TIM HENMAN: How I partied with Emma
ANDROS AND GRAY ON TARGET AS EVERTON HIT THREE IN SIX MINUTES
TRY as Rafa Benitez might, he could not help himself. It was only for a splitsecond but, in the glorious pandemonium, the man who detaches himself from the emotion got caught in the moment.
A sensational six-minute spell had just concluded with Demarai Gray hurtling through to score Everton’s third goal, a matchclinching strike that had fans jumping on their seats. Benitez’s team were rampant, trampling all over Burnley, and the celebrations were understandably wild.
There is no better feeling in football than when a flurry of goals arrive and this was breathlessly wonderful. But usually in such circumstances Benitez barely flickers. You will not see him running down the touchline, arms twirling. The priority is always to impart tactical advice.
Not this time. He was attempting to talk to Yerry Mina and
Seamus Coleman but Richarlison had raced over to celebrate and made a beeline for his manager, giddily jumping on him. Benitez — out of character — responded by giving the Brazilian a brief hug.
Whatever next? Benitez was not universally welcomed by Everton fans but much more of this and they will be as eager to herald him as his players. Unbeaten in four games and brimming with confidence, this has been the perfect way to silence the doubters.
Having at one point been facing defeat, Benitez’s acumen transformed Everton with goals from Michael Keane and Gray sandwiching a quite superlative strike by Andros Townsend to render Ben Mee’s header irrelevant. It was a beautifully ruthless spell, one which augurs well for the future.
‘When you win at home in front of the fans, you have to enjoy it for sure,’ said Benitez. ‘When you have players with quality, they can create what you have seen here. When you work hard also, it means you can have success.’
Goodison Park, more than most stadiums, lost its soul with the enforced absence of spectators and a visit from Burnley reminded you how moribund things were last season. Sean Dyche’s men won 2-1 here in March, one of nine defeats Everton suffered at home.
There is no chance the figure would have been so high had there been crowds. These fans simply will not tolerate a lack of intensity or application. Those qualities are prerequisites for Benitez, too, and if the locals are patient he can give them a team to be proud of.
Other than Gray and Townsend, this was effectively last year’s team and they found it difficult in the opening 45 minutes. Burnley dominated and had the best chances, with Mee heading wide and Josh Brownhill firing straight at Jordan Pickford.
The faithful had started to get restless and a collective growl of displeasure triggered an instant response with Everton scuttling up the pitch through the energetic Townsend, who played in Abdoulaye Doucoure, but Nick Pope was equal to the challenge.
Doucoure has been set a target of scoring five goals by Benitez and Everton, who will be without main striker Dominic CalvertLewin for a period due to a broken toe, needed something different, like those surging runs from deep in midfield. He would go on to provide two assists.
You anticipated that Everton would roar out of the traps after the interval but it was only after they fell behind to a header from Mee, who nodded in Johann Gudmundsson’s cross, that the mood and the performance changed.
Keane’s header against his old club set the wheels in motion, as he rose to power in Townsend’s 60th-minute cross. It lit a fire in the stadium and off Everton went, taking Burnley apart.
Townsend was particularly supercharged and his goal was a genuine out-of-the-seat moment, a run and left-foot drive from 25 yards that ripped past Pope. ‘Every now and then I like to produce a good goal,’ Townsend smiled. ‘But I’m working to get ugly ones, too!’
He knows Benitez better than most, so it will not have surprised him that he chose to talk to Mina rather than acknowledge the strike. He would, however, have done a double-take moments later when Gray raised the roof when he saw Benitez and Richarlison hug.
He was entitled to savour it. They all were.