GIVING THANKS: Romelu Lukaku
ROMELU LUKAKU made two telling contributions to ensure that Everton returned to Merseyside with three points.
In the second half the Belgian delivered the cross for Leon Osman’s equaliser before claiming the winner himself as the Toffees leapfrogged West Ham into tenth place. If this is to be Sam Allardyce’s Upton Park swansong it will be an unsatisfactory conclusion to an upwardly mobile spell at the club.
Roberto Martinez’s side shaded this contest but it was only with Stewart Downing’s opening goal on 62 minutes that this tepid contest in the east London sunshine came to life.
In the first half Everton were the more enterprising, their midfield of Ross Barkley and Leon Osman attempting to call the shots, with Séamus Coleman and Aaron Lennon offering marauding support down the right.
James Collins left the field injured after 14 minutes to leave the hosts with a largely untried central defensive pairing of Winston Reid, who was making his return from an injury, and 19-year-old substitute Reece Burke. It added another to Sam Allardyce’s already extensive list of injury woes.
Yet as in much of the Merseysiders’ campaign they were not as slick as necessary. Lukaku spurned the best chance of the first half when he dropped deep, won possession in midfield and charged onto Lennon’s pass, but could only unleash a wayward shot that flew harmlessly over. He was to redeem himself.
West Ham largely matched their visitors in midfield but too often ran into Gareth Barry and James McCarthy in their attempts to catch Everton cold.
Roberto Martinez’s side have been defensively exposed time and again this campaign but there would have been little fear when seeing Carlton Cole paired with Enner Valencia, a strike pairing of just eight goals this term.
West Ham captain Mark Noble dragged a shot wide following an impressive build-up but neither side reached a critical mass before the interval.
Home goalkeeper Adrian felt comfortable responding to the Bobby Moore Stand’s request for a wave during a break in play.
West Ham emerged from the interval with a greater sense of urgency. They had been knocking on the door, however tentatively, when Downing slotted home the opener.
In another forward foray Alex Song picked out the run of his team-mate, who had begun to make himself a persistent nuisance to Everton’s 19-year-old stand-in left-back Brendan Galloway.
The confident nature of his strike recalled his autumn swagger when West Ham were spoken of as top six contenders.
The elation was to last six minutes. Everton began to push men forward once again and soon had their reward. Lukaku had the ball wide on the right and although his cross fell marginally behind Osman the veteran managed to trap it before hooking a shot beyond Adrian.
The game opened up after that with the visitors finishing the stronger. As before Everton delivered a ball from the right but this time it was Lukaku who jumped to head substitute Aiden McGeady’s cross home.
It was harsh on Burke, who did not get tight enough to the Everton man, but better for the teenager to learn from his errors in an end of season match with little riding on the result.