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NOVAK DJOKOVIC REACHES AUSTRALIAN OPEN SEMI-FINALS WITH WIN OVER AUDREY RUBLEV

Novak Djokovic equalled the record of former coach Andre Agassi with a 26th consecutive victory at the Australian Open to reach the semi-finals.

The nine-time champion was again in superb form, painting the lines consistently in a 6-1 6-2 6-4 victory over fifth seed Andrey Rublev on Rod Laver Arena to set up a clash with unseeded American Tommy Paul.

Djokovic has not been beaten at Melbourne Park since 2018 – part of a 39-match winning run in Australia – and has now matched the sequence of victories of Agassi between 2000 and 2004.

Djokovic said: “I cannot be happier with my tennis. I’ve been playing very solid. I love playing in these conditions, on this court. Overall I think the scoreline in the first two sets doesn’t speak the truth of the match.

“Andrey is a great player. All the important moments and the important shots, I found my best tennis, so that’s what I’m most pleased about tonight.”

The fifth seed at times did again appear bothered by his left hamstring but it did not affect his ability to hare around the court repelling everything big-hitting Russian Rublev threw at him.

He was more affected by a heckler who called out “Come on Andrey, send him home” during the first set, drawing loud boos from the largely pro-Djokovic crowd and prompting the Serbian to complain to British umpire James Keothavong.

It was Rublev’s turn to appeal to Keothavong in the second set when he felt Djokovic should have received a time violation but the Russian, bidding to reach his first slam semi-final at the seventh attempt, was mostly frustrated by the man down the other end of the court.

Djokovic, who has never lost once he has reached the semi-finals at Melbourne Park, was virtually flawless in the big moments, saving all five break points he faced and wrapping up victory in two hours and three minutes.

Earlier, Paul got the better of fellow American Ben Shelton to reach his first grand slam semi-final.
The run of 20-year-old Shelton, in just his second grand slam and on his first trip outside the USA, has been one of the stories of the tournament but Paul used his greater experience to secure a 7-6 (6) 6-3 5-7 6-4 victory.

Speaking before the conclusion of the second quarter-final, the 25-year-old said: “I’m really excited. It wasn’t the prettiest match ever today but it was how I needed to play the match. He’s a great server. I had to just put in as many returns as I could.

“But I’m really excited, man. It’s really cool. I think it’s even cooler if I do play (Djokovic). I probably have a better chance of winning if it’s Rublev, but to play Novak here in Australia would be awesome.”

Paul, who will break into the top 20 for the first time after the tournament, becomes the first American man to reach the semi-finals here since Andy Roddick in 2009.

With Sebastian Korda also in the last eight, this was the best display by American men at a grand slam for nearly 20 years and appears to herald an exciting era for the country, which has been searching for a successor to Roddick for the last decade.

There is a lot of excitement about Shelton, who has not yet left college, and he might turn out to be the best of the lot, but this was Paul’s day.

The American was cheered on by his mother, who hopped on a plane after his fourth-round win and arrived in Melbourne on Wednesday morning.

“It was awesome,” he said. “I was actually, when I first heard, pretty nervous because we’ve had a good thing going here and I didn’t really want to change anything.

“After a little bit of thinking, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m in the quarter-finals of a slam. She’s sacrificed a ton to get me here. She deserves to be here and deserves to see me win big matches’. I was really excited to see her and have her here.”

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NOVAK DJOKOVIC TAKES 10TH AUSTRALIAN OPEN TITLE AND RECORD-EQUALING 22ND GRAND SLAM

Novak Djokovic swept to a 10th Australian Open title and 22nd grand slam to equal Rafael Nadal at the top of the men’s all-time standings.

A year after seeing Nadal pull ahead while he tried to process the fall-out from his deportation, Djokovic has been determined to show that Rod Laver Arena is his stage.

He dropped just one set all tournament despite saying he feared a left hamstring problem might force him to withdraw and finished with a 6-3 7-6 (4) 7-6 (5) victory over first-time Australian Open finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Djokovic also reclaims the world number one ranking from Carlos Alcaraz, and it would be very difficult to argue that he does not justify that position having once again put the younger generations in their place.

His status in Australia, meanwhile, is unmatched, with the 35-year-old winning a 28th consecutive Australian Open match and a 41st in a row in the country as a whole.

There are large Greek and Serbian communities in Melbourne, and the atmosphere was reminiscent of a football match, with fans decked in their country’s colours and umpire Louise Azemar Engzell constantly appealing for quiet during points.

