Cliff Britton was trending last week. There was no such thing as trending when Britton died in 1975, or for several decades afterwards, but he was the last manager to get Everton relegated.
The possibility that Frank Lampard will be the next looms ever larger after a 1-0 defeat at home to Wolves. Demoted in 1951, ever present in the top flight since 1954, Everton are now out of the bottom three only on goal difference. Wins for Watford and Leeds compounded an awful day for them.
For Lampard, it was a fourth straight defeat. For Everton, it made it just two wins in 20. They have been hovering perilously close to the drop zone for a while but now the gap has grown to the teams above them.
“The only thing that matters is to stay up,” Lampard said. “We have to have the absolute desire and fight to get out of this. It has been a long time that we haven’t been winning enough games and that doesn’t change overnight.” He detected improvement after a 5-0 thrashing by Spurs. “It wasn’t more worrying than Tottenham,” he insisted. “We lost against a good team in a tight match with 10 men for the last period.”
Yet it was a match that had looked more winnable and they lost. The side with the worst away record in the country had a still greater need for points at home. They got none against Wolves, whose reward was to jump ahead of Tottenham. They got booed off at the end.
Conor Coady’s goal separated the sides, and the celebrations from a Liverpool supporter and former Liverpool player were understandably emphatic, but the difference lay just as much in the class of Ruben Neves. “Ruben has the talent to be the top of the top,” said his manager Bruno Lage.
Everton felt outclassed. They ended up outnumbered. Jonjoe Kenny was sent off after collecting two bookings in swift succession. It was a sign Everton were falling apart. Lampard’s initial 3-4-3 formation was abandoned after they conceded.
His January signing Dele Alli was sadly hapless in his cameo. His initial bold decisions to drop Allan and Michael Keane did not meet with the vindication of victory. Instead, minus the ill Dominic Calvert-Lewin, they failed to score for a fourth successive league game and Lampard is unsure when last season’s top scorer will be available again.
Their best chance may have been the first. Vitalii Mykolenko’s ball over the top was met by the raiding Richarlison, who looked a more vibrant alternative to Calvert-Lewin. He drew a save from Jose Sa. Yet it set the tone: Sa was impressive, Richarlison looked Everton’s lone threat and, even when he flicked the post with a header, he was offside.
Wolves began cautiously, the stop-start nature of the first half a consequence of three stoppages when Hwang Hee-Chan went down, but stroked the ball around with superiority in the second. They struck when Neves whipped in a cross. Coady met it with a header that angled away from Jordan Pickford. “It was a magnificent goal,” Lage said. “Conor looks like a striker to score that.”
“The goal changed the whole feeling of the game and the stadium,” said Lampard.
Wolves looked much more assured with a lead. Raul Jimenez and Daniel Podence shot narrowly wide in quick succession. Pickford saved from Marcal after Neves strolled 40 yards forward without being halted.
“One of the best second halves we did,” added Lage. It left Lampard hoping for a transformative night against Newcastle on Thursday. “We have 12 games [remaining] and we are waiting for that moment when things turn in our favour,” he said.