When West Ham and Everton have faced-up in recent years, the Toffees have frequently looked the domineering side, pushing the Hammers back for vast periods of the game. Today, with West Ham fielding a significantly weakened team, there was no such gulf in quality on display. Indeed, the away side deserved a point – if not more – against an Everton outfit that were on the back-foot for a chunky part of the second half.
But West Ham lost. Because it’s Everton.
It’s always bloody Everton.
There were talking points aplenty from the very moment the West Ham team sheet was confirmed. An injury crisis forced a 5-3-2 come 3-5-2 system that placed Andy Carroll and Carlton Cole as the two front men, with a midfield trio of Nolan, Noble and Amalfitano. And, unsurprisingly, it took the Hammers a while to find their feet using a somewhat alien formation.
Everton were asking all the questions early on, and it was that man Lukaku – the same player who ended West Ham’s 5-game unbeaten run in the same fixture last season – who was on hand to give the hosts the lead 26 minutes in. It was hard to argue that that this stage Everton didn’t deserved to go ahead. They hadn’t given West Ham space to breath for the 10 minutes leading up to the goal, controlling possession impressively and barely letting the opposition near the ball. It was an inevitability, then, rather than a possibility.
Except the goal shouldn’t have counted.
“The assistant referee and referee allowed them to take a goal after a blatant offside” said an understandably furious Sam Allardyce. “I’m sure they’ll try to interpret it to say it was a right decision but I will never accept what they say and if they go hiding behind Uefa or Fifa again, then they’ll be letting themselves down. You’ve never seen anyone not given offside this season for something like that, however you interpret the rules.”
The decision to award Lukaku’s goal wouldn’t hurt so much if Everton had gone on to win the game comfortably, but they didn’t. While it’s easy to look at things retrospectively, had the correct call be made West Ham probably would have walked away with another point, taking the unbeaten run to six. In the day an age of technological wonderment – 50 years after the first use of instant replay – it’s astounding that there is still no system in place to overturn incorrect decisions.
Nonetheless, with over an hour of the match still to go, West Ham had to pick themselves up – and that they did.
Early into the second half, with West Ham well on top, Sam Allardyce made the change that everyone had been calling for from the first minute: Mauro Zarate on for Carlton Cole.
Immediately the silky Chilean took control of the West Ham attack; taking on players, creating space, and linking up well with the rest of midfield. His golden chance came after a smart one-two with Amalfitano, slotting him into an open area outside the opposition box. More than a little luck was involved as his shot took wicked deflection off Phil Jagielka into Tim Howard’s goal, but after the unjustifiable circumstances surrounding Everton’s opener, it was a slice of fortune West Ham more than deserved.
What was so encouraging after drawing level was the away side’s determination to push on. Sam Allardyce had clearly told his team to go out and win this game, and had our final ball been slightly better, West Ham may well have come away with all three points.
Against Everton, however, you should always be weary of something going horribly wrong, and that’s exactly what happened. Bringing back a key component from the misery of last season, West Ham suddenly found themselves in a dire situation from their own corner. In short, the ball was lost deep in Everton territory with just about every Hammer sitting in opposition half, leaving Eto’o and Osman to break away down the pitch and tap in from close range.
West Ham were spoon-fed the opportunity to draw level just minutes later, but James Collins (why did he have to be the man in that position?) was unable to beat Tim Howard from 5 yards.
I hate playing Everton.
Carl Jenkinson and Morgan Amalfitano were both very bright on that right side today. They combined well and led the counter attacking play with class. These two players are due to depart at the end of the season and we could do with tying them down to long-term contracts.