“It’s true,” Gylfi Sigurdsson says with a broad grin, when asked about the 1am disturbance.
On the eve of last Saturday’s Merseyside derby, the Everton squad had a rude awakening at their dockland hotel, woken up by a rogue fire alarm.
“I’m not going to lie, waking up around 1am… it wasn’t the best preparation. The boys were a little bit frustrated, but you expect these things with a derby.”
By 5.30pm the following day, any sleep in royal blue eyes had been replaced by a common steeliness to deepen Liverpool’s homesickness and to end a 22-year wait for an Everton win at Anfield.
Speaking on Monday Night Football, Jamie Carragher claimed it was Carlo Ancelotti’s ability to ‘take the emotion out of the occasion’ which was key to his side’s 2-0 victory and Sigurdsson revealed how the manager drilled home the message of defending well as a team following seven games in all competitions without a clean sheet.
“The mindset was always to win,” Sigurdsson exclusively tells Sky Sports, when asked if the suspicious siren had provoked an even greater desire to end the hoodoo.
“We had a team meeting the day before the game and went through things tactically and they worked out perfectly – especially defensively. He made it clear how he wanted to win the game, but the message was to defend well.
“As an Italian, you’d expect that. He wants us to be defending well, keeping clean sheets. I feel this was the foundation of the win.”
It has been a season in which very little regard has been shown for previous records. Since the Second World War, Everton had been awarded just two penalties at Anfield.
However, not even VAR intervention would offer Liverpool a reprieve when referee Chris Kavanagh pointed to the spot following a foul by Trent Alexander-Arnold on Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Everton had the right man to handle the ensuing delay and weight of history with a typical Arctic coolness.
“When the referee went over to look at the monitor, I thought he wasn’t going to give the penalty,” admits Sigurdsson, whose six Premier League goal involvements this season have accounted for an additional eight points.
“But he didn’t make me wait too long. The thing that bothered me the most was the wind.
The thing that bothered me the most was the wind. I could see the ball moving a little bit, so I was hoping as I was about to take the shot it wouldn’t blow to the side.
“I could see the ball moving a little bit, so I was hoping as I was about to take the shot it wouldn’t blow to the side. It was a big relief scoring to take us to 2-0 with about 10 minutes to go.
“It wasn’t finished but it was a big step towards taking the three points. It’s nice for the club and for the fans to finally win there after nearly 22 years.”
Sigurdsson had just turned 10 when Everton last emerged victorious from the short trip across Stanley Park.
Two years later, in 2001, he travelled to England for a trial with Everton and it was then that he was pictured alongside the statue of Dixie Dean outside Goodison.
“It is special when you look back at the picture, how young I was, and think how long ago it was,” he recalls.
“Being a ball boy for a game and being inside the ground, feeling the attention of the fans made me really want to play out on the pitch.
“To think that years later, I’d be scoring in the Merseyside derby, it’s a dream come true for any kid that plays football. I’d say it’s my proudest moment playing for Everton and it’s definitely the most important penalty I’ve scored.
“As an Everton player and as a fan, these are the two games you wait for at the start of a season – home and away – and for us to win the game after 22 years, it was a very proud moment where we can turn the page on those years we’ve been counting for a long time.”
A change in the academy’s coaching set-up contributed to the talented midfielder not joining from Icelandic club FH Hafnarfjordur following a second trial, but Sigurdsson is now deep into his fourth season at Everton following his £45m move from Swansea in August 2017.
The 31-year-old has worked under three different full-time managers over a period that has seen him play in every position across the forward line, but the signing of James Rodriguez on a free transfer from Real Madrid has often moved the Iceland international into a deeper role.
Naturally, it has led to a drop-off in certain attacking metrics but an improved shot conversion rate from more touches on the ball indicates that Sigurdsson is adapting to the Colombian’s arrival.
A man-of-the-match display in the thrilling 5-4 FA Cup win over Tottenham came without Rodriguez on the pitch, with Sigurdsson deployed in his favoured No 10 position and laying on three assists.
Four days later, with both players in the team from the start, Everton fell to a 2-0 home loss to Fulham. It is a challenge for Ancelotti to cater for two natural schemers, but Sigurdsson believes with patience and practice, an improved understanding will come to the fore.
“I personally feel we can play in the same team, and I’m sure the manager thinks so too as we’ve played some games together,” he says. “Obviously, we can’t play in the same position, so we’re going to have to work around that.
“He’s fantastic on the ball, technically very good, can see passes that no one else sees, and has got an eye for goal. We’re players that aren’t going to be playing out wide with much pace. You’d expect someone like Alex Iwobi or Richarlison with more pace and with the ability to be more direct running with the ball to be out wide.
“In the Wolves game, we both played as ‘strikers’ which was a bit different for both of us as we’ve hardly played in that position, but we ended up coming away with a win. I feel it’s more than possible and I think both of us believe that.”
It has been some week for the club, with victory at Anfield coming three days before Liverpool City Council granted planning permission for a new 52,888-capacity stadium to be built at Bramley-Moore Dock, generating a £1.3 billion boost to the local economy.
Lucas Digne has since signed a new contract that ties him down until June 2025, and Sigurdsson says the mood at Finch Farm has been ‘very positive’ during a welcome full week of training.
Everton’s home record this season
|Premier League 2020/21||Everton||Rank|
|Home goals conceded||20||17th|
|% points at home||35%||20th|
|% goals conceded at home||61%||19th|
These are all significant steps in the club’s future, but the short-term aim is to turn Goodison Park back into a fortress following five home league games without a win.
West Ham and Newcastle both kept clean sheets in away victories to provide Fulham with a blueprint that was followed as Everton threw away the opportunity to cement their Champions League credentials in the most unpredictable of Premier League seasons.
Not since under Roberto Martinez in 2016 have Everton lost three straight home league games, while they have never lost four successive matches in Premier League history. You have to go back to September 1958 for the last time it happened in the top flight, a run of seven straight losses which led to Ian Buchan’s dismissal.
Everton’s worst Premier League seasons at home
|Season||Played||Points||Points Per Game|
Indeed, eight of Everton’s 12 Premier League wins this term have been away, meaning only 35 per cent of points have been collected at Goodison.
Only four teams have claimed fewer points at their own ground, and Sigurdsson acknowledges that a fifth home league victory of the season on Monday against Southampton is crucial to maintain momentum towards the club’s European aspirations.
“It’s a good question,” he says, when asked to explain the contrasting home and away records. “It was the other way around a couple of years ago where we couldn’t win away from home. It’s one of those things where we just need to be more consistent, wherever we’re playing.
“Southampton is going to be a massive game for us to build on the last three points we got. If we can get good results in the next few games, then anything is possible because teams have been dropping points against anyone in this league.
“If we can get a few results back-to-back, it would set us up nicely for the last couple of months of the season. Beating Liverpool shows we’re moving in the right direction, but these three points are only going to count for something if we pick up another three on Monday.”
Seventh in the table and level on points with Liverpool, with a game in hand, opportunity knocks once more. Having risen to the occasion finally at Anfield, both Everton and Sigurdsson must grasp it with both hands.
Watch Everton vs Southampton live on Sky Sports
Everton vs Southampton is live on Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Main Event from 7pm on Monday; Kick-off 8pm. Sky Sports customers can watch in-game clips in the live match blog on the Sky Sports website and app.
Highlights will also be published on the Sky Sports digital platforms and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel shortly after the final whistle.