By Henry Soule
It was the first game of the season and each club had its own reasons to be excited for the coming campaign. Both Wolves and Everton had made big money transfers over the summer to bring in exciting new talent, some of which raised eyebrows. This game between these two clubs challenging for an upper-mid table finish would be a statement win for either side to quiet the incessant chatter from pundits in the weeks leading up to the start of the season.
In the 40th minute and with Everton up 1-0 thanks to a goal from their 40-million-dollar man Richarlison, the team from Merseyside possessed the ball within their own half and looked to switch play to the right side where veteran winger Theo Walcott was in space. An ordinary square pass was played to long-time center back Phil Jagielka at the top of his own 18-yard box, which he was expected to gather and promptly distribute out wide to the fullback. Not too much was being asked here of Jagielka – it really was a simple switch in play, and worst case he had his keeper behind him as an outlet if the high press from Wolves forced him to play it back.
It’s not quite clear what old Phil was thinking when he received the pass. He had acres of space to turn and play a pass, but rather than control the ball and look up, he chose to allow it to run across his body and took a blind (and heavy) touch towards the sideline. All the while, Wolves striker Diogo Jota was sprinting to close down the Everton center back and the two players collided. With a desperate lunge, Jagielka made contact with the ball and the player. Jota stayed on the turf writhing in pain while clutching his ankle as Jagielka sprang to his feet to atone for his mistake. The deed had already been done and at this point there was no escape for Jagielka, as referee Craig Pawson made a beeline from the center circle and without hesitation reached for his back pocket to show a red card.
At game speed it was clear that the tackle merited a foul call, but the severity of the referee’s reaction shocked everyone in the stadium. Players, fans, and commentators alike gasped when the card was shown, but Pawson was firm in his decision. Upon further, slow-motion replay (a luxury that fans of the game really do take for granted) it was evident that Jagielka had lunged, missed the ball, and gone studs-up into Jota’s ankle before eventually poking the ball loose. Everton fans would still tell you this didn’t warrant a sending off, but it was clear that a strong case could be made supporting the ref’s decision.
Jagielka’s dismissal opened the door for young English player Mason Holgate to step into the spotlight and defend admirably for the remainder of the game, winning favor amongst the club’s supporters. The game ended at a thrilling 2-2 draw, and in many ways Jagielka’s foul acted as a changing of the guard for Everton’s future defensively.