THE unthinkable is turning into a nightmare reality after Connor Coady rubbed salt into Everton’s gaping wounds.
For the central defender’s winner means Frank Lampard and his players now stand above the relegation zone on goal difference alone.
Wolves ran out 1-0 winners at Goodison Park to extend Everton’s winless runCredit: AFP
Conor Coady headed the visitors into the lead four minutes after the restartCredit: PA
Defeat to Bruno Large’s side has ramped up the pressure on Frank LampardCredit: REUTERS
They do so on the sinking sands of Goodison and as if the suffering of their supporters was not enough the latest blow was delivered by someone who spent 15 years on Liverpool’s books.
Just after his header hit the net he smacked the Wolves badge with his fist.
But beneath it is a heart that for the St. Helen’s – born captain will always have an Anfield beat.
It was a cruel blow in more ways than one.
But just to add insult to the injury for those fans with 68 years of top-flight football on the line Jonjoe Kenny was then shown a red card late in the game for stupidly picking up two bookings within three minutes.
The grim look on Lampard’s face said everything about how so much had changed in the 39 days since he took charge of his first game.
That debut as successor to the hated Rafa Benitez marked an FA Cup fourth round 4 – 1 win over Brentford and it seemed like so much of the depression and dissent under the ex – Liverpool boss had been blown away.
But Lampard went into this clash having witnessed his players being humiliated 5 – 0 at Tottenham six days earlier.
That defeat was the fourth in five league games since the Stamford Bridge legend moved in.
And by kick-off, against Bruno Lage’s men, Goodison was all grumbles and grimaces again and the mood only got much, much worse.
Maybe the spectre of Benitez remains, too.
For in the hours before kick-off, an article on the club’s website gave details of where and how the game could be watched on TV.
Within it, the story revealed that after the whistle “manager Rafa Benitez” would be providing his views on the result.
His views on things that have gone from bad to worse would be interesting now.
Benitez was blamed for everything that had gone wrong in the first half of the season and Toffees fans loathed not only where he had once worked but also his style of football.
Yet he walked into a club that was already heading for huge financial problems.
That was months before majority owner Farhad Moshiri had to cut financial ties with his business pal Alisher Usmanov after he was sanctioned over his links with Vladimir Putin.
So tight were the finances in the summer that Benitez was allowed to spend only £1.7M on Demarai Gray.
This at a club that under Moshiri and his demands over the past six years that Everton become a European superpower had spent £500M on players.
As if things were not bad enough for Lamps, he lost No 1 striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin to illness before the game.
Not that the England attacker had been pulling up any trees since returning after four months out through injury.
But he at least has power and presence.
The team Lampard did put out there, with Richarlison leading the line, had very little of that.
The Brazilian did force Jose Sa into a one–on–one save after he ran onto a 40 yard through ball from Vitalij Mykolenko.
Toffees chief Lampard is in danger of returning to the ChampionshipCredit: Getty
And the impressive Wolves goalkeeper also had to look lively to divert from Gray.
Yet he would have expected to make both saves and after that, he was hardly living in fear as Everton slowly but surely reverted to type.
Central defender Michael Keane had been dropped following his own personal nightmare against Tottenham but Lampard could have pointed the finger about so many who shamed the badge in North London.
Richarlison hit the post with a header but was offside and he stuck another shot wide but again the flag was up.
But they made their own problems for themselves, as they did under Benitez, as they do now as they head for a whole different level of shame as the players who may well take their proud club down for the first time since 1951.
Wolves might also have drifted towards trouble had Nuno Espirito Sancho not have been dismissed at the end of last season.
But under Lage, they have taken a giant step forward.
They are reinvigorated, reinvented and as they proved during the first half when their opponents tried to bluster their way past them, resourceful.
And when Coady collected what would become his 50th-minute winner, there was an inevitability about this victory.
For they had only dropped five points from winning positions before their central defender got himself in front of Mason Holgate to power his header beyond the despairing stretch of Jason Pickford.
If there was any doubt that Everton might diminish that record it ended in the 78th minute as Kenny got his marching orders for picking up a second yellow.
The first offence, a challenge on Max Kilman, was forgivable.
The second, a brainless, wild lunge on Raul Jiminez, was not.
He will not be alone in that if Lampard does not somehow pull the club out of the nosedive towards not only Championship but possible financial catastrophe.