison Park to some kind of fortress. Not always pretty, not always easy on the eye, but always a difficult place to come.

Extremely Dyche victories over Arsenal and Leeds in their first two games of the new regime here had established the blueprint. Nobody would relish coming here.

Even Frank Lampard, a manager who considers relegation battles far beneath him, acknowledged, grasped and harnessed the power of Goodison in last season’s unpleasantness. Everton won five of their last nine home games of the season, including profoundly Dyche-like 1-0 wins over Manchester United and Chelsea.

In losing so limply to an Aston Villa team that was itself in danger of turning the relegation scrap into an unseemly bunfight featuring the entirety of the bottom half, Everton have given something away that could cost more than a few points.

Keeping that Goodison fire rumbling on today would have kept Everton out of the bottom three and made them look very much the likeliest team to achieve escape velocity ahead of the closing weeks of the season.

Instead, defeat on a day when Leeds and West Ham deservedly secured their own necessary home six-pointer victories, means Everton are once again in the bottom three. Once again forced to restart the process.

And now something is needed away from Goodison. Something is needed on the road, with four of Everton’s next six away from home and the two home games in that run tough ones against Brentford and Tottenham. The away games are if anything worse, with Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United on the schedule.

Today really was a huge opportunity against a Villa team that had lost its last three. To enhance that mythology around this stadium and to drag another team right into the mix. Never hurts to have a few more teams shitting themselves when you’re already bricking it.

Ollie Watkins, Emi Buendia, Aston Villa, February 2023

The truth is that for large parts of this game, Everton played better than they did in the win against Leeds. But that only makes it worse. They are a team firmly in the results business, and this result came about because of all too familiar failings. Dyche may have a reputation for 1-0 wins, but with this team it’s hard to see any other scoreline by which they can win. There was promise about much of their football, but the attack is almost sarcastically toothless. Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been out for long enough now that his absence barely registers as mitigation.

Allowing January to come and go with nothing to show for it was ludicrous. Every Everton game for the rest of the season is likely to be a fraught high-wire act. And that’s the best-case scenario, because if the game is not a fraught high-wire act it means Everton have already fallen off. West Ham’s four-goal blitz against Forest may have been unexpected, but Everton doing something like it is entirely inconceivable. It would represent almost a quarter of the season’s tally for a team that has somehow contrived to be worse in front of goal than both Wolves and Southampton.

Yet those first couple of games here under Dyche had many of us fooled. They had many of us thinking he could turn the admittedly useful defensive components at his disposal into entirely impregnable ones. Of course he can’t, as Ollie Watkins and the excellent Emi Buendia showed here. Dyche is a legend but he is also only a normal man. An innocent man.

The popping of that bubble has made plain the size of the trouble Everton are in. They don’t score anywhere near enough goals, and while the defence is capable it’s unreasonable to expect or demand the perfection that appears to be required. And it leaves us with one more certainty. This is absolutely not a team too good to go down.