Frank Lampard has scored against Manchester United in a Champions League final. If his Everton may have inflicted the final blow to ensure United will not return to the European elite next season, he had other considerations.
The best day of his time at Goodison Park ended with Lampard performing fist-pumps in front of the Gwladys Street End, accepting their applause with his captain, Seamus Coleman, to his right, and his match-winner, Anthony Gordon, to his left.
If the spectre of relegation loomed large over Everton after Wednesday’s defeat at Burnley, Lampard has had to field questions about the prospect of the sack. Both he and they require further victories but this felt a remarkable turnaround, a potentially season-defining day. Sean Dyche had motivated Burnley by saying Everton did not know how to win a game. Belatedly, they showed they did. It was a triumph of character.
Yet they were aided by United’s wretchedness. David de Gea delivered the bluntest of verdicts afterwards. “It is a disgrace from us, we should be winning this game,” said the goalkeeper. “They had more desire than us. We are not good enough, that is for sure.”
The interim appointment concurred. Their next manager, probably Erik ten Hag, may have to plot a path through the Europa League or even the Conference League. Ralf Rangnick, whose temporary reign is unravelling after a solitary win in seven games, added: “The players should be eager to play Champions League football but as long as we play like today they don’t deserve it.”
Lacklustre and lacking much else, from effort to quality to incision, their capacity to underachieve remains staggering. “For us as a coaching staff it is difficult to understand why we didn’t create more chances,” Rangnick said.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s sole notable contribution was an injury-time half-volley the excellent Jordan Pickford saved. The recalled Marcus Rashford twice came close early on, with Pickford tipping a 20-yard snap-shot wide and reacting smartly to block a close-range header. Apart from that, however, United mustered little. “If you don’t score a goal against Everton, who conceded three against Burnley, you can’t expect to get anything,” said Rangnick.
A raucous Goodison Park appreciated Everton’s spirit and resolve. “Beautiful football can come later on,” said Lampard. “In the position we are in, fighting comes first and foremost. The simple things won us the game: desire, fight, togetherness.”
Individuals helped in a collective effort. A fit-again Fabian Delph was terrific, Ben Godfrey unusually impressive in defence, Vitalii Mykolenko had his finest game for the club and Gordon brought both dynamism and the crucial goal. “He loves the club,” said Lampard. “No wonder the fans love him.”
Gordon took aim from 20 yards, but the decisive touch came off Harry Maguire, sending De Gea heading towards one corner of the net while the ball nestled in the other. If it was Maguire’s season in a nutshell, a second deflection almost favoured Everton when Richarlison’s shot looped up off Victor Lindelof. De Gea had to save well.
Perhaps, however, his most memorable intervention was his scathing criticism afterwards.