Everton 1-0 Chelsea: ‘Pickford’s saves have kept their dreams alive’
With an unbroken run in England’s top flight stretching back to 1954, Everton aren’t about to give up their status among the elite without a fight.
Their critical 1-0 win over Chelsea was a full-blooded football spectacle, with fireworks and smoke bombs playing cameo roles.
But aside from Richarlison’s winner, the leading star was Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford thanks to two second-half saves worthy of their own script.
When England’s number one somehow denied Cesar Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger in quick succession, Goodison Park rose in unison to cheer his efforts with a noise almost as loud as a goal.
That was recognition of what was at stake, by a crowd who played a massive part in a blood-and-thunder victory, which closed the gap on Leeds and Burnley to two points.
Everton started the day five points from safety as they attempted to maintain their 68-year stay in the top-flight. Some pundits have debated whether they would be the biggest club to go down from the Premier League, given their history.
And, with Frank Lampard’s side staring relegation in the face, it was apt that Pickford used his to deny Rudiger with a point-blank save.
“Pickford’s saves have kept Everton’s dreams alive,” former Everton midfielder Leon Osman said on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“That [Azpilicueta] save was incredible. Pickford has been criticised in the past because he has a tendency to do something rash. But not today. It was arguably his best-ever game for Everton in Everton’s most important game of the season.
“If Everton had lost today you would have felt they were out of the Premier League and the fans knew how important this was.”
‘The fans were the people of the match’
That much was emphasised by thousands of fans lining the streets in the approach to Goodison Park to welcome the team bus. Blue flares wafted down Goodison Road as supporters sang about the “Grand Old Team” whose Premier League status looked anything but impressive.
It might have even explained the decision for some fans to create their own firework display in front of the Chelsea team hotel on Saturday night, although Thomas Tuchel said his side were unaffected by the noise despite the German boss, and midfielder Jorginho, saying it woke them up.
But in a season where Everton have not won away since August, the atmosphere once again dragged the team to new heights and underlined how big a role the fans will play.
Lampard said of the escort from fans: “The feeling it gave the players, to make them understand what it means to the fans, was special.
“If it doesn’t give you goosebumps, if it doesn’t get you ready to go out and give everything, then you shouldn’t be playing the game.
“The fans were the 12th man, they were the people of the match. The men, the women, the children that came and did that before the game, in the warm up, at the start of the game and also to get us over the line late in the game, was huge.”
Seamus Coleman, who alongside Yerry Mina epitomised Everton’s aggressive approach against Chelsea, added: “I have been here a long time but never felt like I did coming into the stadium today.”
Lampard said he would leave it to fans whether they replicated it for their remaining home games against Brentford and Crystal Palace.
But he said it “definitely helped” and also highlighted how improving his side’s away form would be a crucial factor in staying up, given they have trips to Leicester, Watford and Arsenal to come.
Part of that may come from taking a harder approach with his players, which he admitted prior to only his fourth Premier League win in 13 games since he was appointed.
That included “prodding” Richarlison about how he needed to be more “clinical” alongside his pressing, with the Brazilian rewarding Lampard with a ninth goal of the season after harrying Azpilicueta into a mistake.
“I think it was an important moment to talk [to the players] about the reality of the situation because there’s different ways you can go about it,” Lampard added.
“You can keep telling the players to believe and there are other times where we’re going, ‘hang on, the demands are this’.
“To be good lads and show good effort is not enough for us to stay in this league because we knew what the table said before this game.
“So my feeling was that we needed the extra bit of discipline, the extra bit of tension and, to be fair, the players have delivered that.”
There is sure to be more tension as Everton try to keep their hopes alive, but Lampard said: “My feeling is there’s a long way to go in this.
“We can control our games, but we can’t control Burnley or Leeds. And as much as we sit and stare at our phones and analyse their remaining games, it won’t make a difference unless we do our thing.”