Richarlison sinks Wolves to keep Everton’s European hopes alive

The reminder of what Everton had missed stretched beyond the return of their supporters. There are rather more serious reasons why 2021 has been a bleak yearbut it had yielded Everton only a solitary home league win at an empty Goodison Park. A belated second came courtesy of Richarlison, ensuring they can retain hopes of European football.

“The dream is still alive but we don’t have a lot of possibilities,” said Carlo Ancelotti, whose side visit Manchester City on Sunday. But their record here threatens to ensure their season is a missed opportunity.

Their lap of honour may also have been one of apology. “With three games at home with the supporters we had three wins,” Ancelotti said. Without them Everton, outstanding away, have had the worst home record in their history.

It was both welcome back and good riddance to Goodison Park. At least Everton prevailed in precisely the sort of game they have rarely won in recent months. It is Wolves whose campaign seems destined to end with a whimper. “A difficult season for everybody,” said Nuno Espírito Santo. Wolves’ problems defending set-pieces recurred; their bright work before the break was rendered redundant when Everton returned with a greater sense of purpose and more quality.

They got their reward. Richarlison met Gylfi Sigurdsson’s corner with an emphatic header. Their first goal in three games was his first in a dozen, two droughts ended with one leap. The Brazilian had shown menace before, picking out John Ruddy with a glancing header and shooting wide in a goalmouth scramble.

One South American did more to endear himself to Evertonians than another. There was no James Rodríguez. Ancelotti deemed him “a little bit tired,” a reason that felt feeble at a club where effort tends to be the first requirement and after the manager had questioned some of his players’ commitment in defeat by Sheffield United. “A totally different attitude,” Ancelotti said. Sigurdsson may lack Rodríguez’s gifts but he had an excellent second half. He nearly doubled Everton’s lead with two curling efforts. Seamus Coleman also went close and, given Ancelotti’s dissatisfaction with some of his squad, it was instructive he picked the full-back on the right wing instead of a host of benched midfielders. Coleman was typically wholehearted.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin also threatened a second, with Ruddy making a fine save. Rui Patrício’s usual deputy acquitted himself well on a rare start but the more meaningful goalkeeping display came from Jordan Pickford.

The watching Gareth Southgate has been a regular at Goodison recently and every game offers confirmation that Pickford has returned to form at an opportune time. By parrying Morgan Gibbs-White’s sweetly struck volley and tipping Adama Traoré’s rising shot over the bar, he offered the combination of athleticism and reliability that England will want. “We didn’t put the ball in the goal,” added Nuno. It has been a story of Wolves’ season but he added: “I am not upset with the boys. I am proud of them.”

And there was a youthful look. The Under-17 World Cup winner Gibbs-White’s career has stalled but he offered flickers of promise as a false nine. Wolves’ ambitions were thwarted, however, by the defiance of the outstanding Michael Keane, who has fallen out of Southgate’s squad but who outperformed Conor Coady, who is in it. But, like Everton’s belated home win, it may have been too late to realise an ambition.