A late strike by Tomas Soucek saw David Moyes gain his first win over his former club as the Blues struggled to find any quality against his well-marshalled defence, and missed the chance to go back to second in the table.
New Years Day footie at the Grand Old Lady saw former Blues boss David Moyes and his ‘appy ‘Ammers pitch up, sadly though, the imposition of Tier 3 Covid restrictions meant the 2,000 fans who were drawn out of the ballot to attend weren’t able to.
With the game against Manchester City having been postponed, Carlo Ancelotti and the players were afforded that extra bit of time to rest and prepare for the visit of West Ham. The manager was quick to admit the cancellation whilst disappointing was probably helpful when he said, “I think everyone is disappointed we didn’t play the game, I think also Manchester City were disappointed. Unfortunately, they had problems and the Premier League decided to postpone the game. We followed the decision and we move forward to the next game. The fact we didn’t play against City means we can have fresh legs against West Ham. The preparation has been good and I hope we are ready. In the last games, we have increased our consistency, above all, defensively. We know we can compete. We have improved our confidence and our belief. We are ready to be tested again against West Ham and it will be, as usual, a difficult game. Every game is a battle in the Premier League.”
Whilst Everton have managed to avoid falling foul of Covid themselves, injuries have hit the squad and the Don was happy to update on the rates of recovery saying, “Richarlison will be okay [for West Ham] and James is unavailable. For James we have to look day by day. Unfortunately he is not ready yet and I hope he will be ready for our next game on 9 January. Allan is doing individual treatment. I think he will be ready around the end of January. We have good news from Lucas Digne in that he has started individual sessions and, maybe in one week to 10 days, he will be able to train with the team.”
Having seen the Blues cruise to a Carabao Cup victory over the Irons earlier in the season, fans were hoping for more of the same as the boss selected his starting eleven: Pickford, Coleman (c) Mina, Holgate, Godfrey, Doucoure, Davies, Bernard, Sigurdsson, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin.
West Ham have been one of the surprise packages of this season having recovered from an indifferent start to sit middle of the table at the turn of the year, and coming into this NY Day fixture, Irons boss David Moyes had an almost fully fit squad to select from – only Arthur Masuaku the only confirmed absentee because of recent knee surgery.
Speaking on the eve of the game Moysey commented, “It’s never been an easy place for any team to go and win. I really enjoyed having that behind me when I was there. They’ve got an exciting team. Everton are now trying to compete right at the top end, so it’ll be a really tough game for us. I don’t know how often it’ll happen in the future that managers will get the chance will do eleven-and-a-half years at one club, but my club’s now West Ham. I’m going to Goodison to win for West Ham now. That’s my job and I’ll do everything I possibly can to do it.”
Clearly still harbouring fond memories of his time on Merseyside, he added, “I’ll never take away my memories from Everton. Probably my best were of the players during my time there: I had great players, great to work with, really good characters, and I enjoyed my time there very much.” And enjoying his second spell with West Ham he reflected further, “Probably the biggest pleasure has been seeing how the team has evolved. It’s really difficult to explain this, but we’ve got an atmosphere at the training ground now which I haven’t seen before. We’ve got players committed, determined, fighting for one another, and I want to improve on that, but the only way I can do that is by getting better results and better results and trying to play better.”
He originally named Fabianski in goal but, a warm-up injury meant a starting line-up of: Randolph, Coufal, Dawson, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Rice (c), Soucek, Fornals, Bowen, Benrahma and Haller.
Assigned the duties of whistle blowing and white line marking was referee Kevin Friend.
A steady opening to the game saw the Blues happy to pass the ball around, trying to work the opening and the first half chance came as Doucoure worked the ball to Bernard and on to Sigurdsson, his cross hitting a West Ham defender and Randolph quickly adjusting to gather the ball. West Ham countered with a cross from the left by Cresswell finding Bowen but, he couldn’t direct his header on target. Ogbonna with a headed clearance prevented a cross from Doucoure from reaching DCL as Everton began brightly, having the better of the opening ten minutes.
Dawson went down following a miskick and he needed treatment before leaving the field and then returning seemingly untroubled. Richarlison to Bernard and his early cross was deflected behind for the first corner of the game, Sigurdsson finding the head of DCL but, under pressure his effort was way off target.