Both men received raucous welcomes, but the reception for Djokovic was just a little bit louder, and his fans soon had plenty to cheer.

For the first time all tournament, there was no heavy strapping on his left thigh, although a couple of strips of tape were a reminder that Djokovic had cruised through to the final while not 100 per cent fit.

If the 35-year-old has been vulnerable in slam finals over the past couple of years, it has tended to be early on, with Djokovic losing the first set on four consecutive occasions, including against Tsitsipas in the Greek’s only previous final at the French Open in 2021.

There Djokovic went two sets down but still came back to win. He was in no mood for a repeat here, though, looking supremely sharp from the start, forcing Tsitsipas to save two break points in his opening service game and then breaking to lead 3-1.

The 24-year-old barely landed a glove on his opponent during Djokovic’s service games, with the first set whizzing by, but Tsitsipas, who has carried himself with an air of great confidence all fortnight, got a foothold in the match early in the second set.

He was serving with more authority and finding greater depth and penetration on his groundstrokes, although he was still reluctant to venture to the net.

Djokovic no longer looked quite so sure of himself, gesticulating frequently to his box, which was again without father Srdjan, who opted to stay away from Melbourne Park for another match after being filmed with pro-Russia activists last week – inadvertently, the family insisted.

The Serbian took a heavy tumble in the seventh game, and at 4-5 he missed a routine backhand to give Tsitsipas a set point.

The Greek was unable to seize his opportunity, though, and soon he was two sets down after an error-strewn tie-break.

Chances will always be at a premium against Djokovic and taking them is paramount but Tsitsipas was again too charitable at the start of the third set, finally breaking serve only to hand the advantage straight back.

He was at least able to repel Djokovic’s pressure to force a second tie-break only to find himself 5-0 down. He battled back with some of his best tennis of the match but a forehand that just caught the line was enough for Djokovic to clinch his second match point.

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MITOMA’S LAST-GASP STRIKE FOR BRIGHTON SENDS LIVERPOOL OUT OF FA CUP

Liverpool suffered another horror show on the south coast as Kaoru Mitoma’s stunning stoppage-time goal saw the holders dumped out of the FA Cup 2-1 at Brighton.

The Reds, back at the scene of the 3-0 thumping a fortnight ago which Jurgen Klopp described as the worst of his managerial career, looked destined for at least a replay after Lewis Dunk’s lucky strike cancelled out Harvey Elliott’s opener.

But Japan star Mitoma produced a fabulous piece of improvisation to control the ball and then volley a dramatic winner to leave Klopp wincing again.

Brighton, as expected, were without wantaway midfielder Moises Caicedo, who went public with his desire to leave after Arsenal had a £60million bid turned down

They shrugged off his absence in style, although there was certainly a Caicedo-shaped hole in Brighton’s midfield as Liverpool carved through it early on.

Naby Keita sent Mohamed Salah racing clear down the right and after his initial shot was saved by goalkeeper Jason Steele, Adam Webster cleared the rebound off the line.

Ten minutes later Brighton also had an effort blocked on the line when Solly March’s low cross was met by Evan Ferguson six yards out, with Trent Alexander-Arnold on hand to clear from under the crossbar.

Then Salah was put through again, this time by Elliott’s cute pass, but he dragged his shot across goal and wide.

However, the roles were reversed to greater effect moments later when Salah played in Elliott, who swept the ball past Steele and into the net.

Brighton equalised in the 39th minute when Tariq Lamptey’s fierce drive was diverted past the wrong-footed Alisson by the boot of Dunk.

The Seagulls captain wheeled away in celebration as if he had known exactly what he was doing, but his sheepish grin told a different story.

Dunk’s next piece of skill was deliberate, though, an audacious Cristiano Ronaldo-style free-kick which floated just wide with Alisson scampering back nervously.

Brighton were desperately unlucky not to go ahead with 20 minutes remaining after Mitoma bent in an inviting low cross with the outside of his right boot.

It was met in front of goal by March, whose prod forward hit Alisson, rebounded back off the winger and spun narrowly wide.

Instead, two minutes into stoppage time, Mitoma struck at the far post, bamboozling Joe Gomez as he controlled Pervis Estupinan’s cross before rifling in the winner.

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STOKE ADVANCE TO FIFTH ROUND OF FA CUP WITH VICTORY OVER STEVENAGE

Stevenage’s FA Cup run came to an end as they were defeated 3-1 by Stoke in an entertaining tie.

