The scale of the Everton celebrations at full time underlined the mood inside Elland Road to perfection. From the surge of blue-shirted players that made their way to Robin Olsen to congratulate the goalkeeper on the role he had played in a fourth successive away victory for Carlo Ancelotti’s side, to the bellows from the travelling directors to accompany the final whistle.
Not only did everyone associated with Everton understand the importance of this win, but they knew they had been in an almighty battle against Leeds, who continue to look like a side growing accustomed to life in the Premier League. However, nights like these are a firm illustration of how the need to be clinical at this level is everything.
Make no mistake about it, there was no shortage of effort from Marcelo Bielsa’s side, who missed their chance to move into the top half. They did enough between the boxes to ensure at least a point, but fell short in attack on numerous occasions and were unpicked defensively at decisive moments. That, against an Everton side like this, is all it takes.
Having fallen behind to goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Leeds responded well after half-time when Raphinha’s precise strike halved the deficit. But a string of superb saves from Olsen, who did a fine job of deputising for the injured Jordan Pickford, coupled with a slight lack of composure from the hosts, proved crucial.
“After the defeat against Newcastle, we needed this kind of performance,” Ancelotti said. “We had problems to defend after conceding early in the second half, but the reaction and concentration of the team was really good. We’re on a fantastic run away, but we have to be more focused at home too.”
Just as Leeds are learning about the fine margins at this level, Everton will take confidence from the fact their latest victory on the road, their hardest-earned yet, came after surviving a second half of almost complete Leeds dominance. Olsen’s performance went some way to ensuring they would emerge victorious, though.
Having already denied Pascal Struijk with a fine stop in the first half, three saves in as many minutes from the Swede proved crucial in terms of preserving Everton’s lead. Food for thought for his manager, perhaps, with the battle to be the No 1 now looking more uncertain than ever. “He made some super saves,” Ancelotti said.
It took Everton nine minutes to go ahead, when a fine cross from Lucas Digne found Sigurdsson unmarked in the penalty area. Leeds responded well, but after failing to open up their opponents you always felt that Everton would punish them. That proved to be the case, when Calvert-Lewin prodded home Ben Godfrey’s headed flick-on.
Raphinha fired home three minutes after the restart to get Leeds back in the game, and the flow of traffic towards Olsen’s goal intensified. That they were unable to force the equaliser Bielsa felt their play deserved was due in part to their own failings in front of goal, epitomised by Tyler Roberts’ wayward effort in the dying moments.
But prior to that, Olsen had denied Leeds time and time again. From the stunning reactionary save to stop Mateusz Klich’s shot, to the smart one to deny Jack Harrison seconds later – as well as another fine close-range save to prevent Raphinha a second – Olsen was magnificent, and undoubtedly decisive.
How the Everton players knew that at full time, when they made their way to their goalkeeper, who in turn punched the air as he fell to his knees. It was certainly a big night for the Swede, with Pickford potentially fit as soon as this weekend. But it was also a big night for Ancelotti and Everton on the whole.
For Bielsa there was disappointment and regret at missed chances, but not at the attitude of his players “The effort was very big,” Bielsa said. “We did enough to draw the game, we had enough chances, and we could have gone on to win it.”
There will be no shortage of Leeds supporters who agree with that sentiment.