EVERTON 1 (Lukaku 81) – WEST HAM UNITED 0
When Roberto Martinez selected this team he had the FA Cup-tie at the Emirates next Saturday in the front of his mind. His priorities probably included giving Deulofeu, now fully recovered, and a goal-scorer against the Gunners back in December, as much game-time as possible to get him nicely tuned up and to rest Barkley and Mirallas, both potential game changers but both players whose cutting-edge can be dulled by overuse and both of whom might well play for their countries in mid-week. Lukaku, was apparently suffering from a chest infection, so to give him just thirty minutes, and for him to instantly find his goal-scoring touch, was a bonus. To have achieved this and to win against an obdurate and defensively sound West Ham – unbeaten in their previous five games – will have pleased Martinez.
Phil Jagielka was missing with a recurrence of his hamstring troubles and was replaced by John Stones who was simply excellent in everything he did. He continues, game on game, to improve and mature. We must assume though that the failure of Antolin Alcaraz, even to make the bench, means he is again injured.
While many of his team-mates are away on international duty this week Gareth Barry will be ploughing a lonely-ish furrow at Finch Farm. His consistency and quality in the heart of Everton’s midfield this season has, it seems, left Roy Hodgson unimpressed and unmoved. He is though the man Martinez counts on to keep Everton moving. His passing has been phenomenal; in this game he made 83 passes with 90.4% accuracy and generally kept things neat and tidy. Not only that, he won all 8 of his aerial duals and 10 out of 11 challenges. He uses his solid physique to shield the ball and has good positional awareness, which gives him the control and time to pick out the right pass. Still England’s loss is Everton’s gain, he’ll be rested and ready for Arsenal.
So far 2014 has seen Everton mugged at White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge. Six points gone, six points that would have sustained the top-4 challenge. The cause – simply the lack of a second top-class striker. It certainly wasn’t a lack of midfield bite, or possession, or chances created, or defensive frailty, as was neatly demonstrated by the manner of this win, it was quite simply the lack of adequate back-up to Romelu Lukaku.
Post-match Martinez claimed Lukaku’s ankle knock, suffered against Liverpool, might prove a blessing in disguise. With studied understatement he said “It’s good to have Romelu back — we’ve missed him because he is a very influential player, it is important to have him back at this stage of the season.” Just so long as he doesn’t get injured again Roberto.
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Howard; Coleman, Stones, Distin, Baines; McCarthy, Barry; Pienaar, Osman© (Lukaku 57), Deulofeu (McGeady 73); Naismith (Barkley 85)
Unused subs: Robles, Hibbert, Mirallas, Browning
WEST HAM (4-4-1-1): Adrian; McCartney, Collins, Tomkins, Taylor; Noble, Jarvis (Diame 66), Demel (Reid 74), Downing; Nolan©; Carlton Cole (Carroll 29)
Unused subs: Jaaskelainen, Armero, Joe Cole, Nocerino
Referee: Jon Moss