The welcome return of the 12th man and home comforts

When Everton squeaked past Chelsea last weekend it provided a huge boost to the Toffees’ chances of survival, something that was celebrated with raucous gusto by the Goodison crowd of over 39,000. The influence exerted by the home supporters that started the night before and reached a climax in the last frenetic minutes of the match should not be underestimated as Jonathan Liew’s match report  in the Guardian highlighted. The fans’ support undoubtedly galvanised the home team and unsettled the away side. 

“Evertonians did whatever they could to lift their team before a must‑win fixture. Chelsea players were disturbed in the early hours of Sunday morning by a long and loud fireworks display outside their hotel in Liverpool city centre. When the Everton team bus turned on to Goodison Road 90 minutes before kick‑off it was met by thousands of fans who had congregated with banners and flares to welcome Lampard’s players. The Holy Trinity statue of Harvey, Alan Ball and Howard Kendall vanished behind blue sulphur. 

‘If that doesn’t give you goosebumps you shouldn’t be playing the game,’ the Everton manager said. The question was how those with the greatest influence on the club’s Premier League status would respond. As they had to was the answer. Goodison Park was a brilliant bearpit, imploring its team on while responding to any Chelsea touch or adverse decision with a chorus of boos.”

What those joyous fans in the “brilliant bearpit” would not have realised was the added significance of this much-needed victory. It was the 145th home win in the Premier League this season, thus surpassing the total number for the entirety of last season when the vast majority of matches were played behind closed doors. Everton’s form is the clearest illustration of the difference in the fortunes of home sides in contrast to 2020/21. This was Everton’s eighth win at Goodison in the league, compared to a solitary win away that came back in August at Brighton. In 2020/21 they notched up eleven wins on the road, five more than they achieved at home. 

Across Stanley Park there is further evidence of how things have swung back to the home side. Last season Liverpool suffered the indignity of losing six consecutive matches at Anfield, beaten by Everton in the league for the first time in over twenty years as well as Brighton, Burnley and even a doomed Fulham. This constituted their worst run for almost seventy years. The only time they had experienced such poor form at home was in the 1953/54 season when they finished rock bottom of the division. So far this season they remain unbeaten at home, winning 14 of their 17 Premier League matches and Fortress Anfield is well and truly back in action.

It is not just on Merseyside this radical shift in results has been in evidence. Only three clubs – Brighton, Chelsea and Watford – have won more away matches than at home whereas last season eleven clubs did so and only six managed to secure more wins at home than away. This season there are currently thirteen clubs with more home wins than away and the ratio of home wins stands at 43% compared to 34% away victories. If that ratio is continued there will be 34 more home wins than away by the end of the season. 

The unique circumstances of last season, when for the first time in top flight history away wins [153] outnumbered home [144], has surely proved once and for all that the advantage of playing at one’s own ground is down to the atmosphere generated by the home crowd. The return of fans this season has been the primary factor behind the resurgence of home form and there is at least one manager who is extremely grateful.  

Frank Lampard summed up how influential the partisanship of the home support was against Chelsea in securing their win. ”The fans were the 12th man,” Lampard said. “They were the people of the match. The men, the women, the children that came and did that before the game, in the warm up, at the start of the game and also to get us over the line late in the game, was huge.” Lampard should count his blessings that at this crucial juncture of the season, unlike last year, his team could benefit from the archetypal 12th man.

Published by richardfoster60

Author, broadcaster, historian, journalist. A regular contributor to the Guardian, Sky Sports and talkSPORT, my latest book is highly acclaimed Premier League Nuggets - "brilliantly written" - Darren Fletcher, "I love Premier League Nuggets" - Guy Mowbray, "the book is a labour of love" - Peter Drury.

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