Burnley may have felt relegation fears rising but disguised them superbly at Goodison Park. A sublime goal from Dwight McNeil polished a fine away display as they became the latest visitors to curb Everton’s European ambitions on home soil.
McNeil and Chris Wood delivered the goals that edged Burnley seven points clear of the relegation zone and condemned Carlo Ancelotti’s side to a fifth defeat in seven Premier League home games in 2021. Everton had opportunities to salvage a recovery but, despite Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s fine header, the striker’s touch eluded him on several occasions.
An early breakthrough gave Sean Dyche’s side the platform for a highly impressive first-half performance characterised by tireless pressing, invention and superb finishing. Josh Brownhill typified Burnley’s industry in midfield when closing down and dispossessing Tom Davies as soon as the Everton midfielder received a pass from Mason Holgate. Chris Wood released McNeil down the left and was perfectly placed on the edge of the penalty area when Michael Keane, the former Burnley defender, deflected the winger’s cross into his path. Wood had time and space to pick his spot and found the far corner with Jordan Pickford rooted to the ground.
Confidence flowed through the visitors. Wood, fresh from scoring his sixth Premier League goal of the season, had another effort deflected wide by Ben Godfrey after collecting Nick Pope’s clearance and attacking the Everton defence. From the resulting corner, Holgate was fortunate not to concede a penalty when challenging Ben Mee at the back post. Holgate’s arm was above his head when it made clear contact with the ball but he was spared, perhaps as a result of Mee grappling with him as they competed for the cross.
Everton’s reprieve was short-lived. Moments later, Richarlison lost out in a 50-50 challenge with Matt Lowton and Burnley capitalised in stunning fashion. Matej Vydra fed the commanding McNeil, who turned inside the rusty Allan with ease, glanced up and curled a sublime left-footed finish into Pickford’s top right-hand corner. Erik Pieters’s reaction – raising his hands to his head in disbelief – said everything about the quality of McNeil’s strike.
It could have been even worse for Ancelotti’s team only a minute later. Ashley Westwood intercepted Allan’s pass and McNeil, oozing quality and creativity, carried the threat to Everton once again before finding Johann Gudmundsson in space. The winger’s low shot beat Pickford only to hit the base of the post and rebound to safety. The Everton goalkeeper was injured attempting to stop the effort and, following two periods of treatment, was eventually replaced by João Virgínia. Everton’s usual replacement, Robin Olsen, was absent through injury having also been threatened with a machete when a masked gang broke into his home near Altrincham last weekend.
Everton had started brightly, with Alex Iwobi prominent in a central role. Ancelotti’s advice to the Nigeria international to tell him his preferred position, following a cryptic complaint on social media, had clearly been heeded. Richarlison forced Nick Pope into an early save after being released by Iwobi and then overhit a pass into Calvert-Lewin when he broke into the area.
The hosts were otherwise contained by Burnley until Calvert-Lewin hauled them back into an absorbing contest with another fine goal. Iwobi found Davies running into space on the right of the visitors’ area. He whipped an inviting delivery across goal and Calvert-Lewin rose unmarked to send an unstoppable header past Pope. A first goal in five games should have been the cue for more from the England international.
Everton started the second half strongly, with André Gomes forcing a low save from Pope and then sweeping a cross-field ball out to Lucas Digne. Digne, with his unfavoured right foot, crossed to the near post where the unmarked Calvert-Lewin steered an uncharacteristically poor header wide. The striker, who was closer with a header from a Gomes free-kick in the first half, squandered another good opening when Davies floated a lovely pass over the Burnley defence. Calvert-Lewin’s first touch took him clear but his second was heavy and he overran the ball straight to Pope.
Burnley created the better chances for a third goal, however. Vydra was unable to turn the ball into an empty net after Virgínia fumbled Wood’s header while it needed a decisive touch from Godfrey to prevent the towering centre-forward converting Pieters’s cross. The subsequent corner was headed against the crossbar by Mee and Everton’s stand-in keeper denied both Vydra and his replacement, Jay Rodriguez.