Everton maintained their challenge for a Champions League spot with victory at Wolves thanks to Michael Keane’s 77th-minute winner.
The Toffees’ sixth away win in the league this season lifted them to fourth in the table, level on points with third-place Leicester and only four off the lead held by Manchester United.
They got off to a brilliant start when Alex Iwobi fired home in the fifth minute for his first goal in 38 Premier League appearances.
Wolves, seeking only their second win in eight games, hit back in the 14th minute through Ruben Neves. The Portuguese midfielder ended his own barren run against Brighton at the start of January, and made it two goals in two league matches with a sublime sidefoot finish following brilliant movement from Rayan Ait-Nouri.
The home side looked more likely to edge the contest until Keane rose highest in the area to convert Andre Gomes’ teasing cross from the left.
Iwobi impresses as Everton form continues
There were tweets of surprise on social media when Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti named a starting XI without a recognised striker. Leading scorer Dominic Calvert-Lewin was unavailable because of a hamstring problem, while the Italian opted to leave Cenk Tosun on the bench.
Gylfi Sigurdsson was billed as the player to lead the line, but the Toffee that looked most potent was winger Iwobi. His link-up play with his fellow attackers was key to many of the visiting side’s best moves and he deserved to end his goalscoring drought.
The attack began when James Rodriguez floated the ball to Lucas Digne on the left of the area. The French full-back, making his first league start since 22 November, played a first-time pass to Iwobi, whose cleanly-struck effort took a slight deflection off Conor Coady.
The Nigeria international also forced a good low save from Rui Patricio following a swift one-two with Rodriguez.
Ancelotti’s men looked short of ideas in attack after the break but made it count 13 minutes from time when Keane put away the only effort on target in the second half. It was the defender’s fourth goal of the season.
Striker or no striker, Ancelotti has got that winning feeling again and his expensively-assembled squad are back on course following their slump in November.
Jimenez absence continues to hurt Wolves
The large scar from his surgery was visible as Raul Jimenez watched his side from the stands at Molineux – how different might Wolves’ campaign have looked so far had their talisman in attack not suffered a fractured skull against Arsenal in November.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side won that day at Emirates Stadium, but have picked up only the one other victory in the league in the eight games since. The Midlands club have fallen from seventh to 14th in the table.
They have clearly missed the natural finisher during this period, but the build-up play has rarely been found wanting.
Against Everton the likes of Pedro Neto and Neves dictated play beautifully in the opposition third, while 19-year-old Ait-Nouri was exceptional as an attacking left-back. The way in which he drove past Abdoulaye Doucoure on the wing to set up the goal was dazzling. What was lacking was bite, because aside from Neves’ late free-kick, which hit the bar, Everton keeper Jordan Pickford was untroubled in the second half.
Keeping a clean sheet has also been Wolves’ problem – the last time they kept a score to nil in the league was 12 games ago. The defenders should have done better to close down Iwobi while they made it too easy for Keane to get his head to the ball.
Nuno says he is very concerned about the situation, but it is unlikely his side will be caught up in a relegation battle.
‘I’m very worried’ – reaction
Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti: “We knew this would be a difficult game to play here.
“We had a different approach without Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin. We played more to attack the flanks with Iwobi and Digne and it worked well because the first goal was a fantastic combination.
“Keane is unbelievable with his head. His goal helped us to stay in a good position in the table.
“We perform better away because at home we don’t have the support of our fans at the moment, which is really important. When we played with 2,000 of our supporters against Chelsea we won.”
Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo: “First half I think we played a good game and in the second half both sides were very organised. It was just the small detail that we should do better – focus inside the box. That detail cost us the game.
“We got a good goal and in the first half I think we had more of the ball and played better, but the second half was very tight. The moment we pushed to go for the game we conceded the goal.”
On whether he is worried about their form: “Very worried. It is something we know we need to improve but at the same time aware of what is happening and what we have to do for the future.”
Everton’s assist-king Digne – stats
- Wolves have lost five of their last eight Premier League games (W1 D2), after losing just one of the seven before that (W4 D2).
- Everton have won seven of their last 10 away Premier League games (D1 L2), as many victories as they enjoyed in their previous 28 on the road (D5 L16).
- Wolves are without a clean sheet in 11 Premier League games, the longest current run in the division, conceding the first goal in 10 of those games.
- Everton have scored nine headed goals in the Premier League this season, more than any other side.
- Coady and Patrício both made their 93rd Premier League start for Wolves, with only Matt Jarvis managing more for the club (95).
- Digne has now made 16 assists in the Premier League for Everton; since the start of the 2018-19 season, the only defenders with more are Liverpool pair Andy Robertson (28) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (27).
- Iwobi scored for the first time in 38 Premier League appearances, since netting against none other than Wolves in September 2019.
- Three of Neves’ eight Premier League goals for Wolves have come against Everton, with the Portuguese not managing more than one against any other side.
- Neves’ equaliser was his fifth goal from inside the box for Wolves in all competitions (17 in total) but the first of those five not to come from the penalty spot.
- Keane has netted three goals in 16 Premier League appearances this season, as many as he managed in his three previous seasons in the competition combined (three in 94 appearances).
Wolves host West Brom on Saturday (12:30 GMT) and Everton are at Aston Villa on Sunday (12:00 GMT).
- 11Rui Patrício
- 22Nélson SemedoBooked at 89mins
- 28João MoutinhoSubstituted forVitinhaat 86′minutes
- 18Gibbs-WhiteSubstituted forHoeverat 64′minutesBooked at 90mins
- 17Fábio SilvaSubstituted forCutroneat 78′minutes
- 4HolgateBooked at 69mins
- 16DoucouréBooked at 50mins
- 26DaviesSubstituted forAndré Gomesat 64′minutes
- 19RodríguezSubstituted forColemanat 86′minutes
- 10G SigurdssonSubstituted forRicharlisonat 76′minutes
- 21André Gomes
- Martin Atkinson
Match ends, Wolverhampton Wanderers 1, Everton 2.
Second Half ends, Wolverhampton Wanderers 1, Everton 2.
Offside, Everton. Ben Godfrey tries a through ball, but Richarlison is caught offside.
Ki-Jana Hoever (Wolverhampton Wanderers) is shown the yellow card.
Foul by Ki-Jana Hoever (Wolverhampton Wanderers).
Richarlison (Everton) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Rayan Aït-Nouri (Wolverhampton Wanderers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Richarlison (Everton).
Nélson Semedo (Wolverhampton Wanderers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by André Gomes (Everton).
Attempt missed. Leander Dendoncker (Wolverhampton Wanderers) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Pedro Neto with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Conceded by Mason Holgate.
Corner, Everton. Conceded by Nélson Semedo.
Nélson Semedo (Wolverhampton Wanderers) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Nélson Semedo (Wolverhampton Wanderers).
Richarlison (Everton) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Everton. Séamus Coleman replaces James Rodríguez.
Substitution, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Vitinha replaces João Moutinho.
Rúben Neves (Wolverhampton Wanderers) hits the right post with a right footed shot from outside the box from a direct free kick.
Hand ball by Abdoulaye Doucouré (Everton).