Everton are finally off the mark. A 3-1 victory over Brentford on Saturday was their first of the Premier League season. It lifted Sean Dyche’s side out of the bottom three and up to the heady heights of 15th.
It was a long time coming for the Toffees. They began the campaign with three losses in succession, as Fulham, Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers all inflicted defeat upon them. Everton did not so much as score a goal in those encounters. A 2-2 draw with Sheffield United followed, before Arsenal ground out a 1-0 win at Goodison Park after the international break.
Yet a return of one point from a possible 15 did not tell the full story of Everton’s start to the season. They were hugely unfortunate to lose to Fulham on the opening weekend, a game in which Everton created enough chances to have scored three or four goals.
There were no positives to take from a 4-0 thrashing by Villa, but Everton were once again unlucky to go down to Wolves at home. They were the better team in that draw with Sheffield United and then made life difficult for Arsenal in a third 1-0 defeat of the season.
Everton’s first triumph of the campaign was overdue, then. They were worthy winners in west London, landing 18 shots on the Brentford goal and scoring with three through Abdoulaye Doucoure, James Tarkowski and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Dyche will have been delighted with the clinical nature of his team’s performance at the Gtech Community Stadium. Converting opportunities has been Everton’s shortcoming for some time now. Calvert-Lewin’s patchy injury record throughout last season left the club without a reliable centre-forward, and Everton duly struggled to put the ball in the back of the net.
Even after scoring three times on Saturday, the Toffees are still underperfoming their expected goals by quite a distance. An xG of 9.3 is the 11th-highest in the division, while 14.2 shots per game ranks in the top half. Yet Everton have put the ball in the back of the net just five times.
The same statistic suggests they have been unlucky at the other end too. Everton defended abysmally in the loss to Aston Villa, but apart from that they have been reasonably solid.
An xG against of 8.7 compares favourably to Brighton & Hove Albion, Manchester United and Villa among others. Meanwhile Everton have conceded just 11.8 shots per game on average - only Manchester City, Arsenal and Villa have better records.
🏹 Fewest shots conceded per game in the Premier League this season:— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) September 25, 2023
🥇 Manchester City - 6.8
🥈 Arsenal - 9.8
🥉 Aston Villa - 11.3
🏅 𝐄𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐭𝐨𝐧 - 𝟏𝟏.𝟖 pic.twitter.com/f0QX7wfKM3
"It is tough, the confusion of playing well and not getting results," Dyche said after the Brentford game.
"We have had lots [of tough moments] before this - I said look at all the tough times you have had in the last couple of years, including the end of last season. That is where you grow. You should have the on-pitch maturity from them experiences to go and play under pressure.
"I thought that was on show against Brentford, that way of playing under pressure, doing all the right things… so it is pleasing for me that they reinforced that with their own performance and got their own reward."
Avoiding a third consecutive relegation scrap is the goal at Goodison this term. Dyche had a full pre-season to work with his squad, which was strengthened over the summer. Beto is a handful up front and provides competition and cover for Calvert-Lewin, while Jack Harrison and Arnaut Danjuma are useful options out wide. Ashley Young’s experience should help on and off the pitch.
Elsewhere, Jarrad Branthwaite has been at the club for three years but is only now getting his first sustained run in the team at centre-back. He has been excellent alongside Tarkowski, with Jordan Pickford a superb last line of defence for a team of Everton’s calibre.
There is cause for concern over the incoming owners, 777 Partners, although Everton fans are understandably desperate to end the Farhad Moshiri era.
On the pitch at least, those supporters finally had something to cheer on Saturday. With back-to-back home games against Luton Town and Bournemouth on the horizon, Everton now have the chance to pull further clear of the dropzone.