The scoreline is not a misprint. Everton really did come to Brighton and produce one of the season’s most stunning results, taking their opponents apart with as lethal a display of counterattacking as anyone present will witness. A team that began the day as the country’s lowest scorers, winless in their previous 13 away games to boot, confounded every expectation and ignited their bid to escape relegation. The muckiest, grubbiest of victories would have sufficed but instead they delivered a spectacular evening’s work.
At the outset it seemed far more likely that Brighton, with their smart operations and often exquisite style, would be lauded for embodying everything Everton are not. Instead this was, in the moments that mattered, men against boys. Most of those instances came during a first half in which Sean Dyche’s players, ahead within 33 seconds through Abdoulaye Doucouré, smothered Brighton’s attacking efforts and swamped them going forward. The outstanding Dwight McNeil, who finished with two goals and two assists, led the way but their entire attack was relentless. A team packed with six‑footers won through speed and guile as well as physical power.
It was some way to haul themselves out of the bottom three and, even if Manchester City are not outdone at Goodison Park next Sunday, displays of equivalent quality in their final two games would surely see them safe. Everton were canny and clinical: Dyche may be wondering where this kind of form has been hiding for most of the campaign, although he felt they had not been far from clicking in the draw with Leicester last week.
Such a chastening defeat came out of nowhere for Brighton, who simply did not turn up before the interval. Roberto De Zerbi showed exactly what he thought of that with four half-time changes, although at 3-0 down they had a mountain to climb. They would have responded with more than Alexis Mac Allister’s bundled consolation if the crossbar and Jordan Pickford had not intervened, but the damage had long since been done. With a trip to Arsenal next up, this was no time for their European hopes to receive such a serious blow.
A critical reading of a well-executed opener would be that Brighton brought it upon themselves, losing possession when Kaoru Mitoma’s attempt to spin Nathan Patterson near halfway was read easily by the right-back. Alex Iwobi subsequently slid a pass down the inside right that caught Lewis Dunk flat-footed, allowing Dominic Calvert-Lewin to turn neatly and streak away. His centre was slightly behind Doucouré, who adjusted smartly to turn it in.
Everton had their hosts exactly where they wanted them and the stage seemed set for a scrap. Instead, after repelling ineffectual attempts at a quick response, they picked their opportunities on the break and pulled clear.
A flurry of fast, insistent attacks had threatened further joy before Doucouré produced a second goal that would have looked at home anywhere. When a Brighton move broke down deep in Everton territory it was Doucouré who, having been fed by Idrissa Gueye, played McNeil into space. McNeil carried the ball 60 yards before chipping across for Doucouré, who had strained every sinew so that he might keep up, to volley inside Jason Steele’s near post. It was the most long-range of one-twos and, above all, scintillating football.
There would quickly be more. When Iwobi escaped down the right there was a chance to tee up Doucouré, unattended in the middle, for the most unlikely of hat-tricks. Iwobi’s cross was too far in front of his colleague, who salvaged the ball and passed to McNeil on the left. This time McNeil sought to fizz a low ball across the six-yard box and it became another assist, clipping Steele’s foot and zipping into the net. James Garner came close to adding a fourth with the half’s final action.
De Zerbi got some of the response he had sought, Pickford flicking Evan Ferguson’s drive onto the top of the bar and Mac Allister heading against the frame. Pickford then brilliantly denied the Argentinian but, almost immediately, Everton streaked upfield again. Iwobi fed McNeil, who rounded Steele and celebrated in the act of tapping in. Solly March had pulled up injured while giving chase, compounding Brighton’s misery.
Mac Allister got his goal soon enough in inadvertent fashion after Mitoma had hit a post, but McNeil would have the final say with a rasping drive from yet another blistering break. It was surely the best performance of McNeil’s career: he and Everton may have timed their explosion perfectly.