Grey suit, grey demeanour, grey football. Rafael Benítez looked a haunted man and with the travelling support voluminous in their discontent, it is hard to see where the Everton manager goes from here.
His side deserved to lose to a Norwich team who somehow found the strength of character and the quality of play to put an end to a run of six defeats and no goals and claim three vital points in their fight against relegation.
Everton, meanwhile, are increasingly being drawn into a dogfight and while Benítez pointed to returning players and an improved second half performance, the fans who unfurled banners at full time calling for his dismissal and that of the Goodison board did not appear to agree.
“I am a professional and I have enough experience and I came here to fix issues of the last five years”, said Benítez of his ability to deal with the pressure that is on his shoulders.
He has managed five games fewer than Sam Allardyce, once seen as the modern nadir by Everton fans, but his win percentage is some way short of Big Sam’s – 26% to 38% – with Benítez’s record currently the worst of a permanent manager since Howard Kendall’s ill-feted return to the club.
“It’s not in my hands,” said Benítez of his future as he lamented the mistakes that “are costing us goals and points each week”.
There were many in this match, the first most costly being the toe-poke by Michael Keane that gave Norwich the lead in the 16th minute.
Directly from the restart came the second, as Anthony Gordon coughed up possession to Brandon Williams who stormed up the pitch and slipped in Adam Idah for the Republic of Ireland international to score his first Premier League goal.
Benítez was able to welcome Yerry Mina and Richarlison back to the squad and put them swiftly on the pitch in the second half, with both having an effect on the game and a hand in Everton’s only goal.
Mina unsettled Tim Krul under a driven cross, and Richarlison capitalised on the Norwich keeper’s soft punch to sweep a perfect overhead kick into the net.
Everton had the better of the play in the second half, but not to the extent to which Norwich dominated the first and, as odd as it must have been for Canaries fans to experience, the hosts managed the game well to claim victory.
The experience of Krul and Grant Hanley was central to the resolute defence but Norwich also offered a cutting edge going forward, something that has been the case for very short periods this season. Part of this could be attributed to Dean Smith’s brave decision to switch to a 4-4-2 formation, the rest to the performance of Idah, who is emerging as a threat just when his team need him.
“We’re still finding out what kind of player he is”, Smith said of the 20-year-old. “He’s physically strong and he’s just starting to learn how to use his body to make use of that. He’s got a great touch, he can finish and his first Premier League goal was well deserved today. He’s got an awful lot of potential and it’s our job to get it out of him.” Norwich have moved off the bottom of the table and are at their highest point in the football pyramid since November 2019. One point and a terrible goal difference separate them from Watford and safety, with the Hornets Norwich’s next opponents on Friday night.