It was crackers, wasn’t it?’ That was James Tarkowski’s summary of the point Everton grabbed in the 99th minute here at Molineux, the latest goal scored in the Premier League this season.
‘Crackers’ doesn’t really begin to cover it. Seismic would be another word, when you consider the implications for the future of the club should they go down. Historic, epic, gargantuan: choose your cliche. Let’s settle on the fact that it was a significant moment.
Everton will probably have to beat Bournemouth on Sunday to guarantee that they maintain their 69-year run in the top flight of English football but the difference between going into that game on the back of a soul-sapping 1-0 defeat or an uplifting 99th-minute equaliser is huge. ‘It felt like a win,’ said Tarkowski.
What did that goal tell you, after a frankly poor 98 minutes? ‘We’re alive,’ said manager Sean Dyche. ‘We’re ready. We are taking it on.’
And though managers come and go at Everton, like minor soap opera characters not especially germane to the overall narrative arc, if you wanted someone to prep your team for one last 90 minutes to save the club, then Dyche would be high up among your candidates.
Colombian defender Yerry Mina scored additional to to earn Everton a point at Wolves
A win in their final games of the season against Bournemouth will see the Toffees survive
He won’t over-intellectualise what is required on Sunday. Speaking as a man who had made at least three changes to his team’s shape in the last 45 minutes to get the point he needed — with Michael Keane as centre forward ultimately an inspired choice — he chose to turn attention elsewhere.
‘Look, I hear managers wax lyrical about that but all managers make tactical changes,’he said. ‘It’s about mentality, not about shapes and tactics.’
If it’s about mentality, then step forward Yerry Mina, scorer of that 99th-minute equaliser. The Colombian is a man for these occasions. Remember his last-minute goal against England to take the game into extra-time at the 2018 World Cup? This is what he does.
He is the man who stood outside Goodison Park at the nadir of the season, reasoning with angry fans after a 2-1 defeat by Southampton in January. ‘I will give my life for this club,’ he told them. And he hadn’t even played on the day, being an unused substitute.
There aren’t many with the courage to front up like that. There also aren’t many who get under the skin of Pep Guardiola quite so effectively.
He was restored to the line-up against Brighton for the potentially season-defining 5-1 win and Sunday will likely be his last appearance for Everton as his contract expires this summer. ‘He’s a big leader on the pitch and has great confidence in himself,’ said Tarkowski.
It was the unlikely three amigos of Tarkowski, Keane and Mina who combined to provide the goal at the end. Tarkowski played the part of target man to knock the ball down and Keane was delicate creator, his nimble feet edging the ball in for Mina to stab home.
‘The three centre halves in the box causing carnage!’ said Tarkowski. ‘We had to get the ball in there at the end and we were hoping to just get a chance out of it. Whether it is me, Yerry or Keano — everyone wants to get in the box and score a goal.’
James Tarkowski, Michael Keane and Mina who combined to provide the goal at the end
There aren’t many other managers you’d want in charge in these circumstances than Sean Dyche
The injury to Dominic Calvert-Lewin means Everton will rely heavily on set pieces
The worry is that they may have to resort to something similar against Bournemouth. Dominic Calvert-Lewin limping off with a hamstring injury is a sadly familiar sight and not one that inspires any confidence that he will be available to lead the line this weekend.
But Leeds’ loss at West Ham on Sunday means a point might be good enough for Everton and the reception party for the team coach will be preparing already, the crowds will be massing, the blue flares will be lit. Goodison Park will come alive.
‘We could be playing anyone, we couldn’t care,’ said Tarkowski. ‘It’s about us now.’
Like last year — though that was the penultimate game of the campaign — this is what their seasons have become: a grandstand finish at Goodison under a blue haze, the utter joy of relief and then repeat and go again. They may be treading water but their head remains up, gasping for breath, not yet submerged by the forces around them.