“The prospect of my first night match at Goodison Park as Everton manager is exciting,” read the opening line of Rafael Benítez’s programme notes. The reality did not disappoint. Everton transformed a war of attrition with Burnley into a highly accomplished victory that maintained Benítez’s unbeaten start and left Goodison purring under the lights.
Andros Townsend illuminated matters on the pitch with a truly stunning strike as Everton made it two comeback victories in two home games under their new manager. Prior to Benítez’s arrival, Everton had won only two of 59 Premier League matches when conceding first.
Their spirit was evident in a stirring recovery following Ben Mee’s second-half header. There was considerable style too. Michael Keane equalised swiftly against his former club before Townsend found the top corner from over 25 yards and fellow summer signing Demarai Gray struck for the third time in three league games. All in the space of seven minutes.
Burnley had deserved their lead but the platform for a first league win of the season was destroyed by Everton’s emphatic response. “You can see from the first minute of the first game that the commitment is there and these players want to compete,” said Benítez. “The players want to react and change things when they concede. Hopefully next time we score first. It would be much easier for my health.”
Everton started without Dominic Calvert-Lewin and could be without the England international for at least three weeks with a broken toe and thigh injury. In his absence, the Everton manager deployed Richarlison in attack and switched to a three-man central defence to combat the physical threat of Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes. His team took a while to adapt and Burnley controlled the opening half hour, pressing tirelessly and denying Everton space in the final third.
Richarlison was fortunate to escape injury when tackled from behind by Josh Brownhill in the second minute. Brownhill’s challenge bore comparison with the Pascal Struijk tackle that resulted in Harvey Elliott dislocating his ankle at Leeds but thankfully without the same, dire consequence. Benítez made his displeasure clear on the sideline. The Burnley midfielder was not punished.
Wood was inches away from connecting with a dangerous cross into the area from Dwight McNeil, who was making his 100th Premier League appearance for Burnley. Mee was another Claret celebrating a milestone appearance – the captain becoming the club’s first player to reach 200 Premier League games – and was close to converting an Ashley Westwood corner at the back post. But Jordan Pickford did not have a save to make until the 27th minute when Barnes teed up Brownhill for an inviting chance he drove straight at the England keeper.
Everton’s brightest moments had arrived sporadically through Gray but the Brownhill chance ignited a much-improved end to the first half. There was plenty of needle too. Richarlison sparked a melee after a body-check on Mee. James Tarkowski took the ball and then Richarlison early in the second half. “The ball is there and you know the ankle is behind it,” Benítez said. “The referees need to decide what is a fair challenge and what is dangerous.”
Townsend was caught from behind by Charlie Taylor, and then booked for dragging down the Burnley full-back as he broke down the left. McNeil swept the resulting free-kick into the Everton area where Ben Godfrey’s clearing header fell to Johann Gudmundsson on the right. The winger’s return was immaculate, dropping into space between two Everton defenders, and Mee marked his 200th game with a swooping header into the bottom corner.
Burnley’s hard-fought advantage did not last long. They were blown away, in fact, as Everton – and Townsend – responded superbly. The equaliser arrived quickly when Seamus Coleman found the former Crystal Palace winger in space on the right. Townsend toyed with Taylor before cutting back inside and floating a left foot cross for Keane to head inside Nick Pope’s near post.
Five minutes later Goodison ignited. Townsend again ran at Taylor, this time in a more central position having been picked out by Abdoulaye Doucouré. The winger again cut inside on to his left foot but this time opted for goal and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
Burnley were falling apart, Everton flying. Within two minutes Doucouré prised open the visiting defence with a piercing cross-field pass into the path of Gray. The bargain £1.7m summer signing raced clear and beat Pope with ease for his third goal in three successive league games.
Doucouré thought he had added a fourth seconds later but was offside from Coleman’s low cross. Tarkowski also had a goal disallowed for offside and Sean Dyche was left to rue Burnley’s winless start to the campaign.
“I was very pleased with how we’d played up until their goal,” he said. “After we conceded we had a mad six minutes and the game had gone away from us. That’s the Premier League for you, but it has happened twice this season and we’ve got to get a grip of it.”