Saturday at Goodison Park was a tale of two clubs entering new eras. The Olympic Stadium awaits for West Ham United and, on the evidence of their remarkable 3-2 comeback victory, European football also. For Everton, too, a supposed new beginning beckons following Iranian-British billionaire Farhad Moshiri’s £175m investment in the club, though for an exasperated home crowd the prevailing sentiment was a wearying sense of déjà vu.
Not since 2000 had West Ham won a top-flight match after falling two goals behind but they were facing Roberto Martinez’s Everton, the opposite of a good team who can play badly yet still win. They play well – very well at times in this game – but still find a way to ruin their good work. Three times this season they have thrown away two-goal leads – in 3-3 draws at Bournemouth and Chelsea, and now against West Ham when, despite Kevin Mirallas’s early red card, they held a deserved 2-0 lead and would have had a third goal but for Romelu Lukaku’s failure from the penalty spot. Their collapse brought a seventh defeat in 15 home league matches.
“With the seven defeats we can analyse every single one and, apart from Manchester United, in every one we performed in an incredible manner and deserved a lot more,” said Martinez.
What is really incredible is that Everton have conceded more goals at home than bottom club Aston Villa.
According to West Ham’s manager, Slaven Bilic, “on paper their team is one of the best in England”, yet Everton are on course for a second successive bottom-half finish and how Moshiri, the new majority shareholder, views Martinez’s performance with the squad at his disposal will be intriguing to see.
“Fortunately, I have got seven years of experience in this league and I know what it takes,” said Martinez when asked if he felt any added pressure. He did not help his cause by removing the impressive Aaron Lennon and sending on an inexperienced striker, Oumar Niasse, when defending a lead with 10 men – the latest illustration of why his game-management is being increasingly questioned by Goodison regulars.
Bilic’s substitutions, by contrast, helped win the game: Diafra Sakho scored and then joined fellow substitute Andy Carroll in setting up Dimitri Payet’s 90th-minute winner. It was West Ham’s first Goodison success since 2005 and a huge boost to their hopes of a first top-five finish this century. Yet whatever follows for a team now just three points behind third-placed Arsenal, Bilic believes the shifting Premier League landscape means they can continue to dream beyond this roller-coaster campaign, thanks not only to their stadium move but also to the impact of the new TV deal on so-called smaller clubs.
He said: “If Man City buy [Karim] Benzema, they have [Sergio] Aguero already, so there is no big gap for them to improve. But with the money, clubs like us – or Crystal Palace, West Brom, Leicester – can still improve. West Brom two years ago maybe could afford [Salomon] Rondon, but they would have had to sell [Saido] Berahino to get him. These teams have a bigger [opportunity] to improve.”
It is in the face of this newly democratic division that executives from the league’s self-styled “big five” met representatives of US billionaire Stephen Ross last week. Bilic, for one, is happy with things as they are. “I think this is a permanent shift at the top,” he said. “At least I hope it is!”Reuse content