The in-form League Two side, buoyed on by 3,291 travelling supporters, were eyeing passage to the fifth round of the competition for the first time since 2012.

However, their return to the midlands – where they came from behind to upset Unai Emery’s Aston Villa in the previous round – was an unhappy one.

The Potters took an early lead inside two minutes through Jacob Brown and assumed control.

Stevenage levelled in the second half through Villa Park hero Jamie Reid, but their reprieve was short-lived thanks to Josh Laurent’s magnificent effort and then Lewis Baker added a late third from the penalty spot.

With new recruit Bersant Celina registered just in time for the fixture, the on-loan Dijon playmaker was handed an immediate debut in a new 4-3-3 system.

And despite the tactical tweak, the hosts snatched an early lead with the Kosovo international taking no time at all to adapt to his new surroundings.

An inviting Celina corner was flicked on by Ben Wilmot into the path of Brown, who composed himself before burying the opener inside 100 seconds.

After securing their first Championship points of 2023 with a 4-0 thrashing of Reading last weekend, the Potters looked to continue where they left off.

Although the travelling supporters’ spirits were not dampened by the early setback, they were indebted to an inspired Taye Ashby-Hammond for keeping the game tight.

The Stevenage stopper was busy in the opening period and produced a string of impressive saves to keep the tie within reach.

A lively Celina went close when he looked to add the finishing touch to a swift Stoke counter, but a brilliant fingertip save diverted the effort wide.

Ashby-Hammond had to be rescued himself when Max Clark was in the right place to clear Wilmot’s goal-bound header off the line.

But normal service was resumed when Stevenage’s number one thwarted Will Smallbone from a dangerous position.

Steve Evans attempted to rouse a comeback with all substitutes made before the hour mark, and the fresh Stevenage legs eventually paid dividends.

After Celina struck the woodwork and Ashby-Hammond denied both Tyrese Campbell and Baker, the visitors found a leveller.

Reid – scorer of the stoppage time winner at Villa in the third round – prodded over an onrushing Jack Bonham with Wilmot failing to clear.

However, the celebrations of a packed away end were fleeting, with Laurent notching his first Stoke goal in spectacular fashion from long range.

And, after Brown was felled by Jonathan Tomkinson, Baker converted from 12 yards late on to secure the hosts’ victory and complete a positive January.

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CLUB WORLD CUP REFEREES WILL COMMUNICATE DECISIONS AFTER VAR REVIEWS TO CROWD

Referees at next month’s Club World Cup will communicate decisions taken after VAR reviews to the crowd as part of a new trial.

One of the great frustrations around VAR, particularly among match-going fans, has been the lack of communication around how a decision has been reached.

The game’s lawmaking body the International Football Association Board approved a trial at its annual business meeting on Wednesday that seeks to tackle the issue.

If the initial trial is a success, it could be rolled out to other FIFA competitions later in the year including the Women’s World Cup.

IFAB board member Mark Bullingham, the chief executive of the Football Association, said: “We think it’s important in terms of transparency, predominantly to the crowd in the stadium, who at the moment don’t get enough information as to what’s happening with a decision.”

Bullingham said conversations between the on-field referees and the VAR would remain private, but that the conclusion of that debate would be relayed to the crowds at the event in Morocco.

A decision has yet to be made over which language the updates at the Club World Cup will be given in, and over how they can be translated in real time into different languages.

The IFAB ruled out a trial of a countdown clock to maximise playing time and reduce time-wasting in matches, but said the approach taken by referees at the World Cup in Qatar last year to accurately calculate the time taken up by treatment of injuries, substitutions and goal celebrations would be rolled out as guidance to competitions around the world.

Bullingham was asked whether he felt in the long term this would lead to matches consistently lasting well over 100 minutes but said: “If players know that the time that they’re down will be added there’s less incentive for them to go down.”

Irish Football Association chief executive Patrick Nelson, who is also on the IFAB, said: “What was successful in the World Cup was a stricter calculation of the time that had gone missing during the game. So no need to change the laws of the game, just to remind people where the edges are.”

The IFAB also discussed the use of semi-automated offside technology at the tournament in Qatar, which was deemed to have been successful.

However, Bullingham said the next step now was for decisions to be made more quickly, for the illustrations to be generated more quickly and to increase the degree of automation in the years to come.

