Late fightback in London secures memorable win
He claims not to remember too much of it, but there’s no way Romelu Lukaku will be allowed to forget his Everton debut in a hurry. First impressions live the longest, apparently, and this one will last a lifetime.
Lukaku’s late header ensured Roberto Martinez’s men took all three points from an absorbing, if at times untidy, contest in East London.
With Liverpool stumbling at home to Southampton, theirs is now the Premier League’s only unbeaten record, though at times here it was under severe threat. Everton trailed with seven minutes remaining, but found both character and quality in adversity.
Lukaku led the way. He is the first player to score a winning goal on his Everton debut since Alan Ball, 47 years ago, and his introduction as a half-time substitute here transformed what was a hitherto underwhelming show from Martinez’s side.
Yet whilst the headlines are his, in truth even the Belgian’s excellence was overshadowed by that of Leighton Baines, who scored a brace of second-half free kicks so perfect in their execution that even the seasoned, cynical veterans of the Press box saw fit to applaud.
It was remarkable stuff from the England left back. Identical scenarios, 20 yards out, different approaches, same result. Kevin Sheedy eat your heart out.
The first free kick, whipped powerfully into Jussi Jaaskelainen’s top right-hand corner, was good enough. The second, clipped nonchalantly into the opposite corner via the inside of a post, was even better. “He’s probably the only player around who can treat a free kick 20 yards from goal like a penalty,” said Martinez afterwards.
The Spaniard, naturally, was beaming as he discussed his side’s battling qualities, and understandably so. Martinez had, according to skipper Phil Jagielka, “lost it” at half time, annoyed with his side’s lack of energy and carelessness in possession during the opening 45 minutes, but his players, galvanised by Lukaku’s introduction, responded well. Sometimes the stick is as effective as the carrott.
An unchanged starting line-up was reward for the players who had battled manfully in the victory over Chelsea seven days previously, but it was clear early on that this was to be a different afternoon altogether, and that the likes of Nikica Jelavic and Steven Naismith were unlikely, or unable, to have any kind of impact. Both lasted just 45 minutes; neither will remember it fondly.
Everton had the game’s first chance, six minutes in, as Kevin Mirallas collected Leon Osman’s pass, cut inside Joey O’Brien onto his right foot and stung Jaaskelainen’s palms with a fierce drive. It was to be a rare moment of clarity in a disjointed first-half showing.
With passing sloppy – Jagielka, in particular, was guilty – and Jelavic unable to provide a reference point against the physicality of James Collins and Winston Reid, Everton struggled for rhythm. They were indebted to Sylvain Distin for a timely challenge on Matt Jarvis after he had burned Jagielka down the left, and to referee Lee Mason, who let Barkley off with just a yellow card for a nasty-looking challenge on Ravel Morrison.
They did, however, fall behind on 32 minutes. Jarvis was allowed to work his way across the box unchallenged and square for Morrison, whose 18-yard strike struck Jagielka, leaving Tim Howard helpless.
Martinez’s half-time response was ruthless; Naismith and Jelavic off, Lukaku and James McCarthy on. The impact was almost instant, Lukaku showing for a ball in to feet, spinning Collins and releasing Mirallas, whose touch took him wide of Jaaskelainen, allowing Reid time to recover and clear his cross.
Lukaku had been forced to kick his heels last weekend, unable to take the field against parent club Chelsea, and his hunger was evident here. His touch and hold-up play were a different world to Jelavic’s lethargy, and his cross-field pass should have given Barkley a clean run on goal. Unusually, though, the young midfielder’s touch deserted him at the crucial moment.
Baines’ though, rarely does. And when Collins chopped down Barkley 20 yards from goal in the 61st minute, the full back produced the first of his magical moments. “The goalkeeper’s position made my mind up,” was his typically-modest assessment.
There looked only one winner at this point, but a moment of carelessness from Jagielka gifted West Ham the lead 15 minutes from time.
Attempting to shepherd the ball for a goal-kick, the Blues skipper allowed substitute Mladen Petric to reach around him and keep the ball in play. Kevin Nolan retrieved it, and was felled by McCarthy in the area. Mark Noble slotted the penalty low into the bottom left-hand corner.
Noble had been the Hammers’ star performer, but he was to make an early exit from the game as he picked up a second booking for a foul on Barkley six minutes later. Baines, in more subtle fashion, added further punishment from the resulting set-piece.
There were seven minutes remaining, but still time for Lukaku’s decisive intervention. Having picked up possession wide on the right, the striker worked the ball in to Mirallas inside the box, and timed his run perfectly to meet his compatriot’s clipped cross with a fierce downward header from eight yards.
A whack to the head from O’Brien notwithstanding – “Seamus came to me and I said ‘who scored?’,” said Lukaku. “He said ‘you did!” – it was a fitting end to a debut to remember. Everton look to have found themselves a gem in Lukaku. And of course they already had one in Baines.
WEST HAM UNITED (4-2-3-1): Jaaskelainen, O’Brien, Reid, Collins, Rat, Noble, Morrison, Diame, Nolan (Taylor 80), Jarvis (Vaz Te 72), Maiga (Petric 63).
Substitutes: Adrian, McCartney, Tomkins, Collison.
Booked: Morrison, Collins, Noble.
Sent off: Noble (two bookings)
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Barry, Osman (Oviedo 52), Mirallas, Barkley, Naismith (McCarthy 46), Jelavic (Lukaku 46).
Substitutes: Robles, Heitinga, Oviedo, Stones, Deulofeu.
Goals: Morrison (31), Noble (pen 76)
Goals: Baines (62, 83), Lukaku (85)
Referee: Lee Mason
STAR MAN LEIGHTON BAINES: Just pips Romelu Lukaku, whose introduction transformed Everton’s performance. Baines’ two moments of genius, though, make it impossible to look elsewhere.
Next up; Fulham (away) Capital One Cup third round, Tuesday, 7.45pm kick off
Newcastle United (home) Premier League, Monday 29 September, 8pm kick off