Everton moved up to second in the Premier League after edging a tight contest against Sheffield United at rain-lashed Bramall Lane.
Gylfi Sigurdsson’s late effort, which found the bottom-left corner, saw Carlo Ancelotti’s side extend their winning run to four matches as they leapfrogged Leicester and Manchester United in the process.
It also inflicted more heartbreak on the Blades, who remain without a win and rooted to the bottom of the table.
In a game of few chances, Oliver Burke’s flashing drive represented the hosts’ best effort while Oli McBurnie steered a stoppage-time effort to retrieve a point just wide.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Sigurdsson had both threatened to break the deadlock for the visitors before the Iceland midfielder sealed all three points.
Ancelotti’s side get the job done
While Everton looked resolute in defence and competent in midfield there was a noticeable absence of invention to their play for large periods of this encounter.
But even without James Rodriguez, who is still nursing a calf injury and Richarlison who is adhering to concussion protocols, Ancelotti’s side eventually got the job done.
After a relatively uneventful opening, which the Blades appeared to shade, Alex Iwobi’s speculative drive prompted more urgency from the Blues.
England forward Calvert-Lewin almost scored a contender for goal of the season, expertly running on to and chesting Michael Keane’s raking pass beyond Jack Robinson but then volleying just wide of the far-left corner from the edge of the penalty area.
Sigurdsson was next to go close, unloading a curling strike that just missed the top-right corner from 20 yards.
However, after the interval they displayed few signs they were capable of a winner until Sigurdsson brilliantly latched on to Abdoulaye Doucoure’s touch and dispatched a low drive past Aaron Ramsdale.
Coming after the disappointment of their Carabao Cup quarter-final exit, it was the perfect response from Everton who have now enjoyed four consecutive wins twice in a season for the first time since the 1986-87 campaign, when they were last champions of England.
Blunt Blades lose again
Prior to Sigurdsson’s late intervention Sheffield United looked like they were going to collect only their third point of a dismal campaign.
However, like so many of their other matches this season the result did not match the level of endeavour they showed.
Collectively, Chris Wilder’s side covered over five kilometres more than their high-flying opponents but found no reward for their hard running.
They have now lost 13 of their 15 Premier League fixtures, with 10 of those defeats by a solitary goal.
But until they add goals to their game the league table is going to continue to make for uncomfortable reading for Sheffield United supporters.
Only Burnley – also with eight goals – have been as unproductive in attack as the Blades, and while they managed more shots than Everton (10-7) just two, from Oliver Burke and David McGoldrick, found the target.
While he was flagged offside McGoldrick’s scampering run past Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, appeared symbolic of their season, when his tame effort was hacked off the line by Ben Godfrey.
‘I found the right club’ – what they said
Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder, speaking to BBC Sport: “It was the same as possibly a good dozen of the games we have played this season. It was a game of not many chances, we were playing a side bang in form but our lack of quality shone through.
“The same players that played with that momentum and belief from last year are not doing it this year. Nothing has really changed, the league hasn’t changed, Everton haven’t really changed but our team has in terms of the lack of quality we are showing this year.
“I can’t go and play the game for them. One system against the other, we changed it a little bit but for me it is the same again, it is our lack of quality that let us down.
“There will not be the possibility of bringing many players in. We are looking to add one or two bits of quality. The players who are here are good enough to step up because they did it last year but they have to find that in themselves.
“Good, experienced players who have played at this level for a season are not sticking their hand up and making my job easier.
“I’ll pack it in if I ever feel I have to motivate a side in the Premier League. That shouldn’t be my job but the players need to go and express themselves and play with a bit of belief.”
Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti, speaking to BBC Sport: “We defended well but also we didn’t play so well with the ball but defensively we were strong and concentrated. These three points are very important for us.
“When I put on Andre Gomes I put Gylfi Sigurdsson a little bit back but he found the solution.
“We feel good also because we have problems at this moment with a lot of players out but this team has a lot of spirit and this is good. I am really pleased to manage these players.
“I am really pleased because I found the right club, a nice club, a family club. I live in a nice area so after one year I can say I was lucky.”
Superb Sigurdsson – the stats
- Everton have won back-to-back away league games against Sheffield United for the first time since 1897.
- Sheffield United are now winless in 18 consecutive Premier League games (D2 L16), conceding in every match – the longest run without a victory or a clean sheet among current teams in the competition.
- Everton have won four consecutive Premier League games for the second time this season. They last had two runs of four-plus wins in a single league season in 1986-87.
- Sheffield United are the first side to end Boxing Day without a single Premier League win (D2 L13), while only QPR have gone longer without victory from the start of a season in the competition (16 games in 2012-13).
- Everton are unbeaten in their past eight away Premier League matches played on Boxing Day (W5 D3), since a 4-0 defeat at Aston Villa in 2005.
- In all competitions, Gylfi Sigurdsson has been directly involved in seven goals (three goals, four assists) in 18 appearances for Everton this season, one more than he recorded in the whole of 2019-20 (six in 38 games).
- Sheffield United have scored just four goals from 71 shots at home in the Premier League this season, the worst shot conversion rate in the competition (5.6%), while no side have scored fewer home goals.
Sheffield United travel to Burnley for their next Premier League fixture on Tuesday, 29 December (18:00 GMT).
Everton return to top-flight action when they welcome Manchester City to Goodison Park on Monday, 28 December (20:00).
- 19RobinsonBooked at 90mins
- 2BaldockBooked at 71mins
- 17McGoldrickSubstituted forNorwoodat 63′minutes
- 24BrewsterSubstituted forMoussetat 76′minutes
- 14BurkeSubstituted forMcBurnieat 45′minutes
- 1PickfordBooked at 90mins
- 5KeaneSubstituted forColemanat 66′minutes
- 22GodfreyBooked at 89mins
- 26DaviesSubstituted forAndré Gomesat 74′minutes
- 10G Sigurdsson
- 24GordonSubstituted forBernardat 55′minutesBooked at 81mins
- 9Calvert-LewinBooked at 52mins
- 21André Gomes
Match ends, Sheffield United 0, Everton 1.
Second Half ends, Sheffield United 0, Everton 1.
Attempt missed. Oliver McBurnie (Sheffield United) right footed shot from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Enda Stevens.
Yerry Mina (Everton) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Lys Mousset (Sheffield United).
Jordan Pickford (Everton) is shown the yellow card.
Attempt missed. Oliver McBurnie (Sheffield United) header from very close range misses to the right. Assisted by Oliver Norwood with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Sheffield United. Conceded by Yerry Mina.
Jack Robinson (Sheffield United) is shown the yellow card.
Corner, Everton. Conceded by Jack Robinson.
Ben Godfrey (Everton) is shown the yellow card.
Offside, Everton. André Gomes tries a through ball, but Ben Godfrey is caught offside.
Attempt missed. Enda Stevens (Sheffield United) left footed shot from the left side of the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Oliver Norwood with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Sheffield United. Conceded by Ben Godfrey.
Foul by Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton).
Jack Robinson (Sheffield United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Alex Iwobi (Everton).
Ben Osborn (Sheffield United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt blocked. John Egan (Sheffield United) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Ben Osborn with a cross.
Corner, Sheffield United. Conceded by Jordan Pickford.