The exhilaration of surviving lasted less than a minute at Goodison Park. Everton defeated Bournemouth 1-0 in the second half to prevent relegation from the Premier League, but the dominating feeling at the conclusion of the game was rage.
Anger at being in this situation once again, but also at the regime in charge of administering the club. The crowd were yelling “Sack the board!” before Sean Dyche’s team had even left the ground, but the board wasn’t there to hear it. The directors, chairman Bill Kenwright and owner Farhad Moshiri, have not attended a home game since the club claimed security concerns over their safety ahead to the match against Southampton on Jan. 14.
Everton saved their skin on the last day of a Premier League season for the third time, having done it in 1994 and 1998. Everton had avoided relegation on previous times, avoiding final-day drama last season with a victory in their last game, but the celebrations were short on this occasion because the club’s fans have had enough of underachievement.
Doucoure, whose spectacular right-footed effort from 20 yards clinched the important victory over Bournemouth, summed up the atmosphere around the club with a straightforward appraisal of what survival means.
“There is a lot of work to do,” he stated after the game. “We can’t get carried away. I’m not a hero. Nobody is here. We work and play for Everton, and we have to be much better than that. We need to reflect on the errors we made this season. Everyone gave it their all towards the end, but we need to come back stronger next season and put Everton on the map.”
Relegation is often associated with errors and ineptitude off the field, and Everton are lucky not to have received the ultimate penalty for their faults.
They let last season’s leading scorer, Richarlison, depart in a £60 million deal to Tottenham, instead replacing him with Brighton’s Neal Maupay for less than a fourth of that sum. Maupay has only scored once this season, and it came in September.
Everton were the only team to not make a deal during the January transfer window after firing manager Frank Lampard after 11 losses in 14 games. They did, however, enable talented attacker Anthony Gordon to join Newcastle for £45 million.
It may be argued that selecting Dyche as manager was one of the better decisions made by the Everton board, given that the former Burnley manager has maintained the team in the Premier League. However, Dyche was not their first choice. The board chose Marcelo Bielsa, who is the polar antithesis of Dyche in terms of coaching approach. But the former Leeds manager immediately concluded that Everton were in a greater mess than he could fix in six months, thus Dyche was appointed.
Unless there is further turmoil at the club – there is continual talk about ownership and if Everton may be sold – Dyche will stay in charge to lead the squad ahead and guarantee improvement. However, the manager provided a dose of reality after this game.
“This was a terrible day for everyone involved,” he added. “There’s no joy in it for me.” It was quite challenging, but the good news is that we finished the task. There is a lot to modify and a lot of work to be done here, but this is a major start in the right direction. The Evertonians, as great as they have been, must remember this. We can’t say, ‘Oh, it’s all right now.’ “I don’t have any magic dust to solve it.”If you ask five different Everton supporters what we need, you’ll receive five different responses, therefore we need to realign everyone. The following season’s work began the day I arrived. This is not a simple repair. The supporters expect us to be at the top of the market because we are a big club, but we are not performing like a big club.”
However, pressing the reset button as a Premier League side will be much simpler than as a failing club in the EFL Championship.
Everton are scheduled to move into a new stadium during the 2024-25 season, but before they must cope with whatever penalty comes their way after being penalised by the Premier League in March for violating financial fair play standards. If the complaint is sustained, Everton might be docked points next season, making “Groundhog Day” this time next year a possibility.
Avoiding relegation was critical for Everton. Only Arsenal (98 seasons) had a longer run, and the sensation that the club’s future was hanging in the balance hovered in the air before to this game.
The streets surrounding Goodison Park were still before the game, as if no one dared to talk, and the silence was only broken by fans yelling outside the stadium, lighting off flares and rockets as kickoff neared.
Last season, Lampard praised the same supporters with helping keep the club afloat by generating a frenzy in the buildup, embracing the players’ coach with colour and noise. Dyche had none of it. He wanted to keep the emotion low, so the players came in their own automobiles. Perhaps it was also a subterfuge to enable them to flee swiftly if things had gone otherwise.
But owing to Doucoure, there was no need to slip out the back door. He scored the game-winning goal to keep Everton in the Premier League, sending Leicester and Leeds down instead.
The Everton board will have rejoiced elsewhere, but the fact that they remained away from such a crucial game says everything about the tightrope that the club must yet tread.
They remained up, but no one is cheering too loudly.