Everton withstood a poor first half to get their first win under new boss Ronald Koeman, beating West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns on Saturday. The goals for the Blues came from Kevin Mirallas and Gareth Barry.
The game started very poorly for Everton. In the ninth minute, Gareth McAuley put the Baggies up 1-0 off of a corner kick. It was exactly what you don’t want to do against West Brom, give up a set piece goal and allow them to sit behind the ball for the remainder of the day.
McAuley’s goal was all kinds of ugly. On the corner kick, Everton keeper Maarten Stekelenburg tumbled to the ground while the ball was in mid-air. Then McAuley rose above Mirallas to hammer the ball home.
But Everton didn’t wilt. James McCarthy started the game on the right side of the field as a winger/wing back of sorts, but he wasn’t productive. In the 38th minute, he was removed in favor or Romelu Lukaku, allowing Gerard Deulofeu to move out wide. Rom didn’t play especially great, but he forced the WBA defense to pay attention to him, and that opened space for other attackers.
Just before half time, Mirallas knotted things up. Following some beautiful passing between Mirallas, Barkley and Barry, the Belgian slotted a shot past Ben Foster to give the Toffees momentum headed into the locker room.
The second half was very back and forth. West Brom had several really good chances, but Everton were the ones to find the back of the net. Off of a corner, the ball fell to Mason Holgate, who tried to volley it towards goal, but it was miss hit. No matter, Barry happened to be in the right place, near the far post, and headed it in to give Everton the lead and the win.
It may sound cliche, but this felt like the type of game that, a year ago, Everton would have lost. Instead, they showed a tenacity and a desire to impress. Mirallas’ motor was going 100 mph all game. The 18-year-old Holgate was impressive at the back. And Stekelenburg made two more huge saves to give Everton a chance to win.
In addition, both Bolasie and Williams got their debuts, and the butterflies that go along with that, out of the way. When it comes to Williams, it was only 10 minutes and he was fine; nothing great or bad. Bolasie got a half hour and did really well. He made one heck of a cross into Ross Barkley, who should have scored. And on another occasion set up Lukaku, but the striker kicked it right at the keeper.
Now, some negatives. The Blues still look dicey defending set pieces. OK, the Baggies are probably an above average team in terms of scoring off these opportunities, but it felt like every corner or free kick was so close to finding the net.
The need for another striker gets more and more glaring. Without Lukaku, the attack got pushed around. That’s understandable, but if Rom gets a knock at some point it feels like the team will struggle mightily to score.
McCarthy could be out of a job. He is not a wing player; that’s obvious. But the two starters at his natural position have been great. Barry, at 35 years old, was magnificent today and Idrissa Gueye was solid again. Will the Irish international be able to handle a back-up role?
While the opening 45 minutes were disappointing, on the whole this is a good victory. Three points are three points. On the road, against a nasty team like West Brom, that is even more vital. The beginning of the season, with it’s slate of games against lower half teams, needed to translate into points. So far, they have four points in two games, which you puts them right on track.
Next up, Everton host Yeovil Town in the League Cup on Tuesday. That should give Koeman a chance to feature some of the backups: Bryan Oviedo, Arouna Kone, Tom Davis, etc. Then, on Saturday, it’s back to the Premier League with a visit from Stoke City.