Talk of anything sub-zero is enough to put Everton on edge. Minus 10 already and even Sean Dyche opted for a light jacket on a day when the icy mists really did roll over the River Trent.
But they are warming to the challenge, collecting their first points since the punishment for breaking financial rules. In doing so, they hauled Nottingham Forest a little closer into peril and nudged Steve Cooper a little closer to the exit.
Dwight McNeil scored the only goal, a wonderfully sweet half-volley midway through the second half, and Everton were worth the win, having created and squandered two glorious chances in the first half.
Forest did not manage a shot on target until they were behind and when they did rally late in the game found Dyche’s team primed to resist. Central defenders James Tarkowski and Jarrad Branthwaite were strong, James Garner excelled in midfield and Jordan Pickford was alert to danger when it finally came his way.
They returned to Merseyside nursing the warm glow of three points. Everton have not lost at the City Ground since September 1995 when Dyche’s assistant Ian Woan scored Forest’s decisive third in a 3-2 win.
Dwight McNeil’s emphatic finish handed Everton a much-needed win on the road to Nottingham Forest
The Toffees moved off bottom spot after Burnley had put five past Sheffield United earlier in the day
Everton picked up their first points since the 10-point deduction for breaching Premier Legaue rules
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Problems mount, however, for Cooper, under pressure and now on a miserable run of one win in 10 games and devoid of a goal threat without injured centre forward Taiwo Awoniyi.
There was a scrappy opening phase littered with stoppages and off-field distractions. Everton fans held up their pink protest cards in the 10th minute and found sympathy in short supply among supporters of the home team.
Forest came into the fixture with mood music from the boardroom to suggest popular boss Cooper was safe but not that safe. And presumably even less safe after this.
The cycle of uncertainty appears central to the ownership model of Evangelos Marinakis, who was not at the game. Maybe he thinks it dispels complacency.
Forest fans unfurled a pre-match banner featuring a “Super Cooper” quote, “This Place Got Football Soul” and sang the manager’s name but their team were slow to find any rhythm.
Early flickers from Morgan Gibbs-White were eclipsed by a series of short spells of pressure from Everton, who tested goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos with aerial delivery from wide areas.
Garner volleyed one straight at Vlachodimos from distance then Beto side-footed a over an open goal on the half-volley when ball spilled out from as Forest’s ‘keeper, Willy Boly and McNeil contested a cross.
All eyes turned to ref Paul Tierney who ruled no foul on the keeper and restarted play with a goal kick. Dyche threw his hands up and over his head. It was a big miss by Beto, starting up front because Dominic Calvert-Lewin was out with a calf injury.
Another wonderful chance escaped Everton before half-time. Beto and Adboulaye Doucoure seized on a mistimed header by Harry Toffolo and combined to release McNeil into space on the left.
McNeil beat Vlachodimos and must have thought that was enough, only to find Murillo had raced back to rescue Forest, his clearance clipping a post on its way out.
Forest did not muster an effort at goal for more than half an hour and produced little of note before the interval. Anthony Elanga volleyed one difficult chance wide and Gibbs-White missed the target with another.
They came out with more purpose at the start of the second half, although they lost Boly to an injury. Felipe came on to replace him and almost scored then picked up a yellow card within a matter of minutes.
Felipe was only six yards out when he swept a shot against a post. Everton were unable to clear a corner and it dropped kindly to Elanga, whose effort was blocked and spun square to the substitute.
Everton picked up the result on the road having come close earlier in the game before McNeil’s opener
Steve Cooper’s home side are on a miserable run of just one win in their last 10 outings
McNeil’s strike was Everton’s 15th of the season in their 14th game of the campaign so far
Felipe was only six yards out but it came to him unexpectedly and he could not find the target. His yellow came seconds later for hauling down McNeil just outside the penalty area at the other end.
It was McNeil who found the breakthrough in the 67th minute. Jordan Pickford launched a long diagonal free-kick forward from halfway. Everton picked up the clearance and Jack Harrison’s cross from the right eluded everyone until it reached McNeil, beyond the back post.
He brought the ball under control with one excellent touch and, with his second, fired it back across goal on the bounce, into the opposite top corner. It was a sweet strike and his first goal since May.
Forest did summon something of a flourish. Pickford dashed from his line to foil Elanga, who curled a late effort wide. In between, Pickford saved from Murillo on the charge out of defence. But it was too little too late and the Everton fans who sang songs of celebration into the night.
Everton fans held up pink cards in protest against the 10-point deduction they were given in the 10th minute of the game
Steve Cooper’s side summoned something of a flourish late in the tie but it was too little too late