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WILLY GNOTO STARS AS LEEDS HIT FIVE PAST CARDIFF TO REACH FA CUP FOURTH ROUND

Willy Gnonto and Patrick Bamford both struck twice as Leeds thumped Cardiff 5-2 in their FA Cup third-round replay at Elland Road.

Gnonto gave Leeds a flying start with a stunning volley inside the opening minute and fired home his second after Rodrigo had struck his 11th goal of the season to put his side 3-0 up before the interval.

Substitute Patrick Bamford then bagged a second-half double before Callum Robinson scored two late consolations for Cardiff, the second a penalty, as Leeds reached the fourth round of the competition for the first time in six years.

Leeds scored five goals for the first time since beating West Brom 5-0 in December 2020 and now face an away tie at Accrington or Boreham Wood.

A stoppage-time equaliser from Leeds teenager Sonny Perkins salvaged a replay at the Cardiff City Stadium 10 days ago, but the managerless Sky Bet Championship strugglers were put to the sword before half-time.

Cardiff sacked Mark Hudson after Saturday’s 1-1 home draw against Wigan extended their winless run to nine games in all competitions, but it was a night to forget for interim boss Dean Whitehead in his first game in charge.

Rodrigo clipped an inch-perfect ball into the penalty area, which cleared Cardiff defender Tom Sang, and Gnonto scissor-kicked his volley into the roof of the net after just 28 seconds.

Gnonto was denied by Cardiff goalkeeper Jak Alnwick’s superb save, but Leeds effectively killed the tie with two goals in as many minutes to move 3-0 up before half-time.

Rodrigo cut inside after latching on to Jack Harrison’s fine pass to curl home a low finish for his 11th goal of the season in the 34th minute and Gnonto drove home his second of the night following an incisive counter-attack.

Cardiff thought they had pulled one back before the break when skipper Curtis Nelson headed home Sheyi Ojo’s corner.

But after a VAR intervention, referee Thomas Bramall ruled it out as Andy Rinomhota had been offside.

Leeds picked up where they left off after the restart and Gnonto fired into the side-netting as he went in pursuit of a hat-trick.

Alnwick kept out substitute Joe Gelhardt’s stinging drive, but two more half-time replacements combined to put Leeds 4-0 ahead in the 71st minute as Bamford ran on to Luke Ayling’s pass and applied a neat finish.

Bamford notched his second to make it 5-0 five minutes later, nonchalantly finishing with the outside of his left boot after being set up by Gelhardt.

Cardiff substitute Robinson took some of the gloss off Leeds’ night by heading home Ojo’s cross and converting a stoppage-time penalty after VAR deemed Marc Roca to have handled.

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MANCHESTER UNITED RUN ENDED BY STUNNING LATE MICHAEL OLISE FREE-KICK

Manchester United’s nine-match winning run came to a halt after Michael Olise’s stunning stoppage-time free-kick earned Crystal Palace a 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park.

Erik ten Hag’s side were on course to go second in the Premier League table after Bruno Fernandes’ first-half opener.

But Olise’s late strike means they now head to leaders Arsenal on Sunday eight points adrift and missing key midfielder Casemiro, who will be suspended after picking up a fifth booking of the season late on.

United debutant Wout Weghorst nearly opened his account for his new side, directing a first-half header over the crossbar, while a brilliant stop by David De Gea denied the hosts from taking a first half lead.

Fernandes handed the visitors the lead just before half-time, and United seemed poised to make it 10 wins in a row in all competitions before Olise levelled.

United dominated possession early on but failed to create clear-cut chances, with the in-form Marcus Rashford – who had scored in all seven games since returning from the World Cup prior – being kept quiet by the home defence.

Marc Guehi did well to stop the England forward from converting a dangerous run into an opener and by the 10-minute mark the visitors had managed just a single shot from Fernandes, dangerously spilled by Vicente Guaita before his defenders cleared.

Luke Shaw nearly opened the scoring but directed his powerful strike just wide of Guaita’s right post, while United survived a scare when Lisandro Martinez appeared to be caught by an elbow and lay on the pitch while he was attended to by medical staff.

He was deemed fit to continue and returned to action wearing a band over his head.

Weghorst nearly opened his account for United when he rose to meet Luke Shaw’s cross from the left, but the Dutch striker nodded just over the crossbar.

United went close again when Rashford directed a 39th-minute free-kick wide.

The Eagles were inches away from taking the lead when Olise found Odsonne Edouard, who directed a strike towards the top left corner but was denied by a brilliant leaping save from De Gea, who got his fingertips on the ball before it touched the crossbar.

