As Everton’s winless run extended to seven games following Tuesday’s 4-1 thrashing by Brighton & Hove Albion, manager Frank Lampard cut a forlorn figure on the touchline with the Merseyside club hovering just above the relegation zone.
A valiant 1-1 draw away at reigning champions Manchester City over the weekend proved to be nothing more than a blip as Brighton ran riot while Everton capitulated at Goodison Park again.
Brighton scored three goals in six second-half minutes to seal the win but its authoritative performance and rise up the table was six years in the making.
Everton were once the club on the periphery of the top four looking to break into the elite, while Brighton were seeking a return to the top flight for the first time since 1983.
Tuesday’s contest only underlined how far Brighton has come since sealing promotion thanks to the implementation of an effective coaching and recruitment structure at the club, while Everton stumble from one crisis to another every season.
It is Brighton sitting pretty in eighth place, while Everton, the team which has spent more years in the top flight than any other, is 16th - where they finished last season.
In September, Brighton lost arguably its biggest asset in Graham Potter when Chelsea prised away the manager who had guided the south-coast side to ninth in the Premier League last season - its best-ever finish.
But his successor Roberto De Zerbi has come in and overcome a couple of early hiccups to mastermind a mini-revival while playing an attractive style of football to lift them up to eighth, kindling hopes of playing in Europe next season.
Brighton even lost Neal Maupay - its top scorer from the last three seasons - to Everton but the attack has stepped up to share the goal-scoring burden as Leandro Trossard, Pascal Gross and World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister lead the way.
To add insult to injury, Brighton’s starting lineup which consisted of academy players and new recruits cost the club approximately the same as the fee Everton paid Arsenal for Alex Iwobi in 2019.
SEVENTH MANAGER IN SEVEN YEARS
Everton stand in stark contrast as Lampard, its seventh manager in seven years, struggles to get the best out of a squad at a club that has spent more than 700 million euros ($740.32 million) on transfers in the same period.
Everton owner Farhad Moshiri cannot be accused of not splashing the cash but in trying to recruit for different managers with different philosophies, Lampard has inherited a squad that has failed to gel.
England striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s constant injury absences have not helped while Everton did not cover the loss of Richarlison, who helped them stay up last season with 10 goals and five assists before moving to Tottenham Hotspur.
Lampard had danced with fans in the stands when Everton’s safety was guaranteed last season but just before the World Cup break he was seen attempting to calm tensions between the players and supporters after a dispiriting loss at Bournemouth.
But on Tuesday, as blue smoke from a flare thrown on the pitch hung in the air, he went straight down the tunnel at the final whistle while the Everton faithful booed the players off amid chants of “sack the board”.
With patience wearing thin as the agonising wait for a first win since October continues, Lampard may pay the price, as did his predecessors Marco Silva and Rafa Benitez as Everton gamble on another manager guiding them to safety.
“I can’t control the talk or the decisions, when you are around this area of the table this is what happens. You lose a game like this, I absolutely understand any reaction,” Lampard said.
“I’m very confident in myself and will work to turn it round. I can’t predict the future.”