Frank Lampard was granted a privilege never afforded to his unpopular predecessor Rafael Benitez as Everton’s new manager brought smiles back to a previously toxic and gloomy Goodison Park.
Midway through the second half, as Everton controlled what ended as a comfortable FA Cup fourth round victory over Brentford, Lampard’s name echoed thunderously around the stands of the old stadium.
It was a moment of release from supporters who – and this applies even to those who did not take against the arrival of Benitez – never once allowed the name of the former Liverpool manager to pass their lips in any public show of affection.
The toxicity which has characterised recent games here, particularly the home losses to Liverpool and Aston Villa, was swept away by Lampard’s animated presence in the technical area and the enjoyment of the best win for any Everton manager in his first game.
Everton’s supporters have been in revolt recently, even registering their displeasure when the name of Portuguese coach Vitor Pereira was floated as owner Farhad Moshiri’s preferred choice ahead of 43-year-old Lampard.
In the end, Lampard got the volatile Moshiri’s seal of approval and while this was only one day and much bigger challenges await, it would be churlish to take away the sheer joy Everton and their fans – as well as their clearly elated manager – took from this 4-1 victory.
First impressions count and Lampard has made a good one. It was almost like Everton had a cleansing of the system in the last seven days, although it is clear much of their fanbase is still watching every move of those in control at Goodison Park.
One win will not make it all better and there remains a disconnect between many Everton fans and the club’s hierarchy – but this was as good a day as they have enjoyed this season.
The measure of their struggles can be shown by the fact that when the giant figure of Yerry Mina headed them in front after 31 minutes, it was the first time Everton had scored first in a match since 23 October and even that ended in a 5-2 thrashing by Watford.
This was a new start – again – and Lampard was being hailed as a hero by the final whistle.
Just before kick-off, a giant banner was draped down from the Gwladys Street stand reading “Best Of Luck Frank”. The cynics might suggest he will need it given Moshiri’s notorious impatience which has seen Roberto Martinez, Ronaldo Koeman, Sam Allardyce, Marco Silva and Benitez all sacked since he arrived at Everton in February 2016.
Lampard emerged to raucous applause seconds before kick-off and was quickly into the animated action he maintained throughout, constantly demanding urgency from Everton’s players, who rewarded him with a much-improved effort.
The good mood among Everton fans as they held a half-time lead was bolstered when new midfield signings Dele Alli and Donny van de Beek were paraded to another very warm Goodison Park welcome.
It is clear Lampard’s style will be more proactive and positive than Benitez, who felt the players he had were not at their best in possession. A Twitter clip of Lampard telling Everton’s players to “enjoy the ball” in his first training session has captured the attention of supporters and Andre Gomes, who has struggled in the past, certainly looked he had taken the words to heart.
He was outstanding, relishing being on the ball and creating, rather than looking like had been presented with a live hand grenade, which has occasionally appeared to be the case this season.
As well as Dele and Van de Beek, Lampard also has England striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin to come back, although he will be worried he may lose Ben Godfrey after his early injury here. He left the ground on crutches.
Richarlison will be a huge weapon for Lampard’s Everton, as will Demarai Gray – who would be Benitez’s extremely justifiable answer to those who question whether he did anything of long-term benefit during his brief time at the club.
And Lampard has inherited a real gem in Anthony Gordon, Everton’s 20-year-old local hero. He is graceful, talented and a star of the future. Everton fans have one of their own in the team and they showed their appreciation with a standing ovation when he substituted late on.
This, however, was Lampard’s day – and how he enjoyed it!
He willingly acknowledged Everton’s supporters throughout the game and whipped up the home crowd with a fist-pumping celebration after the final whistle.
And Lampard insisted it was the unity he has spoken about since his arrival that played a crucial role in this win.
He said: “It was a joint effort from the players and fans. When you’re in a tough time, confidence can go down. The players were brave, they wanted to play. I felt confident before the game but I didn’t want to tell you that. I saw the players work and train at a real level.
“The things we worked on, you could see it in the game. The fans were into that. The second goal, the way we stayed calm and played through the lines; it’s great the players could see it.”
Once this brief, understandable euphoria dies down, Lampard will turn his attention to the pressing matter of Everton’s Premier League survival as they have dropped to 16th with just six points out of their last 42.
Everton have a huge game – we must call it a relegation clash – at Newcastle United on Tuesday, before Leeds United and Marcelo Bielsa, old “spygate” adversaries of Lampard from his days at Derby County, come to Goodison Park next Saturday.
It amounts to a massive game for Everton and their new manager. This was the perfect start and a glorious relief after the poison that has soured the atmosphere at the club in recent times – now even bigger tests await.