Wolves substitute Sasa Kalajdzic scored a late winner two minutes after coming off the bench as Everton manager Sean Dyche’s decision to turn to some new faces produced a depressingly-familiar outcome.
The Toffees dominated this Premier League match – having 15 shots – but remain goalless and pointless in the 270 minutes they have played so far this season as the visitors scored with their only effort on target in the 87th minute.
Fans streaming out of Goodison had seen it all before as recently as a fortnight ago when a similar performance against Fulham also saw them lose 1-0 as they endured their worst start to a season since 1990-91.
— Wolves (@Wolves) August 26, 2023
But the supporters in old gold did not care as they headed back down the M6 celebrating their first win of the campaign – secured by a player making only his third appearance after rupturing his ACL in his first match last season – and their third in succession at Goodison Park for the first time.
It was bizarre to see the game touted as a must-win fixture for both sides with almost a week still left in August but such is the anticipated struggles of the two clubs, who were only lifted out of the last two places in the table by Luton’s defeat at Chelsea on Friday, it did take on the appearance of a “relegation six-pointer”.
Wolves boss Gary O’Neil will have taken some satisfaction from the result, having seen his final match as Bournemouth manager on the final day of last season end in a 1-0 defeat which kept Everton up late on for the second campaign running.
The visitors effected a classic smash-and-grab as they were second-best for the majority of the game but benefited from their opponents’ toothlessness.
It was tough on Everton, who were energised by Dyche’s decision to put his faith in youth to some degree.
The two loudest cheers at the pre-match team announcement were for Lewis Dobbin and Jarrad Branthwaite, aged 20 and 21 respectively, and they responded in kind with the sort of performances fans have been craving for too long: determined, committed and, in places, vibrant.
Dobbin offered an attacking thrust from the left side of midfield, much needed in the absence of the injured Dwight McNeil, while Branthwaite brought a degree of assuredness – courtesy of a loan spell in Dutch football at PSV Eindhoven – alongside James Tarkowski. His 6ft 5in height was an added bonus in both penalty areas.
Dyche took what might be considered the bold option of starting the pair – and Arnaut Danjuma up front – when he could have stuck with experienced centre-back Michael Keane and brought in Neal Maupay for the injured Dominic Calvert-Lewin but the former Burnley boss had presumably seen enough of what they offered and decided it was not enough.
It helped inject some early urgency into the game but it soon became apparent the team was treading a familiar path.
The running of Danjuma, centrally, and Dobbin, wide left, gave the appearance of being more threatening but the lack of cutting edge remained a problem.
Tarkowski sliced wildly into the side-netting after Sa could only parry a shot from Dobbin from James Garner’s fierce drive into the box, Branthwaite headed over an Ashley Young free-kick and Danjuma volleyed wide from Nathan Patterson’s hanging cross.
Right-back Patterson’s improvement after two poor games added an extra dimension to Everton’s play but – without a spearhead – they failed to capitalise on his deliveries into the box.
Danjuma and Branthwaite, who headed into the arms of Sa, continued the tale of missed chances and it appeared recent history would repeat itself when Fabio Silva turned home Pedro Neto’s with Wolves’ first shot on target in the 57th minute but Everton were spared by the offside flag.
Encouraged, Silva then fired wide with only Jordan Pickford to beat after getting a run on Tarkowski.
Sa denied Danjuma and then, equally brilliantly, Abdoulaye Doucoure after the midfielder’s misjudged diving header bounced up and was tipped over.
Everton’s £15million summer signing Youssef Chermiti was given his first 25 minutes for his new club but it was Doucoure who continued to look the most threatening breaking from midfield and yet another offside decision kept the match goalless after he had cut inside on his left foot.
Then came the sucker punch as Kalajdzic made the sort of impact inside 120 seconds which Everton have failed to do for 18 months as he rose highest to glance in Pedro Neto’s hanging, inswinging cross.