This may have been the night Champions League football became too lofty an aspiration for Everton, although things could have been worse. They arrived with a nine-strong injury list that would be augmented before the close and were on the rack for considerable periods, dominated by a Brighton side that deserved to win. A point was no disaster given that context but Carlo Ancelotti must discover some attacking thrust from somewhere if their season is not to fizzle out.
They almost found it as the game entered stoppage time and, when the substitute Alex Iwobi let fly after cutting inside, the ball fleetingly appeared bound for Robert Sánchez’s top-right corner. Fortunately for Brighton it flew millimetres over; it meant Everton could keep only a tepid level of heat on the top four and, on this occasion, Graham Potter’s side avoided a sucker punch.
“That would have summed up a little bit of where we’ve been this season,” Potter said of that late scare. He was probably still scarred by a similar event two months previously, when Christian Benteke scored an improbable winner here for Crystal Palace. The pattern this match followed struck a chord: Brighton had 23 shots but only put three of them on target, Neal Maupay missing completely when he blazed wide from deep inside the area with 14 minutes remaining.
A win would have taken Brighton to the verge of survival, but they are hardly in a headlong dash for the line at this stage and will surely come out intact. Potter, in his usual circumspect locution, described the result as “a good point” but acknowledged some familiar failings. “We lacked a little bit in the final third in terms of decisions and execution,” he said.
Maupay saw a 31st-minute shot deflected narrowly wide by Yerry Mina, while the excellent Yves Bissouma almost lit up an otherwise staid opening period with an angled overhead kick that looped on to the top of a beaten Robin Olsen’s net. As usual, Brighton’s smooth progression through the thirds was soothing to the eye: it brought a number of openings that demanded last-ditch blocks from Everton’s defenders, some of which could equally be attributed to a hesitancy in pulling the trigger.
When they did put a foot through the ball, Jakub Moder fizzed just too high from 20 yards from a clever corner routine and Adam Lallana was also fractionally off target shortly before Iwobi’s close call.
Olsen’s only significant piece of work was a tip over from Lewis Dunk’s header as the minutes began to tick down; all together those snapshots tell a story of control, but not one of conviction.
The frustration for Ancelotti was that it had to be like this, given Dominic Calvert-Lewin had sustained an adductor injury in training and joined André Gomes among their absentees. Everton fielded six specialist defenders and Iwobi was the only first-team player on a bench they could not fill, bringing two replacement goalkeepers and still arriving a player short.
“Of course it’s more difficult now but it is a point reached through good team spirit,” Ancelotti said of their European hopes. Everton are seven points from fourth place and four from sixth, with another game still in hand, and this is not the time to be struggling. They host Tottenham on Friday in what looks a pivotal meeting and will have to do so without Mina after he hobbled off just before the hour.
Mina defended well and Everton became more frayed without him. That boded ill given that, in regulation time, they offered nothing in attack bar a fluffed Tom Davies header and a cross-shot from James Rodríguez that stung Sánchez’s palms. But they survived and Ancelotti, who expects players to return against Tottenham, evinced relief. “I think we are still in the fight,” he said, but their margin for error is slimming.