A point closer to realising their ambitions, or a missed opportunity to bring the promised land into view? Brighton would have made survival a near-formality had their domination brought what it probably deserved against an Everton side that did not create a clear chance in the entire game. In the end Graham Potter’s players were left to nurse familiar regrets while Carlo Ancelotti, whose options were severely limited by a lengthy injury list, will wish his team could have capitalised more fully on a chance to recharge their tilt at the Champions League places.
Given the extent of Everton’s need it was less than ideal that an adductor problem prevented Dominic Calvert-Lewin from travelling. André Gomes joined their list of absentees too; in total they were missing nine players and it made for a bench that was light both on numbers and experience. The eight substitutes included two goalkeepers and could claim 152 league appearances between them, 150 of which had been made by Alex Iwobi.
Ancelotti had further cause to look skywards when, within four minutes, Robin Olsen went down after punching away a dipping corner from Pascal Gross. At least he had a choice of replacements: in the end Olsen rose relatively unscathed and saw most of the opening period’s serious threat, such as it was, aimed in his direction.
Brighton had glimmers although, given Everton’s side contained six specialist defenders, it was little surprise to see them held largely at arm’s length. Danny Welbeck was found beyond the far post by a delicate cross from Adam Lallana but, with time to control, opted for a volley that he badly miscued. There came a slightly closer call when Jakub Moder, watching a dropping ball before making good contact from 20 yards, volleyed wide of the near post.
Hamstrung as they were, Everton’s attacks lacked speed and punch. When they finally stretched Brighton on the half-hour, Séamus Coleman galloped away on the right before standing a delivery up for Tom Davies. The resulting header, on the run, was completely fluffed but it sparked a flurry of activity.
Most of that came at the other end, where Neal Maupay saw Yerry Mina deflect his 12-yard shot beyond Olsen’s dive and inches wide after Leandro Trossard had outwitted Michael Keane. Then Yves Bissouma, improvising magnificently after an intricate Brighton move appeared to have faltered, arced an angled overhead kick over Olsen and onto the roof of the net. It was close to being a spectacular goal.
Gylfi Sigurdsson would have fancied scoring one of his own had Bissouma, such an accomplished all-rounder, not nicked the ball away from his feet as the half drew to a stuttering close.
An inventive toepoke by Maupay trickled wide off an Everton leg soon after the restart but there was still little sign of a staid affair catching light. Lewis Dunk fleetingly suggested an abrasive edge when chopping the quiet James Rodríguez down and earning a yellow card. Rodríguez was unharmed but Everton’s injury curse soon worsened when Mina hobbled off, with Iwobi necessarily deployed to replace him.
The change offered the visitors an extra attacking option, Mason Holgate dropping back into defence with Iwobi pushing on to support Richarlison. Yet Brighton remained by far the more constructive, Coleman nipping in to stop Welbeck getting a shot away before Holgate managed to flick a teasing cross away from the striker’s forehead. Lallana clipped the resulting corner back to Moder, whose first-time strike was just too high. When Lallana then let fly himself, Coleman blocked and Everton’s defending had started to evince a degree of desperation.
In a rare Everton sortie, Rodríguez stung Robert Sánchez’s palms from an angle. But Brighton, in an episode typical of their season, missed the game’s best chance with 14 minutes left when Maupay blazed wide from 10 yards after Bissouma’s latest spurt of ingenuity. A flying Olsen then tipped Dunk’s header over his bar before Iwobi had a chance to win it right at the death but his rising drive cleared the crossbar.