By Alan Feehely.
A second-half header from Michael Keane proved enough to earn Everton a 1-0 victory over Norwich City at a sun-bathed Carrow Road on Wednesday evening.
The heat told in a low-quality opening period, but Carlo Ancelotti’s side improved after the break to take control of the game and put their Norfolk hosts comfortably in their rear-view mirror and seemingly bound for the Championship.
Norwich, rock-bottom, six points from safety, and cowed by Friday’s 3-0 humbling by Southampton, went into the game desperate for a Premier League victory.
Everton, buoyed by a point and a clean sheet against Liverpool in Sunday’s Merseyside Derby, were looking to build momentum ahead of a run-in that could see them make an unlikely challenge for a Europa League place.
Everton’s centre-back pairing of Keane and Mason Holgate proved resolute and assertive throughout, while Alex Iwobi recovered from a poor first-half showing to consistently cause problems in the second, his direct running offering his team a valuable outlet down the right wing.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin played with intelligence and was a constant burden to the Norwich defence, but his finishing left him down and he was ultimately unable to score the goal his movement deserved.
Norwich, on the other hand, were defined by their omissions. Daniel Farke chose to name a starting XI that saw Teemu Pukki, Todd Cantwell, and Emi Buendía start from the bench, and by the time they took the field, their team, in truth, looked well-beaten. Promising youngster Max Aarons was a bright presence at right-back, but his creativity and industry wasn’t matched by his teammates.
Their Cuban winger, Onel Hernández, was one of the livelier players in a drab first half, and he had one of the only chances in the opening stages. Drifting in from the left, his effort took a deflection and spun off the post, forcing a worried Jordan Pickford to scramble to cover.
Everton’s toothless attack caused very few problems in the first period, with their only half chance being a tame long-range effort from Calvert-Lewin that was easily held. Norwich came closest to breaking the deadlock just before the break, but Lukas Rupp’s well-struck shot from outside the box was straight down the middle and easily dealt with by Pickford.
An ineffectual Tom Davies made way for Gylfi Sigurðsson at half-time, as Ancelotti sought to inject some energy into Everton’s impotent build-up play. Davies’ partnership with André Gomes has never looked strong, with neither player able to strike a balance between going forward and sitting back, always looking light-weight in the middle of the park and lacking an Idrissa Gueye-type holding partner. They began the second half a different team, and just shy of the hour mark, had their goal.
Iwobi played a clipped pass for Séamus Coleman to chase down the right, forcing a corner. Lucas Digne whipped in the resulting cross that Keane rose highest to meet, steering his header past Tim Krul and into the back of the net. Minutes later, Iwobi played another good ball to find Calvert-Lewin, who held it up well before drawing a save.
The former Arsenal winger, encouraged by some good play, began to pose problems for Norwich, pulling a cross across goal only for Calvert-Lewin to send his header wide. With Theo Walcott ruled out for Everton for the remainder of this campaign, this last sequence of games is a big opportunity for Iwobi to consolidate his place in a team he’s thus far failed to influence.
Norwich had a final chance late on when substitute Buendía’s free-kick was deflected wide by Gomes, while Everton almost doubled their advantage with five minutes left when Bernard found Calvert-Lewin. Once again, however, his shot was easily dealt with, but his team had their victory and will look to Leicester next with increasing confidence.