And soon after the visitors broke the deadlock, when Christian Eriksen picked out Fernandes, who took a touch before firing past Guaita to finish a well-worked move in the 44th minute.

Patrick Vieira made his first change in the 56th minute and, as Eberechi Eze came on for Jean-Philippe Mateta, a pitch invader took advantage of the pause and somehow made it as far as midfield, where he appeared to take a selfie with Casemiro before belatedly being escorted off.

United wanted a penalty when Chris Richards broke up Scott McTominay’s run, but a VAR check left the hosts unscathed.

Palace then went on the attack, with Guehi’s low header blocked by De Gea.

The hosts kept pushing for an equaliser as Olise flicked a pass to Nathaniel Clyne, whose cross into the six-yard box evaded all his team-mates.

Casemiro had avoided a booking until he was punished for a challenge on Wilfried Zaha in the 80th minute.

That seemed to be the extent of the hosts’ woes until Olise brilliantly curled his free-kick into the top corner.

Both sides had chances for a late winner, with Casemiro almost getting on the end of a corner at one end before Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s superb challenge denied Zaha at the other.

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IRISH RISING STAR EVAN FERGUSON NETS LATE EQUALISER AS BRIGHTON STEAL DRAW AT LEICESTER

Evan Ferguson’s late header rescued a deserved Premier League point for Brighton at Leicester.

The substitute nodded in to clinch a 2-2 draw and maintain the Seagulls’ assault on the top five.

Harvey Barnes and Marc Albrighton had struck for the hosts to cancel out Kaoru Mitoma’s sensational opener.

It is still the first time the Foxes have earned a point after falling behind this season.

Brighton dominated and were denied a penalty when Danny Welbeck was clipped by Luke Thomas with Solly March wasting a glorious chance just before Barnes’ strike.

The Seagulls missed the chance to move into the Premier League’s top five – but climbed to sixth – while Leicester moved up to 14th in a congested mid-table.

There seemed little for the visitors to worry about from the start and Robert Sanchez and Lewis Dunk combined to usher the ball away from Jamie Vardy, who endured another quiet afternoon.

Boss Brendan Rodgers, somewhat apologetically conceded in the week, time is catching up with his star man who has scored just once in the league this season.

Even after netting 17 times in 33 outings last campaign, there had been little to suggest this term the former England man would be able to roll back the years many more times.

A heavy touch and an early clatter from behind by Pervis Estupinan highlighted the forward is simply just slowing down.

Goalscoring has not necessarily been an issue for the Foxes – their tally of 28 is the best in the bottom half – but they need to find more to continue to disrupt the market as they previously managed.

Even with Brighton’s high-risk slow build-up from the back, the hosts were unable to find the gaps as the Seagulls bossed possession.

Yet it took until the 24th minute for Roberto De Zerbi’s side to create an opening, and even then it came from a corner, when Jan Paul Van Hecke headed Pascal Gross’ delivery over, although Danny Ward’s touch had altered the flight.

Brighton, though, did not have to wait long for an opener which arrived four minutes later.

Neat play from Alexis Mac Allister and Adam Lallana allowed Estupinan to find Mitoma – who wrote a thesis on dribbling at university – on the left.

The Japan international was then given plenty of time to tease Timothy Castagne, cut inside and brilliantly curl the ball into the top corner from 20 yards.

It was a deserved lead but one they only held for nine minutes. The Seagulls had been comfortable, content to knock the ball around at their own pace, but were undone when the Foxes burst into life from nowhere.

Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall swept the ball wide to Barnes, who darted inside and his shot was blocked by Joel Veltman.

Youri Tielemans was then denied by Lewis Dunk but the ball broke for Albrighton, on for just three minutes after replacing the injured Dennis Praet, to sweep in at the far post.

A leveller was a surprise given the level of control Brighton had and the second half continued in a similar pattern with the Seagulls furious not to be awarded a penalty when Welbeck was clipped by Thomas.

It appeared a foul, with the Seagulls surrounding referee Thomas Bramall and De Zerbi was booked on the touchline for his protests.

Despite their frustrations the visitors still created a glorious opening minutes later thanks to more good work from Mitoma.

The forward skipped down the left and teed up the unmarked March, who slipped and ballooned his effort over from 12 yards.

It proved crucial and Brighton’s mood got worse when the Foxes completed the turnaround after 63 minutes.

