On a day that two legendary strikers were on the minds of the Everton faithful, it was fitting that the winning goal of the game came from the boot of the only man on the Blues roster who can live up to the goalscorer moniker. The day marked the 34th anniversary of Dixie Dean's passing, and Duncan Ferguson took his place beside Roberto Martinez on the home side's bench, but it took a 20-year old Romelu Lukaku to step up with the winner late in the game.
West Ham United had been on a streak of their own, unbeaten in five games with four wins on the trot. Everton for their part had won only once in five, with three losses. While Steven Naismith had deputized and even been effective in spot duty, the home side had only three goals to their name in their last five Premier League games, a run that has seen them fall eleven points out of fourth and virtually out of the running for the last Champions League place.
Lukaku saw his return from an ankle injury extended due to a chest infection. Naismith started again with Leon Osman playing behind him. Barcelona loanee Gerard Deulofeu made a rare start in place of Kevin Mirallas on the right wing. In fact, it was the Spaniard that made the most of his opportunity in the first half, constantly running at the Hammers defence without really being menacing. Time and again he failed to beat the first man on a dribble, and when he finally got clear, shot narrowly wide. Naismith had two headers off target too before testing goalie Adrian at the near post. 'Big' Sam Allardyce's side came to Goodison Park ready to defend, and defend they did as the possession statistics were skewed obtusely towards Everton - at times the number was over 80% for the home side.
Big Sam had already taken off Carlton Cole for Andy Carroll less than half an hour into the game after being displeased by his play. Whatever he said at halftime to his side worked as the Hammers attempted to venture forward more. Carroll's finishing however was awful and tested Tim Howard just once with a shot straight at him. The away side defended stubbornly, clearing their box whenever Everton did get behind the backline. The Hammers defending has resulted in thirteen clean sheets this season, and lead the League in that statistic.
The crowd had been restless since the first half, and as the minutes ticked on in the second half, a change was desperately needed. Lukaku came on for Osman at the hour mark, with Naismith dropping back behind him. Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar have sporadically rekindled their telepathic chemistry this season, and really came into their own again yesterday. The South African could have had a hat-trick with fortune, shooting wide and then hitting the post as well.
Even after Lukaku came on, the Hammers pair of James' were rarely disturbed while Guy Demel and George McCartney were effective against the Everton wings. Aiden McGeady came on for Deulofeu while Big Sam replaced Demel with veteran defender Winston Reid. And it was then that Everton finally struck.
In the seconds while Reid got into position, Pienaar and Baines combined for the leftback to send a ball across for Lukaku to sidefoot home from just about the penalty spot. What was really remarkable about Baines getting the ball to the Belgian forward as at that point West Ham had all eleven players behind the 18-yard line.
With just under ten minutes to go, Everton looked the more likely side to score as the Hammers pushed forward without any real intent. A couple of late setpieces were negotiated with Toffee hearts in mouths before the referee blew for time and Goodison sighed in relief. There are eleven games left in the Premier League season but Everton's game of the year is coming up at the Emirates next weekend when they take on Arsenal in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup.