Everton took a huge stride towards Premier League survival on Sunday afternoon after recording a hard-fought – and much needed – 1-0 win over Chelsea at Goodison Park, with Richarlison netting what proved to be the game’s defining goal.
Buoyed by a raucous home crowd, the Brazilian fired Frank Lampard’s men ahead just minutes after the interval, with the Toffees boss earning sweet revenge against the side that had brutally sacked him just over a year ago.
While the goalscorer – and the victorious manager – may well grab the headlines, alongside England stopper Jordan Pickford, one man who was something of an unsung hero in that triumph was summer signing Demarai Gray, with his tireless display integral to the hosts hanging onto all three points.
Despite making just 11 passes in the match, the former Leicester City man caught the eye with his seemingly boundless energy, putting in a real shift defensively as he won five of his six ground duels and made three tackles, all while giving the usually unflappable Reece James a real tough afternoon down the visitors’ right flank.
Gray – who has previously been dubbed “influential” by pundit Martin Keown – was also decisive at the other end in helping his side get ahead on 47 minutes, teeing up teammate Richarlison to slot home after the duo had capitalised on some errant defending from Blues skipper, Cesar Azpilicueta.
That performance was also highly praised by Liverpool Echo writer Adam Jones, who handed the pacy wide man an 8/10 match rating and said of his display that: “Another who tried to cover every blade of grass for his side and his high press was pivotal in the build up to the goal. His defensive work in the second half was absolutely fantastic too, which made up for a few errors at the other end of the pitch.”
Unsurprisingly, the 24-year-old also earned an 8.0 match rating via SofaScore, for that impressive outing, with only the aforementioned Pickford recording a better score on the day (8.1) across all 22 starters on the pitch.
That pivotal assist also means that the £19.8m-rated man now has eight goal contributions for the season in the top-flight, continually making his £1.7m signing from Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen appear an absolute bargain.
If he keeps delivering the goods then it should stand Lampard’s men in good stead on their quest to retain their Premier League status, with the Merseysiders now just two points behind 17th placed Leeds United, and with a game in hand on both the Elland Road outfit and fellow strugglers, Burnley.
They will, however, need to translate their strong home form into positive results on the road, with their record of just one away win the worst in the division this season.