Albrighton swung in a corner, which was touched on by Thomas, for Barnes to rifle in at the far post.

Leicester were able to use fit-again James Maddison off the bench for the first time in two months but still needed Ward to thwart March and Mac Allister.

Yet there were unable to hold on and Ferguson grabbed the leveller with two minutes to go when he glanced Estupinan’s cross in off the post.

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BRAZIL’S DANI ALVES JAILED ON REMAIN IN SPAIN OVER SEXUAL ASSAULT ALLEGATION

A Spanish judge ordered Brazil soccer player Dani Alves be jailed on remand without bail over an alleged sexual assault of a woman in a Barcelona nightclub, the regional court system said on Friday.

The 39-year-old, who has denied any wrongdoing, was taken to the Centro Penitenciario Brians 1 outside Barcelona, said a source with knowledge of the matter.

Earlier on Friday, Alves appeared before a Barcelona judge after local police detained and questioned him. The public prosecutor had requested he be jailed without bail pending trial.

Alves’ representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

His Mexican club Pumas UNAM announced they had terminated his contract with immediate effect.

“The club reiterates its commitment to not tolerate acts by any member, whoever they may be, that go against the club’s spirit and its values,” Pumas sporting president Leopoldo Silva said.

“We cannot allow the conduct of one person to damage our work philosophy, which has been an example throughout history.”

The alleged victim had filed a complaint earlier this month and the case remains open over a crime of sexual assault, Catalonia’s court system said in a statement.

Alves told Antena 3 TV earlier this month that he was at the club with other people but denied any such behaviour.

“I was dancing and having a good time without invading anyone’s space,” he said. “I don’t know who this lady is… How could I do that to a woman? No.”

Alves played for Barcelona from 2008-2016 and briefly returned to the LaLiga team for the 2021-22 season.

He has played for the Brazil national team since 2006, making 126 appearances and scoring eight goals.

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EVERTON SUFFER HAMMER BLOW IN FRONT OF UNDER-FIRE OWNERS WITH DEFEAT AT WESTHAM

Everton were plunged into further turmoil as their under-fire owners watched their underperforming team slump 2-0 at fellow strugglers West Ham.

Chairman Bill Kenwright and majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri were both in attendance as two goals from Jarrod Bowen kept the Toffees rooted in the relegation zone and left manager Frank Lampard’s future in serious jeopardy.

While Everton’s fans made their feelings crystal clear again, unfurling banners reading ‘Board Full Of Liars’ in the away end, their team simply capitulated.

Such is the discontent surrounding the club that Everton’s directors had been advised to stay away from last week’s home defeat by Southampton for their own safety.

Thus, Moshiri’s appearance at the London Stadium felt hugely significant. It was the first time he had attended an Everton match in almost 18 months, and therefore the first time he had witnessed the team under Lampard.

It may be the last, such was this feeble display which even made West Ham, themselves in a dreadful run of form, look almost competent.

On the pitch two, after a tribute to Hammers co-owner David Gold, who died three weeks ago, two edgy teams played out a horribly cagey encounter.

Everton keeper Jordan Pickford did not help the nerves when he miscontrolled his first touch of the ball, but Michail Antonio could not take advantage.

Pickford redeemed himself when he made a fine save to tip over a swerving shot from Said Benrahma but West Ham, themselves on a run of seven matches without a win, soon made their dominance count.

In the 33rd minute Emerson Palmieri lifted a high cross into the box and Kurt Zouma flicked it on for Bowen to prod home.

Bowen appeared to be in an offside position but the goal survived a VAR review.

The winger tucked the ball under his shirt in celebration – partner Dani Dyer had announced they were expecting twins the previous evening.

Lampard, meanwhile, would have been having kittens when, nine minutes later, Bowen – who had not previously scored since October – doubled West Ham’s lead.

Antonio did brilliantly to skip past the challenge of James Tarkowski on the touchline, leaving him the simple task of pulling the ball back for Bowen to tuck away.

Yet even at 2-0 up West Ham almost allowed their confidence-shorn opponents back in before half-time, but Alex Iwobi’s low shot was deflected onto a post.

In the second half Pickford palmed an Emerson drive onto the crossbar, Declan Rice fired across goal and wide and Bowen was denied a hat-trick by a timely Conor Coady challenge.

It mattered little as West Ham comfortably held on, hauling themselves out of the bottom three and giving their under-pressure boss David Moyes some breathing space in the process – while leaving Lampard fearing the worst.