Not for the first time Anthony Gordon demonstrated precisely why Frank Lampard is so desperate to keep him at Everton.
Gordon’s goal was not quite sufficient to provide Lampard’s team with a first Premier League win of the season. But a winger much coveted by Chelsea played a key part in securing a hard-won point on an exhilaratingly exciting night when his teammates needed to be streetwise to contain a Leeds side much improved by Jesse Marsch this season.
With Luis Sinisterra scoring an eye-catching equaliser and Jack Harrison’s second-half wing play never permitting Everton to relax, a ferocious yet fragile Leeds bristled with menace yet retained a decided vulnerability to counterattacks.
“I thought it was less entertaining than it could have been because Everton played to slow the game down,” said Marsch who did not entirely dismiss suggestions that Dan James could join Tottenham by Thursday night. “But in general I think it was a step forward for us. I like our team.”
Lampard was unrepentant. “It was always going to be a scrap; we had to stand up to Leeds,” he said before stressing that Gordon “is a top player – and he’s our player. It’s too late to sell him now.”
Lampard’s quest for victory led to a pre-match switch from a 3-4-3 formation to a 4-3-3 featuring three wingers up front in Gordon, Dwight McNeil and Demarai Gray.
The visitors had hoped to include Neal Maupay but Lampard’s new striker, a £15m arrival from Brighton last Friday, was unavailable as the Premier League failed to process paperwork required to rubber-stamp his registration in time. Bank holiday Monday was cited as the reason but Everton, were unimpressed. “Who gets bank holidays any more?” asked Lampard.
No matter; it took Gordon 17 minutes to remind Elland Road that wingers, too, can score. The 21-year-old’s second goal in two games was a very good one, involving an assured, beautifully weighted, low shot placed beneath Illan Meslier after Gordon had ghosted into the area to meet Alex Iwobi’s fine through pass with the sort of blindside run Lampard built a career on.
Gordon’s price tag can only have risen following a goal he initiated from the left. Although Sinisterra – the Colombia international and former Feyenoord winger starting his first league game for Leeds – attempted to intercept the ball, his intervention merely resulted in it falling for McNeil to play Iwobi in.
Diego Llorente will not care to view replays of what happened next. The defender seemed well placed to restrict Iwobi’s room for manoeuvre but, instead, got his feet in a horrible tangle and looked mortified as Meslier was beaten.
Having benefited from Llorente’s latest wobble, Everton decided the best way of retaining their lead was to frustrate Leeds and slow the tempo by deep defending and streetwise time wasting, practised, most notably, by Jordan Pickford.
Indeed by the time Pickford dashed out of his area to contest a loose ball with Rodrigo and the pair’s accidental collision resulted in the latter dislocating a shoulder, Leeds’s early vibrant, high-pressing aggression had given way to the sort of increasing irritation with their guests. This ensured James Tarkowski was not given the benefit of the doubt when he received treatment for a head injury.
Although Brenden Aaronson very nearly changed the early second-half mood, Pickford proved equal to the US international’s powerfully swerving right-foot shot.
The England goalkeeper’s superb, full-stretch, save proved the cue for Patrick Bamford, newly recovered from groin trouble, to start warming up as Elland Road’s decibel level soared and the improving Nathan Patterson duelled intriguingly with Harrison.
Aaronson has done very well since his £25m move from RB Salzburg but the £21m Sinisterra looks another smart buy. He emphasised his potential by meeting Aaronson’s characteristically intelligent ball and, having switched the ball on to his left foot, shooting low beyond an unsighted Pickford. Hats off to the excellent Joe Gelhardt – on for Rodrigo – for a decoy run which pulled Everton’s defence out of position.
As the temperature rose Gordon and Rasmus Kristensen went head-to-head in a heated altercation, prompting a minor melee subsequently mirrored by some cross technical area exchanges.
Eventually things simmered down, the protagonists were booked and, shortly afterwards, Gray had a strike disallowed for offside.
Minutes after watching the still immensely influential Gelhardt curve a shot inches wide, Marsch, ruthlessly and bafflingly, replaced his substitute with Bamford. But, although the convalescent striker looked sharp he was restricted to half chances.