LIVERPOOL, England — For 45 minutes, Everton and Tottenham provided barely a note worth taking about a match between two sides struggling desperately for form and confidence. By the full-time whistle, there had been enough incidents — good, bad and decidedly grim — to fill a tome.
And yet it is curious to think that, for all the drama, hardly anything has actually changed. After one of the stormiest second halves of the season, both clubs finished exactly where they began, which is well short of where they would expect to be, still searching for the victories that could get their seasons back on track.
Spurs thought they had a vital three points — and a first Premier League away win since January — but then, some seven minutes into the 12 added at the end of the second half, home substitute Cenk Tosun flung himself at Lucas Digne’s volleyed cross to cancel out Dele Alli’s opener and an already febrile Goodison Park erupted with emotion.
The goal gave Everton the draw they deserved and means manager Marco Silva, under pressure following a disastrous run of results, probably survives to fight another day.
Maybe it will prove a turning point, but this game surrendered any kind of pattern as it went on, becoming dominated by controversy and terrible fortune to the extent that it is hard to read much into either side’s overall showing.
That is partly because the image of Son Heung-Min, utterly distraught at the sight of Andre Gomes as the Everton midfielder received urgent treatment on the pitch in the 78th minute, will be the defining one for anyone who watched.
Gomes landed horribly after being clipped by Son and colliding with Serge Aurier. The serious injury to the Portuguese international’s right leg, which has since been confirmed as a broken ankle, had players from both sides, as well as many in the stands, with heads in hands. It was an awful, traumatic moment.
In that context, it seems forgivable that referee Martin Atkinson showed Son a red card, but the Spurs forward did not deserve it. While the information given post-match was that it was shown for endangering the safety of a player, the decision can be appealed and the card could be rescinded.
The episode was enough to test the rational judgement of anyone involved, and Silva said he was “100% sure Son didn’t do it with the intention to do anything bad,” while Mauricio Pochettino revealed that Everton captain Seamus Coleman was among home players to visit Son in the away dressing room.
Pochettino was furious that VAR had not been used to check on Son’s challenge, in order to help Atkinson make the correct call. The Tottenham boss had a point, given the heavy-handedness with which technology had been employed — testing the patience of both teams — earlier in the game.
Until a flurry of late incidents, it was set to be the obvious headline yet again, first denying Tottenham a penalty when Yerry Mina appeared to bring down Son and then — after a delay of more than three minutes — deciding Alli had not committed a handball offence in the Spurs box to grant Everton their own spot kick.
Alli certainly made contact with his hand as he leapt to defend a corner, the decision presumably being that his body was not in an unnatural position and the ball had been glanced against him, by Yerry Mina, at point-blank range.
During the latter review, both sets of fans could be heard expressing disillusionment at the system, which appears to be applying the loosest possible definition of “clear and obvious” and interfering in matches to a damaging extent. Is the system viable in its current form and deployment, or is it going to continue to be foisted upon us in this excruciating, invasive guise against the wishes of so many?
“I’m sure they didn’t like what they saw this afternoon,” Silva said in sympathy with the supporters in the ground. “There were so many moments stopping the game. They [the officials and the VAR process] have to be more clear.”
Silva was far happier with the resolve his team showed to temporarily cast their distress for Gomes to one side and battle back: “It’s a tough moment for us in our dressing room, but the spirit we showed after that moment on the pitch is a good answer for you,” he said.
It was almost forgotten that Alli, who scored his second goal in three league starts with a well-taken low drive in the 63rd minute, had seemingly put Spurs on the way to a much-needed win that might have lifted the clouds over Pochettino.
If there was a bright spot for the away side in a largely listless performance, it was the fact that Alli appears to be recovering form, adding an extra threat that came in especially useful given the absence of the virus-stricken Harry Kane.
But that seemed to be a footnote by the end. “The result is less important for sure,” Pochettino said, understandably as reluctant as his opposite number to offer much analysis of the football.
It was true in another sense too: When all is said and done, a scruffy draw between these two told us nothing we did not know.
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