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If Saturday’s battling draw at Manchester City brought a sense of renewed optimism to Everton supporters, Tuesday’s feeble defeat by Brighton left them staring at the prospect of a second successive, nerve-shredding battle against relegation – and raised further questions about the future of manager Frank Lampard.
After falling behind through Kaoru Mitoma’s first-half strike at Goodison Park, Everton collapsed in alarming fashion in the second as the Seagulls scored three goals in the space of just six minutes, with Demarai Gray’s late penalty nothing more than a consolation for the home side.
Former England goalkeeper Paul Robinson told BBC Radio 5 Live that the Toffees now have a “really big decision to make” regarding the future of Lampard, whose side were booed off at half-time and after the final whistle.
Lampard himself said he “understands fans’ reaction” and vowed to “keep working” as he attempts to steer his team clear of the bottom three.
But can the 44-year-old survive this latest damaging defeat?
Everton actually started brightly against Roberto de Zerbi’s side, going close to breaking the deadlock through Alex Iwobi after just five minutes.
But the Toffees’ confidence appeared to drain once Mitoma had put the visitors ahead with a composed finish, before folding feebly in an astonishing six-minute second-half spell in which Evan Ferguson, Solly March and Pascal Gross rubbed salt into Everton wounds.
The smattering of boos that greeted the half-time whistle had increased tenfold by full time, with home supporters also chanting “sack the board” in the direction of the directors’ seats.
The defeat – Lampard’s 19th in 36 league games in charge of Everton – leaves the Toffees just one point above the bottom three after a desperate run of only one win in 10 top-flight outings.
If results go against them on Wednesday, they will slip into the bottom three.
Speaking to Sky Sports afterwards, Lampard blamed the defeat on “individual mistakes and collective defending issues”.
“We’re all in it together, it’s not a question of anger,” added the Everton boss. “We’re all disappointed, we all want to win games.
“I won’t go into what was said in the dressing room afterwards,” Lampard said in a separate interview with BBC Sport. “That’s for us to get right. Manchester United [in the FA Cup] comes in a few days.
“We have to fight for consistency, for sure.”
Robinson didn’t hold back in his criticism of the Toffees, describing Tuesday’s display as “embarrassing” and “one of Everton’s worst performances” under Lampard.
“They haven’t had a clear structure or plan. Defensively they were so easy to break down. This is the poorest I have seen Everton this season,” he said.
“This leaves them in a world of trouble. Everton have been caught napping in so many areas. They look like a team that are disjointed and running out of ideas.
“Managers have a life span. You have to look at whether you give the manager time, or you go for a new manager and give them the chance in a transfer window.”
Everton legend Neville Southall, who played 601 times for the club between 1981 and 1998, suggested the blame lies with the club’s hierarchy and players, adding that he wanted Lampard to stay.
“If the board sack Lampard it’s another failure by them,” the former goalkeeper said. “If they back him then give him a chance to buy quality. Personally, I would rather him stay.
“He may be responsible for the players but at the end of the day they owe it to themselves to perform. Personal responsibility is everything.”
In an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live, Matt Jones of the Blue Room podcast described Tuesday’s loss as “the biggest slap in the face we could have”.
“Brighton have done everything perfect, whereas Everton have done absolutely everything wrong,” he said. “A Brighton side who have spent very little thrashing an Everton team who have spent a lot.
“Here we are again back at crisis point.”
Ste, Merseyside: Lampard has been in charge for 12 months. He has no excuses for losing 4-1 at home to Brighton now.
David in Ayr: Frank Lampard is finished at Everton. The squad is poor but should be doing much better. This team is heading down. No fight, no flair, no organisation. Dreadful.
Eilah, London: To the people saying sack Lampard: what will that solve? When you’ve been going downhill for 10 years why get rid of the person who has only been there for 1?
UpperGwladysBlue: So much nonsense written about Frank Lampard. A lot of the problems he faces at Everton are years in the making before him. He has a net spend that is eight times less than David Moyes and West Ham below him! Deserves time to get it right.