Everton’s side was significantly changed from the last game at Sunderland a fortnight ago with key duo Barry and Baines missing out due to injury along with the rested pair Eto’o and McGeady. Twitter fume reached new levels as ‘much maligned duo’ Osman and Hibbert were drafted in by Martinez as their replacements along with Naismith and the returning Mirallas.
West Ham were also besieged by injuries to players pivotal in their recent revival, including influential forward trio Sakho, Valencia and Downing. That meant that lumbering triumvirate Carroll, Cole and Nolan all rolled off the bench for this one.
The first half had Everton playing the more controlled football (61% possession) and generally having the better of things albeit West Ham had more territory and got the ball into our box with greater regularity.
There was little in terms of subtlety about the Eastenders play in the first half.Much has been made of their more aesthetically pleasing brand of football this season with less emphasis on putting the ball ‘in the mixer’, however such free-flowing football was nowhere to be seen here.
Instead Allardyce appeared to revert to type by pummeling long balls into the rough direction of our centre backs – seemingly it’s an itch ‘Big Sam’ can’t help but to scratch. This meant the Hammers played more than double (59 v 25) the amount of chipped passes than we did, predominantly into ultimo-grok duo Cole and Carroll, who were ably assisted by Kevin ‘hold me back lads’ Nolan.
The use of width by West Ham and our own ploy of playing through the middle was demonstrated by the fullback’s use of the ball; Jenkinson and Creswell fired in 26 of the Hammers 46 crosses whilst Hibbert and Coleman put in a combined 0 of our 6.
It was a physical challenge which suited Jagielka and Distin and the duo dealt with it magnificently, both in competing for the first ball and then mopping up the second ball. Despite West Ham’s first half huff their wasn’t a great deal to be worried about in terms of their attacking play.
With the exception of one sumptuous early through pass by Barkley to an offside Mirallas there was little threat from us either and the attacking midfield duo quickly swopped flanks before Barkley then moved inside. The changes did little to change the dynamic and we continued to struggle to turn possession into chances against a well drilled narrow back four.
Hibbert’s inclusion attracted the most consternation from the home support with the move deemed by many pre match as a Moyes move by Martinez. You have to balance this out with the fact that if the untried Garbutt would have played he’d have likely been subjected to ‘The full Allardici’ and presumably would have been targeted aerially by one of the two aforementioned groks.
Against such an opponent who pumps balls into the box at will the role of the fullback can often be more about core defensive duties such as assisting CBs aerially in repelling crosses from the opposite flank and dealing with the elbows and general thuggery you get from any side managed by Allardyce. All things considered I think in this fixture Martinez got his selection spot on.
Going forward however we lacked any real width on the left going forward as with Barkley ahead of Hibbert we had two righties on the left meaning everything came inside from Hibbert, usually to Osman to switch play to the right flank.
Due to the above Osman was seeing plenty of the ball and he was the creator of the only real quality opening carved out in the first half. The veteran midfielder brilliantly dissected the Hammers defence with a pass in behind for Coleman only for the Irishman’s pull back to be ballooned into the Park End by Naismith.
Shortly after we took the lead and again Osman was involved, initially combining with Naismith to tee up Barkley for a shot on the edge of the West Ham 18 yard line. The young tyke then unleashed a half volley which was blocked before the rebound was gleefully lashed home by an offside Lukaku. It was the Belgian’s 20th league goal in his 40th start.
After the break West Ham had more of the ball than us (55%) and for long spells pinned us back with their territory based game. This was mostly due to the different type of threat they now offered following a positive double change just after the break. Allardyce replaced the injured Noble and the incompetent Cole with Zarate and Jarvis, and the visitors instantly looked more of a threat due to having more cunning in how they moved the ball into our box.
With our backline way too deep the gap to our midfield was gaping and in Amalfitano and Zarate our visitors were now finding plenty of pockets of space to manoeuvre. Zarate previously scored against us for Birmingham back in 2009 and he was able to repeat the trick after just 5 minutes of coming on as a sub when his shot deflected off Jagielka and over Howard to level matters.
At this point West Ham looked the likely winner as we continued to defend deep and struggled to keep West Ham at arm’s length due to our inability to carve out any sustained periods of possession. Our policy of brinkmanship in defending on our 18 yard line was to pay dividend shortly after, however, and again it would be a substitution which changed the direction of the contest.
Mirallas looked way off the pace throughout; he was languid in possession and late in the tackle and his replacement by Eto’o should arguably have happened sooner than it did. Within seven minutes the leather shorts wearing Cameroon star had made his mark as a rapid counter attack led to him brilliantly teeing up Leon Osman for the winner. The move came after Clattenburg had played an advantage after benchmark yard-dog Collins clotheslined Lukaku in the centre circle.
For Osman it was a fitting finale to a game which he had for long spells controlled from a deeper position than he has usually been deployed since Martinez took over.The schemer’s ability to find space, receive play and link in the final third has always been a feature of his play and it was again evident here, but in this fixture his ability to show and quickly switch possession was arguably more crucial.Osman created the most chances, had the most touches of the ball and found his man more accurately than anyone else on the pitch. Credit must also go to beer swilling, tinned spam eating goon Kevin Nolan who kindly watched and admired the Eto’o pass rather than track Osman’s run to the back post.
Allardyce referred to the goal afterwards as “one punt up the middle” but the great work from Naismith in intercepting play to supply Lukaku and the quality of how we moved the ball so quickly and accurately from our 18 yard line to goal was superb.
In the words of Corrado ‘Junior’ Soprano “some people are so far behind they actually believe they’re leading“