McNeil gives Everton first win since deduction

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McNeil gives Everton first win since deduction

Dwight McNeil’s clinical strike gave Everton their first win since they had 10 Premier League points deducted as they hung on to beat Nottingham Forest.

McNeil netted his first goal of the campaign at the City Ground with a crisp half-volley at the back post.

The win also helped Sean Dyche’s side, bottom at kick-off after Burnley’s 5-0 win over Sheffield United earlier, move off the foot of the table to 18th.

It heaps pressure on Forest boss Steve Cooper after consecutive home defeats.

Dyche said Everton’s performance showed the progress his side have made after being forced to “restart” their season.

“It’s a step in the right direction but there are plenty more steps to go,” he told BBC Match of the Day.

“I think we’re having a solid season, considering the last couple. We hit 14 points relatively early and 17 would have been a fairly healthy return.

“Of course it’s changed but the mentality and the performance levels are right. I think we’re looking like an improved outfit.”

Forest threw everything at Everton’s goal as the game headed towards the final whistle and the visitors were indebted to Jordan Pickford’s late heroics.

The England goalkeeper raced off his line to make a tackle to deny Anthony Elanga and produced a fine diving save to keep an effort from Murillo.

Everton’s margin of victory might have been greater had Beto not fluffed a golden chance and McNeil seen a goal-bound effort cleared off the line.

Forest, who had earlier seen Morgan Gibbs-White strike the side netting and Murillo hit the base of the post, were left to rue missed chances of their own.

Gritty win for Dyche’s battlers

Everton’s first game after they were handed a 10-point deduction by the Premier League for financial rule breaches ended in anti-climax last weekend.

The Goodison Park crowd were galvanised by the sense of injustice but on the pitch they surrendered to a tame 3-0 defeat to Manchester United..

Against Forest, the visiting fans continued to vocalise their views of the biggest sporting sanction – which the club will appeal – meted out in Premier League history.

This time they had something to celebrate at the final whistle though, as Dyche’s side produced a determined performance bristling with the kind of unity which will serve them well as they look to climb out of the drop zone.

A familiar concern of last season’s relegation battle – just who will score the goals to keep them up? – had initially looked to damage those hopes.

Beto, handed an opportunity in place of the injured Dominic Calvert-Lewin, blazed over with the goal at his mercy midway through the first half.

Dyche turned on his heels and exhaled his frustrations with the Portuguese forward’s finishing in the direction of the bench.

The Everton manager’s breath cut through the night air again moments before half-time when McNeil saw his effort blocked on the line by Murillo.

By full-time though, Dyche was cheerfully slapping the backs of Everton’s players after victory was secured thanks to McNeil’s fine strike at the back post on 67 minutes.

“The points deduction? It’s definitely galvanised us and we are more together and that shows on the pitch,” McNeil said.

“We know we have the fans behind us. It was a massive result after what’s happened.”

Forest unable to deliver Cooper’s message

Curiously, before kick-off, Cooper emerged from the tunnel before both teams and applauded all four sides of the City Ground then made his way to his seat in the dug out.

The 43-year-old Welshman, who is respected and liked by supporters for his achievements with Forest, received a generous reception.

But whatever message Cooper had intended to send – to Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis, or otherwise – was not matched by the result and he was left picking the bones out of their seventh defeat in 14 matches.

His side have now lost consecutive Premier League games at the City Ground for the first time since a run of three defeats in August and September last year.

Equally worryingly, they are now winless in the last 10 top-flight matches without Taiwo Awoniyi, having lost six of those. It looks like the Nigeria striker will not be back until early 2024 because of a groin injury.

The 26-year-old aggravated the problem playing for Nigeria during the international break and has had an operation for the issue.

Cooper will want to address the unwanted statistics and find some cutting edge elsewhere – and quickly – if he is keep both his job and Forest out of trouble.

“We’ve not shown the real guile and quality to create chances,” Cooper added.

“We’ve lost three games on the bounce. I think what’s frustrating is that we’ve lost games knowing that we can do better.

“We’ve not lost games because the opponents have been much better than us, which was often the case last year. It’s not the case this year.”

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