LIVERPOOL, England — The survival euphoria lasted less than a minute at Goodison Park. Everton secured the victory they needed to avoid relegation from the Premier League, beating Bournemouth 1-0 with Abdoulaye Doucoure’s second-half goal, but the dominating emotion at the end of the game was anger.
Anger to be in this position – again – but also against the regime in charge of running the club. Fans chanted “Sack the board!” before Sean Dyche’s players had even left the pitch, but the board weren’t there to hear it. Managers, chairman Bill Kenwright and owner Farhad Moshiri have not attended a home game since the club raised safety concerns over their safety ahead of the game against Southampton on January 14.
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It was the third time Everton had achieved a so-called great escape on the final day of a Premier League season, having also saved their own skins in 1994 and 1998. Everton have come close to relegation on other occasions, succeeding to avoid last-day drama last season with a victory in their penultimate game, but the reason the celebrations were so brief on this occasion is that the club’s supporters are fed up with the underperformance.
Doucoure, whose superb right-footed shot from 20 yards sealed the crucial win over Bournemouth, summed up the mood around the club with a straightforward assessment of what survival means.
“There’s a lot of work to do,” he said after the game. “We can’t get carried away. I’m not a hero. No one is here. We work and play for Everton and we have to be much better than that. We have to realize the mistakes we’ve made this season. Everything the world showed passion at the end, but next season we have to come back stronger and put Everton ahead.”
Relegation often goes hand in hand with mistakes and incompetence off the pitch and Everton are lucky not to have suffered the ultimate punishment for their shortcomings.
They allowed last season’s top scorer Richarlison to leave for £60m to Tottenham, opting to replace him with Brighton’s Neal Maupay for less than a quarter of that fee. Maupay has only scored once all season and that was in September.
In January, after sacking coach Frank Lampard after 11 defeats in 14 games, Everton were the only club not to sign during the transfer window. But they allowed young striker Anthony Gordon to join Newcastle in a £45m deal.
It could be argued that Dyche’s appointment as manager was something the Everton board did well, given that the former Burnley boss has kept the club in the Premier League. But Dyche was not their first choice. Marcelo Bielsa, Dyche’s polar opposite in terms of coaching style, was the board’s choice. But the former Leeds manager quickly realized Everton were in bigger trouble than they could solve in six months, so Dyche got the job.
Unless there is more upheaval at the club – there is constant speculation around ownership and the possibility of selling Everton – Dyche will remain in charge of moving the team forward and ensuring that progress can be made. But there was a dose of reality from the manager after that game.
“It was a horrible day for everyone involved,” he said. “There is no joy for me. It was very difficult, but the positive side is that we got the job done. There is a lot to change here and a lot of work to do, but it’s a big step towards doing it. The Evertonians, remarkable as they were, have to remember that. We can’t say, ‘Oh, it’s okay now.’ I don’t have magic dust to sort it out.
“If you ask five different Everton fans what we need, you’ll get five different answers, so we have to realign everyone. Work on next season started the day I arrived. It’s not an easy solution, far from it. The fans want us at the top of the market because we are a big club, but we don’t play like a big club.”
However, hitting the reset button as a Premier League side will be so much easier than as a failing EFL Championship club.
Everton are due to move into a new stadium in the 2024-25 season, but before that they face any penalties imposed on them after being charged by the Premier League in March for breaching fair play rules financial. If the charge stands, Everton could have points deducted next season, so ‘Groundhog Day’ this time next year is a possibility.
Avoiding relegation was absolutely crucial for Everton. Next season will be their 70th consecutive campaign in the Premier League – only Arsenal (98 seasons) can boast a longer streak – and that feeling that the club’s future is at stake was on hold before this game.
The streets around Goodison were quiet before the game, as if no one dared to speak, and the calm was broken only by supporters chanting outside the pitch, launching flares and fireworks as kick-off approaches.
Last season, those same fans were credited by Lampard with helping to keep the squad together after creating a frenetic atmosphere in the build-up, welcoming the players’ coach with color and noise. Dyche wanted none of this. He wanted to calm the emotion, treat it like a normal day, so the players arrived individually in their cars. Perhaps it was also a ruse to allow them to escape quickly afterwards if events had turned out differently.
But there was no need to sneak out the back door thanks to Doucoure. He scored the goal that mattered to keep Everton in the Premier League, dismissing Leicester and Leeds instead.
The Everton board will have celebrated somewhere, but the fact that they stayed away from such a crucial game tells you all about the tightrope the club still has to walk.
They stayed up, but no one celebrates too loudly.