And then they had one. Belatedly, Sheffield United and Everton, who have gone absolutely empty-handed after their first three Premier League games, have some to show for themselves.
During an adrenaline-pumping lunchtime session, both – Everton led first through Abdoulaye Doucouré and then the home side through an unfortunate Jordan Pickford own goal; both equalized – Cameron Archer first for the hosts, Arnaut Danjuma later for the visitors; Both got their first point of the season.
It was as breathless as it sounds. It was also exciting until the end when Pickford parried two close-range saves at the last moment to parry Oli McBurnie. Pickford needed the first post and then the post to ensure Everton avoid their worst start to a Premier League season. Instead, they have matched their paltry record of 1994-95.
Pickford’s smile as he shook hands with Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom was mostly one of relief. “It’s another example of why we love the game and how good the spacing is,” said Heckingbottom.
“We’re not stupid – we know we need a lot of those moments this season to put us in our favour. It wasn’t like that today. But I can’t complain – it was probably a fair result.”
“Frustrating but satisfied,” said Everton manager Sean Dyche, apparently still processing his thoughts. “It would have been an injustice,” was his conclusion as he pondered what defeat might have felt like.
It was a game full of an odd tension, but also an irritability often felt in the May sun but rarely felt in September. Bad passes – of which there were many – were greeted with groans. There are many small signs of control, but no real assertive dominance.
Positive? Yes, mostly from the debut center forwards of both teams. For Everton, Beto is a £26million takeover from Udinese. For Sheffield United, Cameron Archer, a £18.5million purchase from Aston Villa. In relative terms, both clubs buy in the basic range, but there is still an expectation that the money will be spent wisely. The first signs point to customer satisfaction.
The Blades have two highlights from last season’s second division in Archer and Gustavo Hamer. Hamer is full of spark and bite, a few early, labyrinthine forays over the flanks set the tone. But what was most promising was the ease with which he and Archer played together, both men instrumental in equalizing. It was the only longer moment of beauty.
Hamer worked his own space down the right and slammed in a ball that McBurnie controlled perfectly. The subsequent discard was also on the money, Archer’s sweeping finish was great. It screamed the natural scorer. “It was just instinct,” Archer said.
The goal that gave his side the lead was a little more accidental though. Neither from Hamer’s first ball over the shoulder to Archer, nor from the subsequent 25-yard throw attempt that hit the base of a post. No, when the rebound bounced off Pickford’s back and over the line, all it took was a crooked smile.
Just over half an hour had passed since Doucouré gave Everton an early lead. Kudos for that to Beto, who earned the corner kick that allowed Doucouré to knee his Amadou Onana header. Wes Foderingham’s solid handball gave Doucouré only an easy finish.
He scored another just 317 league minutes after Doucouré’s last goal. The problem? None of his teammates had managed to do this in the meantime.
Beto – who played a crucial role as a substitute who saved Everton from an embarrassment at Doncaster midweek – was superb. The forward has the odd ability to be both sluggish and powerful, being a central point but also acting as a playmaker, combining willpower with skill.
“He comes with a smile on his face and wants to work,” Dyche said. “He made it up to you today.”
Everton fans on the journey home will be delighted by an unexpected and dashing back heel shot that featured Danjuma, a burst of pace down the right that saw Jack Robinson kick syrup, and then a pass from Nathan Patterson around the Corner. Patterson’s low cross was then skillfully delivered by Danjuma to make it 2-2. And breathe.