Bilic insists Hammers' rise is no flash in the pan
Everton 2-3 West Ham
Published 07/03/2016 | 02:30
It's tempting to see this season of Premier League trading places as a freak show, a fleeting shift in power rather than the start of a trend.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez hinted as much ahead of the weekend, suggesting the gatecrashing of the top six by clubs such as Leicester and West Ham will look more substantial if it is replicated next year.
Slaven Bilic begs to differ. Having seen Dmitri Payet complete an unlikely comeback in injury-time - scoring a third goal in 12 minutes after headers from Michail Antonio and Diafra Sakho - the West Ham manager warned the self-proclaimed elite not to mistake his club for a novelty act.
A wonderful season does not necessarily mean West Ham are a one-season wonder.
"This is a permanent shift at the top - at least I hope it is," said Bilic. "Clubs like us with the (TV) money - Crystal Palace, West Brom, Leicester - we can still improve. Big teams like Man City and Chelsea. . . if they want to buy a striker, there is no big gap for them to improve. Say City buy Benzema, they have Aguero already, so there is no big space to get much better.
"Chelsea can sell Diego Costa and buy Lewandowski, yes. But they are only different, not better."
The lingering question is whether the levelling out is a consequence of those below improving, or the deterioration of the established top six.
This enthralling, but flawed, game demonstrated it is a combination of both. There was quality and there were deficiencies aplenty, but ultimately, it was the self-inflicted failure of the home side that enabled the visitors to steal the win. Like others, West Ham have the class to punish the carelessness Everton have made a character trait.
Whether it was Kevin Mirallas' avoidable dismissal for two bookings in 35 minutes, Romelu Lukaku's penalty miss or a strange substitution at 2-0 up that did little more than allow new signing Oumar Niasse to demonstrate how far away he is from acclimatising to English football, Everton had to look at their own mistakes before taking aim at referee Anthony Taylor.
Such Goodison misadventure is happening too often to be brushed off as a small detail. Yet again, Everton had numerous players giving seven or eight-out-of-10 performances, but finding themselves on the losing side.
For Lukaku to be scoring at such a rate while his side toils in mid-table is unacceptable.
"Seven defeats at home is not good enough," Martinez admitted.
"That is where we feel so hard done by because you look at the attitude of the players, the talent of the players and the desire of wanting to please our fans at Goodison is incredible.
"With the seven defeats, we can analyse every one and, apart from Manchester United, in every one we performed in an incredible manner and deserved a lot more.
"Are we good enough, do we do things right enough? The away form tells us that we do. It is just we need to make sure we find a way to change the little bit of a difference between performing well and not getting the wins at home. We are not where we should be because of the defeats at home."
Martinez deserves credit for assembling such a talented squad, but with a new investor on board, he needs the FA Cup to support the view he can get the most from them before the inevitable summer bids for Lukaku and John Stones.
Too often he is talking about players learning from their experiences. It puts one in mind of students who no sooner have finished one set of exams than are enrolled on another course.
If they do not graduate at Goodison soon, serious questions will be asked about whether they are receiving the right tuition.