Arnaut Danjuma and Beto rescue Everton after Doncaster threaten upset

As the seconds ebbed away in Doncaster, Sean Dyche waved his arms in an exasperated manner, pleading for his side to hang on with all their might. At the full-time whistle some Everton players slumped to the floor, presumably in relief more than anything else. It shouldn’t really have been like this against the Football League’s bottom side: but that is the reality of Everton’s situation.

For 70 minutes they weren’t just behind and staring at an upset that would have represented the nadir of their recent history, let alone their season. They had been absolutely outplayed by a Doncaster team who themselves were without a win but deservedly led thanks to Joe Ironside’s header on the stroke of half-time.

Booed off at half-time, and again throughout stages of the second half as they laboured without any real success, it was tempting to wonder where Everton – and indeed Dyche – were heading if it was to be a fourth successive defeat this season, without a goal to their name. But in the end they were rescued by late goals from the debutant Beto, a rare bright spark, and Arnaut Danjuma.

It was harsh on Doncaster, who were superb all evening and can look ahead with optimism. For Everton it was a case of winning at any cost and they managed to do that, albeit with late drama given Danjuma’s strike came two minutes from time. You could almost sense the collective sigh of relief at full time.

“We changed a few things at half‑time and reminded them they are Premier League players and they’re good players,” Dyche said.

“We weren’t at the races in the first half and it was a big learning curve for our younger players, that’s what it’s like to play for Everton. There’s a lot of expectation. We made sure we took care of business in the second half.”

Dyche certainly would have been heartened by what he saw from Beto, who trained only once with his new side after signing from Udinese earlier in the week but shone after being thrown on at half-time by Dyche. His goal levelled matters but he was busy, menacing and also hit the post late on. Had he not been here, Everton could have easily lost.

“He has been around a while at Udinese, he’s been effective and he looked like he enjoyed it,” Dyche said of the 25-year-old striker. “On a first showing, he’s done well.”

Joe Ironside heads the ball past Jordan Pickford to give Doncaster the lead
Joe Ironside heads the ball past Jordan Pickford to give Doncaster the lead. Photograph: Anna Gowthorpe/Shutterstock

Dyche made three changes at the break after watching his side get outplayed. Grant McCann’s side were much the stronger and they enjoyed the better chances, underlined by their goal as half-time approached, when Tommy Rowe’s cross was converted by Ironside’s header.

Replays showed the latter was offside but the goal was no less than Doncaster deserved and it helped to turn up the atmosphere in south Yorkshire to new heights.

The noise was just as loud from the away end too, with Everton booed off having not even had a touch inside the Doncaster box inside the opening half-hour, and one tame shot from Danjuma – who has signed this summer on loan from Villarreal – their only attempt on goal.

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But Doncaster certainly merited the lead they held at that stage, even if they ultimately came up short. “I’m proud of the boys and their performance,” McCann said.

“We’ve played a top-class team and particularly in the first half we were excellent. There’s a lot of positives tonight, they can be really proud of themselves.”

Everton needed a spark at half‑time. Dyche sent for Idrissa Gueye, Ashley Young and, crucially, Beto. Within minutes, his impact was obvious as he offered Everton a spark they had lacked. Yet Doncaster continued to hold firm and, as the minutes ticked away, the prospect of an almighty upset began to look seriously realistic.

But the momentum of the tie swung on 72 minutes when Beto was freed by a superb ball from Abdoulaye Doucouré. The Portuguese coolly converted past Ian Lawlor and suddenly Everton had discovered some purpose. They then went about seeing off the tie and avoiding penalties, something Doncaster’s effort would have certainly deserved.

However, Beto struck the post with a great header before Danjuma skimmed the crossbar and, as the final minutes approached, it began to feel inevitable Everton would score again.

That, cruelly for the hosts, proved to be the case as Danjuma struck with two minutes left to set up a third‑round tie at Aston Villa next month. Quite what Everton’s season looks like by then is anyone’s guess.