Returning striker comes of the bench to end Hammers’ resistance
[quote]He can be as good as he wants. It’s clear you’re not going to find another striker around the world in terms of that power and strength and he is proving to be a very clinical finisher in front of goal.[/quote]
Everton 1-0 West Ham
West Ham manager Sam Alladyce must have feared the worst as Romelu Lukaku returned from injury at Goodison Park. In this seasons reverse fixture, the on loan striker came off the bench to swing a tight game in the Toffees favour. And it was a case of more-of-the-same as Lukaku grabbed a late Goodison winner to break the dogged resistance of Alladyce’s Hammers.
The much needed win moves Everton above Manchester United and back up to sixth in the Premier League. Perhaps just as importantly, Martinez’s charges will travel to the Emirates for next weeks crucial FA Cup quarter final clash with Arsenal with confidence reignited and a striker seemingly ready to take the final three months of the season by storm.
The story of the game, up until Lukaku replaced stand-in captain Leon Osman, was a familiar tale of Everton dominance without the Blues ever really looking like breaking the deadlock.
Typically, Everton dominated proceedings without being able to penetrate a West Ham side who, despite a run of four wins on the spin, came to Goodison Park not to lose.
With barely three minutes on the clock, Steven Naismith flashed a header wide of Adrian in the West Ham goal. It would be the Scottish international who would later test the Hammers keeper at his near post with Everton’s only attempt on target of the first half.
The Spanish enigma lit up what was becoming a predictable story of possession without a threat, with a couple of dazzling runs. The second of which saw Deulefeu slalom past three defenders before curling a left foot shot agonisingly wide of West Ham’s right hand post.
The second period began as the first – with Martinez’s men quickly coming out of the blocks – and as Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar combined down the left wing, the South African watched his daisy cutter come back off the far post with Adriano well beaten. Deulefeu could only scuff the rebound into the hands of the grateful keeper.
Everton were now getting more joy down the left hand side with Baines, who would be influential in Everton’s winner, regularly forcing Stewart Downing into an unfamiliar right back position. West Ham’s attacks were sporadic. With Tim Howard only being called into action on one occasion. Turning over a powerful Andy Carroll drive as the otherwise impeccable John Stones mis-controlled on the edge of the Everton penalty area.
The game was set up perfectly for the return of Romelu Lukaku as Martinez opted to replace Leon Osman and drop Naismith in behind the big Belgian.
The change payed immediate dividends and with a hungry and fired up Lukaku leading the line, Everton suddenly looked like a team with a focal point.
As the game entered the last ten minutes, Everton finally settled the Goodison nerves with a much deserved winner.
Lukaku loitered with intent on the edge of the Hammers’ box and after another marauding run into the penalty area by Leighton Baines, the on loan striker pounced on the left back’s pin point cross to finish with aplomb from 12 yards.
The return of Romelu Lukaku to an Everton side sorely missing a cutting edge, was not lost on Roberto Martinez. And the Everton boss is certain the 20 year old can have a huge impact on the Blues remaining fixtures through March, April and hopefully into late May.
“He can be as good as he wants,” said Martinez. “It’s clear you’re not going to find another striker around the world in terms of that power and strength and he is proving to be a very clinical finisher in front of goal.
“In terms of a thinker, he can bring instructions into play – he’s got everything.
“Some players at 20 have very few experiences but Romelu has already been an important player in Belgium, then he got a massive move to a Champions League-winning team and then he had to find a way to be effective in the Premier League and scoring goals.
“Then he has come to Everton and become a 90 minutes player in our league. He has the kind of experience that some players don’t get until they’re 25 years old.
“I’m very impressed with how he’s developed this season and I think we’re going to see a very influential player in these last 11 games.”
The Spaniard also believes the ankle injury and enforced absence of Lukaku may have been a blessing in disguise which has allowed the striker to recuperate and return to the team firing on all cylinders.
“It’s really important to get Romelu back for this stage of the season. You don’t want to lose players through injury but I think that break is what he needed.
“At 20 this is the first season that he’s started to play 90 minutes consistently, leading the line and taking responsibility for the team.
“Around January he was starting to feel a little bit tired and he was suffering through the demands of the league. Now he is fully refreshed and he is desperate to help the team and we’ll see the best from Romelu Lukaku between now and the end of the season.”
“Romelu had a bit of a chest infection and I knew that Romelu would be more effective finishing the game than starting the game.
“When you play against a West Ham side and they’ve got lots of bodies behind the ball in the last 10 minutes, they become harder minutes to defend than earlier on.
“Romelu with his freshness and power would be more effective for us to finish the game. I’m just glad Steven Naismith did a phenomenal job and the team are starting to get options which is good.”
After what was a disappointing February, Martinez will be banking on the big Belgian to reignite Everton’s season and their hunt for European football. If Romelu Lukaku can deliver the goods and fire the Blues towards a Wembley Fa Cup semi-final at the Emirates next Saturday, that will be as good a place to start as any.