Everton's generous streak sees Hammers pilfer points
Everton 2 West Ham 3
Season tickets at Goodison Park come with a guarantee of entertainment and the promise of frustration. Those at the Olympic Stadium may come with the carrot of Champions League football. Everton announced on Friday that they are reducing prices for next season. West Ham United are raising expectations for it. An extraordinary comeback, featuring three goals in 12 minutes, turned defeat into victory and maintained their hopes of a top-four finish. Credibility was stretched as the points were pilfered.
"Unbelievable," said their manager, Slaven Bilic. "Nobody can deny we deserved it. We showed our quality, we showed our stubbornness and we got a great win." They are a team transformed. They used to approach trips to Merseyside with trepidation, but won at Anfield for the first time in 52 years in August. A 16-game winless run against Everton in the top flight came to an abrupt end, courtesy of Michail Antonio, Diafra Sakho and Dimitri Payet. West Ham's signing of the season provided the dramatic denouement. Andy Carroll headed Aaron Cresswell's diagonal ball down, Sakho improvised a backheel flick and Payet nipped in to score the winner. A catalytic signing contributed a crucial goal to determine a cracking game.
Yet another Hammer exerted an equal influence and made the fightback feasible. West Ham were two goals adrift and being run ragged by Romelu Lukaku when twin pieces of acrobatics by Adrian proved to be turning points.
The Spaniard saved twice from Everton's top scorer, once from a strangely hesitant penalty and once when he burst clear on goal. He had already made stunning stops to deny James McCarthy and Ross Barkley in a one-man rearguard action. It brought a belated reward when his attacking colleagues conjured three goals.
Everton could rue Adrian's excellence and Lukaku's misses. Yet, profligate as he was, he has also proved prolific. In any case, there were other reasons for Everton's seventh home league defeat of the season. They display a costly carelessness, and have squandered a two-goal advantage four times already. A poor, porous defence has been a regular source of complaint and Ramiro Funes Mori stood flat-footed for two of the West Ham goals.
Roberto Martinez's initial gambit of matching Bilic's 3-4-3 formation had paid off and his half-time introduction of Muhamed Besic brought a benefit when the Bosnian won the penalty that Lukaku spurned. Yet the removal of two in-form goalscorers who were tormenting West Ham - first, Aaron Lennon and, then, Lukaku - afforded the visitors the initiative.
And the culpable Belgian really was Kevin Mirallas, not Lukaku. The winger had been booked for diving before he upended Cresswell. His arm was immediately raised in apology, but it was not enough to spare him a second yellow card, or Everton an hour with 10 men. The Goodison faithful blamed the referee, Anthony Taylor. So did Martinez, who identified a scapegoat for a setback.
"The second booking is a decision the referee has to make," he admitted. "The first one is a ridiculous decision. Why should we book a player because we feel it is not a free-kick? I don't feel he is a referee who understands the game in a way that we want it played."
Everton's understanding was apparent in a slickly worked opener, Bryan Oviedo finding Lukaku, who accelerated away to score in an eighth successive game against West Ham. "The performance for spells was outstanding," said Martinez. So was Lukaku's. Bilic admitted: "When they had the ball, he makes that one-player loss less visible. He creates mayhem." He also fashioned Lennon's fifth goal in seven games, the winger accepting Lukaku's return pass to score.
Then Adrian intervened. "The penalty was a big blow psychologically," said Martinez. "Romelu Lukaku is such a reliable footballer that we were all a little bit shocked." West Ham were galvanised. Bilic had gambled, bringing on Carroll and Sakho. Substitutes starred after a starter scored. Antonio's third goal in as many games was headed in from Mark Noble's cross. Another delivery from the visitors' left flank yielded an equaliser. Payet was the supplier, Sakho heading in.
Payet's winner left even Bilic bemused. "I didn't know what to do, so I ran down the tunnel and I came back straightaway," he said. "I said that we are one down but we are going to do it," he revealed. "We had to be less sexy and more lethal."
Everton could do with displaying a similar hard-nosed pragmatism. "I thought our performance, defensively, was outstanding for 78 minutes and very poor from then on," said Martinez. But whether discounting tickets or gifting goals, their generosity knows no bounds.
Sunday Indo Sport