Everton 2 - 0 West Ham Utd
After what feels like an eternity, it was great to be back at Goodison Park for a fixture which is, strangely I admit, one of the games I look forward to the most on the football calendar. For some reason, I find that the visit of West Ham United is accompanied by quite a fervent atmosphere and this seasons duel certainly didn't disappoint in what was a rather exciting game at Goodison Park.
With Gaz unable to make it, I took on the mantle of designated driver. We bumped into another mate, Stu, outside The Brick and, in good time for kick off, rested there for a while before heading on to the neatly adorned Goodison Park. The giant posters of Dixie Dean, Graeme Sharp and Joe Royle look splendid along the Main Stand on Goodison Road and really gives the stadium a much needed facelift. You wonder why it wasn't done sooner, though I suppose every penny has been required elsewhere until recently.
We were all a bit surprised by the team news, with some happier with it than others. Maarten Stekelenburg's injury allowed a first opportunity for Joel Robles under Ronald Koeman, and Phil Jagielka was dropped, presumably due to his howler of a display at Turf Moor last weekend. The rest remained unchanged and with Arouna Kone, Enner Valencia and Oumar Niasse all absent for different reasons, it was good to see Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the squad. Anthony Taylor officiated. This is the fourth time in recent memory he has refereed a fixture between Everton and West Ham United, and he has shown three red cards in this fixture, two of which were ridiculous, so I do wonder how he keeps getting picked for this one.
We attacked the Park End in the first half; the crowd raising the roof in tribute to Hoard Kendall on the fourth minute aside, there was little to shout about for Everton in the opening exchanges and indeed West Ham United really should have taken the lead when Pedro Obiang skied a great chance way over the crossbar. Everton retaliated with a lovely curling effort from Gareth Barry which just cleared Adrian's goal.
This seemed to work as something of a catalyst to spur Everton forward a,s from then on, we were much improved, coming close to netting a goal a few times but none closer than when Ross Barkley masterfully jinked past his marker having been teed up by Bryan Oviedo. His goalbound effort then deflected towards Adrian who still had to react smartly to keep the ball out. After a slow start, this was much better from Everton and you felt encouraged heading into half-time.
At the break, there was a filming on the pitch of a TV drama which is in the making called Little Boy Blue, about the tragic story of Rhys Jones. It is heartbreaking what happened to that kid and you couldn't help but reflect a little on the poor lad and his family. That was a real sad time back in 2007.
Back to matters on the pitch, and Everton continued their verve into the second half and it didn't take long before we had our noses in front with, who else, but Romelu Lukaku nodding in after Yannick Bolasie did brilliantly to hook the ball back into his path from the by-line. This was after Adrian had fumbled a pretty routine left-footed drive from Seamus Coleman. That was Romalu Lukaku's ninth successive game in which he has scored against West Ham United and they must be frankly sick of the sight of him!
Though nervy at times we were resolute in the second half and did well to stand firm from a series of corners. We were however dangerous on the counter attack and this is how we sealed the game when two of our most impressive performers on the day combined to hammer the death nail for West Ham United. Firstly Ross Barkley played the ball over to Romalu Lukaku in a wide position. Barkley made his run into the box and Lukaku returned the pass beautifully into Barkley's path. Ross made no mistake, finishing low past Adrian. The crowd, delighted for Barkley, erupted. He's had his stick, but he'd had a good game and deserved his goal, and didn't he enjoy it. "Yes, Ross!" I yelled. That's the Barkley we know and love.
We could have added gloss to the scoreline but it wasn't to be. Adrian saved, or rather was hit, by the ball from a Lukaku drive late on (that would have been some goal by the way); and, inexplicably Anthony Taylor failed to give a penalty for a clear foul on Idrissa Gueye but it couldn't spoil our afternoon.
The day belonged to Everton. A day which was doubtless enjoyed by Howard Kendall and Rhys Jones looking down on us from above.
Joel Robles: I'm not his biggest fan but he did well, his save in the second half which hew slapped around the post a particular highlight. 7
Oviedo: Another I'm not a huge fan of as he hasn't quite been the same since his horrific injury a few years ago but you have to credit him for his defensive improvement this season. 7
Funes Mori: Another I don't really rate but he coped well throughout. 7
Williams: Made the odd error but he kept things pretty organised at the back. 7
Coleman: He had a good game did Seamus and was constantly attacking down the right flank. Did well defensively also. His best game for a while. 8
Barry: The odd stray pass aside, he did superbly well and kept us ticking along. 8
Gueye: Lost possession a couple of times in probably his worst display for us yet. Picked up a harsh yellow card also and will now miss next weekends daunting visit to Stamford Bridge. 6
Bolasie: Did superbly with our first goal but he was pretty average otherwise really. 5
Mirallas: Not his most productive game but he was full of effort. 6
Barkley: Great to see Ross with his mojo back. His best game for a long time, perhaps the best part of the year. He worked hard in the middle, was creative with his passing and scored a lovely goal. Let's hope he can keep that form going. Excellent Ross. Well done. 8
Lukaku: He is unplayable when he's in that mood, it's just a shame we don't see it often enough. He was on fire and West Ham couldn't live with him. Perhaps the only surprise is that he didn't score more than just the one goal. My man of the match. 9
Tom Cleverley (for Kevin Mirallas): Got involved and did OK. Will be needed next weekend, we may see more of him then. 6
Phil Jagielka (for Yannkck Bolasie): Filled a few holes at the back. 6
Aaron Lennon (for Ross Barkley): Marauded forward on the counter attack in the short time he was on the field. 6
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