LIVERPOOL, England — The euphoria of survival lasted less than a minute at Goodison Park. Everton pulled off the victory they needed to avoid relegation from the Premier League, beating Bournemouth 1-0 with Abdoulaye Doucoure‘s second-half goal, but the overriding emotion at the end of the game was anger.
Anger at being in this position — again — but also at the regime in charge of the running the club. The fans were chanting “Sack the board!” before Sean Dyche’s players had even left the pitch, but the board weren’t there to hear it. The directors, chairman Bill Kenwright and owner Farhad Moshiri haven’t attended a home game since the club cited security concerns over their safety prior to the fixture against Southampton on Jan. 14.
This was the third time that Everton have achieved a so-called Great Escape on the final day of a Premier League season, having also saved their skin in 1994 and 1998. Everton have brushed with relegation on other occasions, managing to avoid final-day drama last season with a win in their penultimate game, but the reason celebrations were so brief on this occasion is because the club’s supporters have had enough of underachievement.
Doucoure, whose stunning right-footed shot from 20 yards sealed the crucial win against Bournemouth, summed up the mood around the club with a blunt assessment of what survival means.
“There is a lot of work to do,” he said after the game. “We can’t get carried away. I’m not a hero. Nobody is here. We work and play for Everton and we have to be much better than that. We need to realise the mistakes we made this season. Everyone showed passion at the end, but next season we need to come back stronger and put Everton high up.”
Relegation often goes hand-in-hand with mistakes and incompetence off the pitch and Everton are fortunate to not have suffered the ultimate punishment for their shortcomings.
They allowed last season’s top scorer, Richarlison, to leave in a £60 million move to Tottenham, choosing to replace him with Brighton’s Neal Maupay for less than a quarter of that fee. Maupay has scored just once all season and that was in September.
In January, having fired manager Frank Lampard following 11 defeats in 14 games, Everton were the only club not to make a signing during the transfer window. But they did allow young forward Anthony Gordon to join Newcastle in a £45m deal.
It could be argued that appointing Dyche as manager was one thing the Everton board got right, considering the former Burnley boss has kept the club in the Premier League. But Dyche was not their first choice. Marcelo Bielsa, the polar opposite of Dyche in terms of coaching style, was the board’s choice. But the former Leeds manager quickly realised that Everton were in a bigger mess than he could resolve in six months, so Dyche got the job.
Unless there is more upheaval at the club — there is constant speculation surrounding the ownership and whether Everton could be sold — Dyche will remain in charge to take the team forward and ensure that progress can be made. But there was a dose of reality from the manager after this game.
“This was a horrible day for all concerned,” he said. “There’s no joy in it for me. It’s been very difficult, but the positive side is that we got the job done. There is loads to change here and a lot of work to be done, but this is a big step towards doing it. The Evertonians, as remarkable as they have been, have to remember that. We can’t say, ‘Oh, it’s all right now.’ I don’t have magic dust to sort it out.
“If you ask five different Everton fans what we need, you’d get five different answers, so we have to realign everyone. The work on next season started the day I got here. This is not an easy fix, far from it. The fans want us at the top of end of the market because we are a big club, but we are not performing like a big club.”
Pressing the reset button as a Premier League team will be so much easier than as a failing club in the EFL Championship, though.
Everton are due to move into a new stadium during the 2024-25 season, but before that, they must deal with whatever punishment comes their way after being charged by the Premier League in March for breaching financial fair play regulations. If the charge is upheld, Everton could be deducted points 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 top division — only Arsenal (98 seasons) can boast a longer streak — and that sense of the club’s future being in the balance hung in the air prior to this game.
The streets around Goodison were quiet prematch, as though nobody dared speak, and the calm was broken only by supporters chanting outside the ground, letting off flares and fireworks as kickoff approached.
Last season, those same fans were credited by Lampard for helping keep the team up after creating a frenzied atmosphere in the buildup, welcoming the players’ coach with colour and noise. Dyche wanted none of that. He wanted to dial down 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 gone differently.
But there was no need for sneaking out of the back door thanks to Doucoure. He scored the goal that mattered to keep Everton in the Premier League, sending Leicester and Leeds down instead.
The Everton board will have celebrated somewhere, but the fact that they stayed away from such a pivotal game tells you everything about the tightrope that the club must still walk.
They stayed up, but nobody is celebrating too loudly.