By Rachel Steinberg, PA
Dwight McNeil scored a second-half brace as Everton climbed into 16th and two points clear of the Premier League relegation zone to dampen Brighton’s European dreams with a thumping 5-1 victory at the Amex.
It was a shocking first half for the seventh-placed hosts, who fell behind after just 34 seconds through Abdoulaye Doucoure, who later bagged a first-half brace.
Albion’s woes were exacerbated when goalkeeper Jason Steele turned the ball into his own net and McNeil added another for Everton in the second half.
Alexis Mac Allister was able to claw one back for the home side, but the rout was firmly recorded when McNeil scored his second late in stoppage time.
Like their Merseyside rivals on Saturday, the away end largely spurned the call to commemorate the King’s coronation with the singing of the national anthem and attempted to drown it out with a rendition of Spirit of the Blues.
Those chants quickly turned to elated cheers when Dominic Calvert-Lewin collected the ball with his back to Brighton’s goal and – with a neat pivot – crossed to Doucoure at the far post, who obligingly tapped home.
Brighton worked a free-kick to Facundo Buonanotte on the right, but Jordan Pickford was alert to his nodded effort from a tight angle, picking it out of the air with little need for effort.
It was the visitors piling on the pressure at the 25-minute mark thanks to some fine work from Alex Iwobi, who collected the ball inside his own half and cooly controlled it in the final third, where Albion were eventually able to shut down the initial wave of attack.
Kaoru Mitoma tried to set up Danny Welbeck who could not make contact as he slid toward the Everton goal, while control once again began to feel like an elusive pursuit for the hosts, who found themselves at the mercy of Doucoure.
This time he latched onto McNeil’s cross from the left before volleying the ball past Steele to double Everton’s advantage on 29 minutes.
Brighton hoped that would be the end to their disastrous first half but McNeil had other ideas as he sent in a cross which Steele stooped forward to save, but instead further buried his side when the ball deflected in off the back of his leg.
Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi made four changes to start the second half including the introduction of Evan Ferguson, who was available for the first time after missing four matches with an ankle injury.
It was fellow substitute Solly March who first tested Pickford and lent the Seagulls a spark they had been sorely missing, getting stuck in and winning a corner.
Ferguson came close on the subsequent set-piece as he forced a good save from the Toffees shot-stopper with a nodded effort at the far post.
Albion finally started to resemble a superior-looking side and remained camped in Everton’s half as Ferguson came inches away from pulling one back with a left-footed effort tipped away by Pickford before Mac Allister hit the crossbar.
It was the visitors, however, who extended their advantage against the run of play after Iwobi broke down the left and flicked the ball to McNeil, who evaded Lewis Dunk’s late sliding challenge and patiently tucked in the Toffees’ fourth.
Three minutes later, Mitoma’s rebound took a fortunate bounce off Mac Allister and in, but McNeil was not done for the night as he netted Everton’s fifth in added time.