Keane's fine header keeps Everton's top-four push on track against Wolves

By on January 13, 2021

In a bout between two sides with depleted strikeforces, Everton proved to be the more resourceful. Michael Keane headed his third league goal of the season to lift Carlo Ancelotti’s men into the top four. Wolves, who had responded to Alex Iwobi’s early goal with a lovely finish by Rúben Neves, were on top for long spells but, ultimately, lacked the sharpness to take advantage. That is a recurring problem.

Everton, meanwhile, have developed a fortitude that enables them to keep winning even when weakened, especially away, with this being their sixth win from nine matches on their travels in the league so far. “It’s our mentality,” said Keane. “We know we’re a good enough team that if we stay in games, opportunities will come our way.”

For a long time it was hard to see that happening at Molineux even though the match got off to a misleading start, with two excellent goals before a quarter of an hour had elapsed.

Injuries had forced each manager to get inventive. With Dominic Calvert-Lewin missing because of thigh trouble and Richarlison and Cenk Tosun judged to be fit enough only for places on the bench, Ancelotti decided to start without a specialist striker. Gylfi Sigurdsson and James Rodríguez served as false nines.

Fears about Everton’s potency seemed unfounded when Iwobi opened the scoring after six minutes with a beautifully constructed goal. The Nigeria international started the move wide on the right before knocking the ball to Rodríguez, who flighted it over to Lucas Digne on the left of the box while Iwobi raced infield. When Digne laid the ball first-time back to Iwobi, the midfielder guided it expertly into the net from 15 yards.

Now it was Wolves’ turn to show how they could improvise without key attackers. That is a familiar challenge for a side who have won only one of eight league matches since losing Raúl Jiménez to a fractured skull. With Adama Traoré and Daniel Podence also missing, Nuno Espírito Santo elected to deploy Morgan Gibbs-White as a deep-lying centre-forward while Fábio Silva started on the left. But Wolves had Rayan Aït-Nouri and Neves to thank for their equaliser in the 14th minute.

Michael Keane climbs highest to seal an important win for Everton. Photograph: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

Aït-Nouri created it by retrieving a cleared corner on the left and then dashing past Abdoulaye Doucouré and pinging the ball to Neves, who steered a studiously controlled volley into the net from eight yards. That buoyed Wolves, who nearly took the lead four minutes later when Pedro Neto teed up Silva, whose shot from 12 yards was blocked by Jordan Pickford.

Soon Rui Patrício had to deny Iwobi at the other end following a nifty one-two with Rodríguez. Both sides, cleverly drilled to be fluid, glowed with ambition in a fast-paced and entertaining opening. But as the game progressed, each team betrayed understandable bluntness. When Digne delivered a sumptuous cross from the left into prime poaching territory in the 45th minute, no forward anticipated it.

Wolves’ slickness tended to evaporate when they reached the box, because of Everton’s solidity and their own lack of power and nous up front. For the visitors, Rodríguez and Sigurdsson dropped ever deeper, trying to compensate for the lack of creativity behind them but leaving Everton’s attack with no point whatsoever.

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After 76 minutes Ancelotti decided it was time to see what Richarlison could do. Seconds later Everton struck the winning goal, though it had nothing to do with the Brazilian. André Gomes fetched a poorly cleared corner and delivered a wonderful cross from the left, inviting Keane to leap above Romain Saïss and plant a header into the bottom corner. “We need to be more focused and aggressive in our box,” said Nuno.

Neves nearly earned Wolves a share of the points in the closing minutes but his free-kick from the edge of the D clipped the post on its way wide. “We are very pleased with the performance,” Ancelotti said. “We adapted really well to the players we had.”

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