Everton 2 - 0 West Ham United
Romelu Lukaku scored against West Ham for the ninth game in succession as Everton won for the first time since 17th September.
Everton consolidated their place in the top six and kept the top four within sight with a hard-earned but deserved victory over West Ham, their first for six weeks.
Romelu Lukaku notched his ninth goal in as many games in all competitions against the Hammers since joining the Toffees on loan in 2013 before he served up the killer second for Ross Barkley as the superiority of Ronald Koeman's side told in the second half.
What looked to have been a fairly comfortable victory based on the scoreline had proved to be anything but in the first half as the improving Hammers had arrived on Merseyside looking to build on three successive wins in the League and EFL Cup. It was a shame for those who used the ultimate betting guide for sports online, sportsbettingsitez.co.uk, expecting the Hammers to snatch a fourth victory but they came up against very different proposition in Koeman's outfit.
An Everton team featuring three changes from the one that had started against Burnley eight days previously — among them was captain Phil Jagielka who paid the price for two very poor performances with a place on the substitutes' bench — had begun the contest in less than encouraging fashion, with West Ham on the front foot for the first quarter of the match.
Koeman's side began by pressing from the front as instructed but if the visitors got past Lukaku, Barkley and Yannick Bolasie, they often found space in which to work in the space between them and Gareth Barry and Idrissa Gueye, their cause helped by the fact that the usually reliable Senegalese midfielder had a remarkably below-par and profligate first 45 minutes.
Michail Antonio, playing as striker, turned Dmitri Payet's tempting early cross narrowly over, Pedro Obiyang skied over after being played in smartly by the enterprising Frenchman before Joel Robles, in for the injured Maarten Stekelenburg, got enough on the ball to divert a shot from Payet himself behind after the home defence had been sliced open again.
And Payet was inevitably involved again when he scooped a pass between Coleman and Gueye to release Manuel Lanzini in the box who easily side-stepped Ramiro Funes Mori but lashed a great chance across the face of goal with 20 minutes gone.
Apart from an early opening when Adrian kicked straight to Kevin Mirallas but he couldn't find Lukaku in the middle, the Blues barely threatened Slaven Bilic's defence in the opening quarter of an hour. A rapid break-away in the 16th minute almost yielded the opening goal against the run of play though. Lukaku's cut-back fell to Barry as Winston Reid slipped on the greasy turf and he moved it on to Bolasie but his drilled effort was blocked by Mark Noble's arm and Barry curled the rebound just over the bar.
10 minutes later, after Barkley had played Lukaku in and the Belgian's shot was deflected behind, the Blues went even closer, forcing a world-class save from Adrian. Bryan Oviedo's cross had picked Barkley out nicely about eight yards from goal where the No 8 feinted to his right and fired from a central position but the ‘keeper somehow managed to readjust to his deflected effort and make a one-handed save.
Adrian was on hand again 10 minutes after that to bat away Mirallas's cross as it swung towards his crossbar, with Everton heading into the break now looking the more likely of the two sides to break deadlock.
So it proved within five minutes of the restart. After Lukaku had been unable to gather a heavy infield ball from Oviedo, Reid despatched a weak defensive clearance straight to Barkley. His pass met Coleman's run on the outside where the Irishman drilled a near-post shot that Adrian could only parry and Bolasie showed remarkable speed and desire to burst past two claret shirts, swing the ball on the stretch back into the goalmouth where Lukaku had the simple task of heading into the vacant net.
After another quick Everton move ended with Barkley curling over the crossbar from the edge of the box six minutes later, West Ham began to re-assert themselves in an effort to find the equaliser. Oviedo clumsily tripped Antonio — the England man was a handful for the Blues' defence all afternoon — but Payet's attempt to drive a free kick under the wall failed.
Ashley Williams had an awful lapse where he allowed Antonio to get away from him down the Hammers' left flank but Robles came to the rescue. Substitute Andre Ayew was denied a clear goalscoring opportunity by a superb covering block by Oviedo. And Noble attempted an impressive curling effort that looked destined to sneak inside the far post until Robles beat it away two-handed and at full stretch to keep West Ham at bay.
That paved the way for Barkley to effectively kill the game at the end of another nicely-worked move between himself and Lukaku. The former turned neatly away from Lanzini before sending the latter away down the right channel to the byline where the Belgian checked, occupied Angelo Ogbonna with a body feint as Barkley made up the ground to get into the box and meet Lukaku's chipped centre with a controlled left-foot finish inside the post.
With a two-goal cushion, Koeman had the luxury of bringing on first Phil Jagielka and then Aaron Lennon in the last 10 minutes or so and while West Ham huffed and puffed, they were largely contained by the this point. Instead it was Lukaku whose first time shot off Tom Cleverley's cross almost ended a brilliant move two minutes before time before the roles were reversed and Cleverley was slipped in by the striker but Adrian had covered the angle and blocked the ball behind.
Everton probably should have had the opportunity to round things off as the game ticked towards the final minute of stoppage time when one more defence-splitting one-two allowed Gueye to spring the offside trap but though Ogbonna clearly impeded the Blues' midfielder, referee Anthony Taylor waved away appeals for a penalty.
A minute later, the official called time on an excellent result for the home side, earned on the back of an increasingly strong performance that was worthy of all three points in the final reckoning. Apart from Lukaku's consistent scoring record, most pleasing for Koeman, no doubt, will be the offensive production of Barkley and Bolasie who weighed in with assists while the former finally scored his second Premier League goal of the season.
An important game in the context of Everton keeping up with the leading pack and maintaining morale heading into the most difficult month of the campaign so far was successfully won, setting the team up nicely for the trip to Stamford Bridge next weekend.
Full coverage: ToffeeWeb match page
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