Coufal won West Ham their first corner off Bernard at the midway point of the half, Haller unable to get on the end of the cross from Bowen. The game still had to settle into any recognised pattern, Everton were probing but, facing a well-disciplined defensive set up of the visitors.
On the half hour mark, West Ham got forward in numbers and Benrahma set up Cresswell for a shot that flashed across the face of goal with Jordan Pickford not at all happy with the marking that allowed the shot. Benrahma won the visitors a second corner off Holgate, Bowen again with the cross that was played deep and eventually went out for a third corner, this time from the left that presented no worries at all for the Blues defence.
Into the final five minutes of a half that had seen both sides nullify each other and without any real goal threat at either end, for Everton with a chance to go second in the table with a win, a much improved tempo was required. Bernard was caught by Fornals to win the Blues a free kick wide right and an ideal opportunity to deliver a quality ball into the area. Sigurdsson took it and played it far too strongly until Bernard recovered it to win a corner on the left. The corner was only cleared as far as Bernard to hit a decent shot that Randolph did well to push away for another corner, that came to nothing. Two added minutes were announced and played out before the sides retired for the interval.
Half Time: 0-0
Neither manager made changes for the start of the second half that saw Everton needing to inject pace, quality and width to stretch West Ham, Randolph coming off his line quickly to clear a chipped ball from Davies before Coleman could get to it. Bar that one half chance, the opening five minutes of the second half were just a continuation of the first 45 – all a bit disappointing from the standpoint of Evertonians willing their team to be more aggressive and assertive.
Coleman on a charge found Richarlison for a shot that Coufal blocked but generally the Blues approach play was too ponderous, and too easy for West Ham to stifle while they warmed up Antonio. A West Ham free kick saw Rice fed on the left for a dangerous ball that flashed across the face of the Everton goal and smuggled to safety.
Changes came 58 minutes as Antonio replaced Haller for West Ham. And a foul by Godfrey on Coufal saw the visitors awarded a free kick just to the right of the Everton area, Godfrey being booked for the challenge. Cresswell swung it in at pace and Pickford got a strong hand to turn the ball away to relative safety before West Ham came again and won a corner on the left, Pickford with an easy save from Fornals after Richarlison had headed the ball out of the area. The Blues worked the ball forward through Doucoure and Bernard for Coleman to get on the end of, Randolph with the low save. Bowen with a cross from the right saw Fornals head wide and that brought about a double change by Carlo Ancelotti saw James Rodriguez make his return replacing Bernard and Andre Gomes come on for Sigurdsson on 65 minutes.
Antonio dispossessed Coleman but couldn’t find a finish to overly trouble Pickford, the Blues replying with Richarlison, found by Rodriguez, earning a corner that Ogbonna headed clear. Another ball in from Rodriguez forced another corner off Dawson as the pace noticeably improved, Ogbonna again with the defensive header to avert any danger.
Richarlison drew a foul wide left from Bowen, Rodriguez with another chance to cross into the area but again, West Ham got it clear. Less than 18 minutes to play and David Moyes made a double change of attacking intent sending Lanzini and Yarmolenko on for Fornals and Bowen respectively.
With fifteen minutes to play, a goal was desperately needed to break the tedium of what had, to this point, been a very disappointing game. Doucoure worked the ball wide for Coleman to cross, Ogbonna again the defender in the right place. Tom Davies saw yellow for an ill-timed challenge on Antonio, the free kick from Rice epotomised the game – poor.
The Blues final change saw Cenk Tosun replace Calvert-Lewin on 79 minutes, the Turk without a goal for the Blues in the previous twelve months. Gomes to Richarlison saw him brought down by Soucek to the left of the area. Rodriguez unable to find a telling cross and the ball eventually going behind for a goal kick.
Incredibly, it was West Ham who got forward with purpose and on 86 minutes, Soucek was there to knock home a deflection off Yerry Mina on a shot from Cresswell.
Three added minutes were signalled and it was now or never for Everton to avoid a third home loss of the season. But it was a late charge by Antonio that nearly saw the lead doubled, an awkward challenge by Mina denying him as he worked his way into the box. And that was that, a very poor show from the Blues, the one first half shot from Bernard their only telling effort on target.