Everton emerge victorious from crunch relegation battle with Leeds
Seamus Coleman’s freakish goal was the stroke of luck Everton needed to lift them out of the relegation zone and plunge managerless Leeds into it following their 1-0 defeat at Goodison Park.
New manager Sean Dyche knew he would need some good fortune after the Premier League’s lowest scorers failed to make a January signing despite the injury-prone striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin struggling for fitness all season.
But even he could not have envisaged winning his second successive home match in the manner they did after the Toffees captain’s attempted cross caught out goalkeeper Ilan Meslier at his near post.
Everton’s long-serving Irishman is the club’s lucky charm as they have never lost in all 28 matches in which he has scored and if they can keep eking out home wins like this – which lifted them a point clear of the bottom three – then survival is a realistic possibility.
The same cannot be said for Leeds, whose 10th match without a win dropped them to 19th after fellow strugglers Southampton and Bournemouth both won.
A feeling of crisis has enveloped the club as having sacked Jesse Marsch a fortnight ago they have failed to recruit a successor and taken only one point from a possible nine.
While all their relegation rivals are finding a way of picking up the odd result Leeds are on a dangerous downward spiral and, finishing without a shot on target showed just how much work caretaker manager Michael Skubala has to do just to get them into a position to be able to fight for survival.
That is not a problem Dyche seems to have after making it two wins from two at home either side of Monday’s Merseyside derby defeat at Anfield.
But even he will admit it was more by luck than design after his right-back chased a hopeful 64th-minute ball down the right from Alex Iwobi.
With only Neal Maupay in the middle he hooked in a ball which embarrassed Meslier, who had left a large gap at his near post anticipating the cross going somewhere in the vicinity of the penalty spot.
It was Coleman’s first goal since scoring in the 3-0 win over Leeds a year ago, one of just six victories in the final three months of the season which helped keep them up with a game to go.
The first goal was always going to be vital in a match between two teams who had managed just 14 between them from their last 19 combined games before kick-off.
After a period of applause for Christian Atsu, who played 13 games for Everton in the 2014-15 season on loan from Chelsea, following news of the midfielder’s death in Turkey in the earthquake there the match began with Everton trying to build on their last home appearance.
But without the focal point of Calvert-Lewin, who had played in the win against Arsenal last time out at Goodison, the tactic of firing in crosses to the smallest man on the pitch in Maupay looked a forlorn one as the 5ft 6in striker struggled against Leeds’ centre-backs.
When they did benefit from some aerial supremacy it was Amadou Onana beating Meslier to Conor Coady’s high ball on the edge of the area but Maupay, Dwight McNeil and Abdoulaye Doucoure all delayed shooting with the goalkeeper out of position.
Onana then leant back and blazed over after Alex Iwobi had released Idrissa Gana Gueye to nutmeg Max Wober and cut back a low cross.
Everton’s best chances were always going to come from set-pieces and from a 33rd-minute corner Wober hacked out Coady’s header from underneath the crossbar before Weston McKennie cleared Maupay’s rebound off the line.
Everton’s other centre-back James Tarkowski’s header was parried by Meslier from another McNeil corner with Onana also nodding over as the hosts made all the running until Leeds’ Crysencio Summerville headed onto the roof of the net in first-half added time.
That came just after a 21-man melee sparked after Tyler Adams pushed McNeil into the hoardings, with the two protagonists, plus Doucoure and McKennie, booked.
Wober was replaced by Rasmus Kristensen as Leeds moved Luke Ayling into the centre of defence for the second half but Everton continued to pose more threat with McNeil volleying wide.
But it was left to Coleman to inadvertently apply the decisive blow as hope springs eternal at Goodison Park.