London (AFP) – Everton crashed to a 3-2 defeat against Brighton as pressure mounted on boss Rafael Benitez, while troubled Chelsea dropped Romelu Lukaku ahead of their crucial clash with Liverpool on Sunday.
Benitez’s side were booed off at Goodison Park after their dismal run extended to just one win in their last 12 league games.
Everton sit eight points above the relegation zone and Benitez will know results must improve quickly if he is to avoid increased talk of the sack.
The Toffees looked out of sorts in their return to action after more than two weeks of inactivity due to coronavirus postponements.
Brighton made the perfect start with a third-minute opener as Joel Veltman’s cross was nodded on by Neal Maupay for Alexis Mac Allister to net with a clinical volley.
Dan Burn doubled Albion’s lead with a header after Everton were caught flat-footed by Mac Allister’s 21st-minute corner.
Just when Benitez thought things could not get any worse, Dominic Calvert-Lewin missed a 25th-minute penalty.
The spot-kick was awarded after VAR recommended referee John Brooks took another look at Enock Mwepu’s challenge on Anthony Gordon.
But Calvert-Lewin, making his first appearance since August after a thigh injury, smashed the penalty high over the bar.
Gordon gave Everton hope when his shot deflected in off Adam Lallana after 53 minutes.
Mac Allister lashed home from 25 yards with 20 minutes to go before Gordon’s close-range finish reduced the deficit again six minutes later.
Leeds boosted their survival bid with a 3-1 win against fellow strugglers Burnley at Elland Road, but the result was marred after Clarets defender Matt Lowton was hit by a bottle thrown from the crowd.
Marcelo Bielsa’s men had lost their last three games, conceding 14 goals in the process.
Jack Harrison fired Leeds ahead on 39 minutes with a powerful finish after his initial effort was saved by Wayne Hennessey.
– Brentford hit back –
Maxwel Cornet bagged Burnley’s equaliser with a superb 54th-minute free-kick.
Lowton was struck in the face by the plastic bottle as Sean Dyche’s players celebrated Cornet’s goal.
Stuart Dallas put Leeds in front from 20 yards in the 77th minute and Daniel James wrapped up the points in stoppage time.
Leeds are now eight points clear of third-bottom Burnley in the fight to avoid relegation.
Brentford came from behind to beat Aston Villa 2-1 thanks to Mads Roerslev’s close-range finish in the 83rd minute.
Danny Ings put Villa in front with his first goal since October as he converted Emiliano Buendia’s pass in the 16th minute.
Yoane Wissa equalised with a fine finish from the edge of the area in the 42nd minute.
Later on Sunday, Chelsea will face Liverpool without axed Belgian striker Lukaku, while the Reds lost Alisson Becker, Joel Matip and Roberto Firmino after positive coronavirus tests.
Lukaku was left out of the matchday squad by Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel after the star gave an interview expressing unhappiness at his lack of playing time.
The interview, recorded several weeks ago but aired just days before the Liverpool match, also featured Lukaku admitting he would like to rejoin Inter Milan in the near future.
The Belgian returned to Chelsea for a club record £98 million ($132 million) in August after two successful seasons with Inter.
Tuchel admitted on Friday he was surprised by Lukaku’s comments, describing them as “noise we don’t need” and “not helpful”.
Even so, his decision to axe Lukaku for the Liverpool showdown is a major gamble at a vital point in Chelsea’s season.
After winning only one of their last four league games, Chelsea trail 11 points behind leaders Manchester City and are only one point ahead of third-placed Liverpool.
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