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By Steve Blowers
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Premier League: Everton 1 West Ham United 0
The Hammers fine five-match unbeaten run came to a valiant end at Goodison Park, where they finally came unstuck against the Toffees.
Ironically, it was one-time Upton Park loan target Romelu Lukaku, who did the damage, when he stepped from the bench to claim his tenth goal of the season with an 81st-minute winner.
Up until the barnstorming Belgian struck, West Ham’s gritty and determined display had looked set to earn them at least a point, but in the end it was simply not to be for the visitors and their vociferous fans who deserved something from this trip to Merseyside.
Having marched to a fourth-successive victory over the Saints, Sam Allardyce simply could not change the side that had seen off Southampton and that meant that Carlton Cole retained his place up front, while suspension-free Andy Carroll was named on the bench.
Kicking off in seventh-spot, three places and 14 points above the Hammers, Everton had gone down to a last-gasp goal at Chelsea seven days ago and, following that defeat, Roberto Martinez made two changes as John Stones and Gerard Deulofeu came in for Phil Jagielka and substitute Kevin Mirallas.
That saw Steven Naismith going it alone up front for the Toffees and the Scottish international sent two early headers wide before Gareth Barry drilled a low 25-yarder into the advertising hoardings.
In reply, the breaking Stewart Downing almost found the supporting Matt Taylor with a low ball across to the 18-yard line but a retreating Deulofeu slid in to clear at the expense of a corner and, on 20 minutes, the furious Kevin Nolan was hauled back by an unpunished Barry as he tried to race onto Cole’s inviting flick-on.
Midway through the half, Naismith’s angled screamer forced Adrian into his first meaningful save of the afternoon and, with Everton looking most likely to break the deadlock, Big Sam took drastic action, introducing Andy Carroll at the expense of the dumbstruck Cole.
The Big Man’s arrival on the half-hour saw both Taylor and Matt Jarvis get themselves into promising positions without threatening, while James Tomkins was harshly booked for a slide-tackle on Leon Osman as the visitors began to prod and probe just that little bit further up the Goodison grass.
Seven minutes before the break, though, it was Deulofeu - on-loan from Barcelona - who conjured up the best chance of the first-half with a mesmerising Messi-like run into the heart of the Hammers defence that was climaxed with a bending 18-yarder that curled just an inch or so wide of the base of relieved compatriot Adrian’s right-hand upright.
The Hammers may have made it to the interval all-square, but within moments of the restart, Steven Pienaar burst into the box before attempting to thread the ball inside the far post but the West Ham ‘keeper palmed the low shot onto the woodwork ahead of recovering to gather Deulofeu’s follow-up.
Pienaar also went down under pressure from Downing before also slicing high over the top after another incisive run into the area.
On 54 minutes, Liverpool’s £35 million old-boy Carroll almost marked his return to Merseyside with a goal but Tim Howard fisted the 25-yard screamer into the damp north-west sky.
And shortly afterwards, Nolan’s angled effort was deflected beyond the far post as West Ham forced a trio of corners.
Martinez responded by introducing Lukaku in place of skipper Osman and, after Deulofeu teasingly curled another effort wide, Mohamed Diame came on for Jarvis, while Aiden McGeady surprisingly stepped from the bench, too, as the slippery Spaniard retired.
Going into the final quarter-hour, Carroll drilled a rising 20-yarder over both Howard and the bar but, with nine minutes remaining, it was Everton, who finally made the breakthrough.
Collecting the ball from Pienaar on the left flank, Leighton Baines rolled the ball into the penalty spot where that man Lukaku got in front of the sliding duo of Tomkins and James Collins to fire home the winner that broke Hammers hearts.
TOFFEES: Howard, Coleman, Baines, Distin, Stones, McCarthy, Barry, Osman (Lakaku 59), Deulofeu (McGeady 73), Pienaar, Naismith (Barkley 85). Unused subs: Robles, Hibbert, Mirallas, Browning.
HAMMERS: Adrian, Demel (Reid 80), McCartney, Collins, Tomkins, Taylor, Noble, Nolan, Downing, Jarvis (Diame 66), C.Cole (Carroll 29). Unused subs: Jaaskelainen, Armero, J.Cole, Nocerino.
Bookings: Tomkins (30), Baines (90+1).
Referee: Jon Moss