For all their progress under David Moyes, Everton have not been so well placed at this stage of a season for more than three decades and a couple of points dropped away from home is unlikely to dampen the enthusiasm generated by Roberto Martinez. Yet, given that a win last night could have knocked Liverpool out of the Premier League’s top four just in time for next week’s Merseyside derby, this result was undoubtedly a setback.
Everton were well in control in the first half, when Kevin Mirallas provided a lead just before the break that had been threatened more than once, but their wings were clipped in the second half in what became a solid start for Martinez’s compatriot, Pepe Mel, in his first game in charge at The Hawthorns following his appointment as head coach earlier this month.
Mel’s changes of personnel and tactical approach in the second half produced an equaliser that Albion’s resilience merited when Diego Lugano, the Uruguayan defender, headed home his first goal for the club.
Mel had promised that the Albion side looked after so well by Keith Downing since Steve Clarke was sacked would bear his mark from the start and made four changes from the starting XI he watched from the stands at Southampton 10 days ago, although two of those were enforced following the sale of Shane Long to Hull City and an injury to Gareth McAuley.
The significant presence was that of Nicolas Anelka, whose appearance had been in some doubt, it seemed, before shirt sponsor Zoopla pre-empted any row over his inclusion by announcing it would not renew the deal anyway. Given Long’s departure, and doubts over the fitness of Victor Anichebe and Stéphane Sessègnon, both of whom began on the bench, Mel had few options among his strikers, in any event.
The home crowd applauded Anelka’s name, aware perhaps that they might not see him for a while if the FA decides the quenelle gesture that upset Zoopla warrants a lengthy ban, and were equally warm towards Romelu Lukaku, who scored 17 goals for them on loan from Chelsea last season, even though he turned down the chance of another season at The Hawthorns to further his education with Everton.
In McAuley’s absence, it was down to Jonas Olsson to limit Lukaku’s effectiveness as the front-runner in the Everton line-up, although it was the mobility behind him of Mirallas and Bryan Oviedo that had Albion under pressure from the opening exchanges.
In Pictures: West Brom v Everton
In Pictures: West Brom v Everton
1/7 West Brom v Everton
Romelu Lukaku attempts an overhead kick
2/7 West Brom v Everton
New West Brom manager Pepe Mel shares a joke with Everton forward Romelu Lukaku after the match
3/7 West Brom v Everton
West Brom keeper Ben Foster is beaten by a shot from Gareth Barry of Everton; the goal, however, was not given
4/7 West Brom v Everton
West Bromwich Albion's Irish defender Steven Reid falls to the ground as he challenges Everton's Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku
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West Bromwich Albion players celebrate scoring the equalising goal during their match against Everton
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Nicolas Anelka, centre, eyes the ball
7/7 West Brom v Everton
West Bromwich Albion's Nicolas Anelka controls the ball
Twice in the first 12 minutes, Oviedo was inches away from giving Everton the lead, first with an angled right-foot volley that zipped across Ben Foster’s goal, then with a left-foot shot, slightly scuffed, that crept just past the opposite post after he had neatly cut inside his marker.
Albion responded well enough. Anelka, whose precision pass to Matej Vydra on the left had created their first opening for James Morrison, then delivered a dipping shot of his own that did not miss by much.
What Albion could not do, for all that they broke quickly and stretched Everton, was mount any sustained pressure. And Everton, as might be expected on a run of six wins in nine Premier League matches, had no intention of sitting back. James McCarthy tested Foster’s handling, then Mirallas fizzed a shot wide before giving the Merseysiders the lead after 41 minutes.
Lukaku played a key part, winning a header to flick the ball on for his fellow Belgian, whose pace was too much for Diego Lugano and his finish too smart for Foster.
It was a fifth goal of the season for Mirallas, whom Martinez believes is only now reaching his peak at Goodison Park, 18 months after his arrival from Olympiakos. He works well off Lukaku, who has found goals hard to come by over the last few weeks but whose physical strength is a key element in Everton’s method under Martinez.
Given Albion’s poor points return and the slim likelihood of a mid-table position ever feeling comfortable for any of the teams not chasing Europe, Mel does not have the luxury of time as he tries to improve Albion’s prospects. There were some promising signs here, though, in his new team’s movement and organisation, that he can provoke a rapid response.
He replaced Vydra with Anichebe at half-time, and then took off Zoltan Gera in order to restore Youssouf Mulumbu to central midfield, and the second half was notable for fewer Everton chances. Albion might have had an equaliser but for Phil Jagielka’s late intervention to deny Anichebe on the end of a bobbling Anelka cross.
It was encouragement enough for the home side, who had Everton on the back foot for the first time in the match and were worthy of the levelling goal that came in the 75th minute when Lugano, still in a forward position after Everton had repelled a corner but surrendered possession again, arrived at the near post to head home James Morrison’s cross after a good lay-off by Anichebe.
Sylvain Distin almost spoiled Mel’s night with the last action of the match in stoppage time, but after forcing the ball across the line from a free-kick he turned to see the flag correctly raised for offside.
WBA: Foster, Reid, Lugano, Olsson, Ridegwell, Yacob, Gera, Morrison, Brunt, Anelka, Vydra
Everton: Howard, Baines, Distin, Jagielka, Coleman, Oviedo, Barry, Osman, McCarthy, Mirallas, Lukaku
Goals. West Bromwich Albion: Lugano 75. Everton: Mirallas 41.
Substitutes: West Brom Anichebe (Vydra, ht); Mulumbu (Gera, 60); Berahino (Anelka, 76).
Everton Stones (Coleman, 79); McGeady (Oviedo, 80); Naismith (Osman, 89)
Booked: West Brom Yacob, Morrison, Ridgewell
Everton Barry, Mirallas.
Possession: WBA 50% Everton 50%
Man of the match Morrison. Rating 7/10
Referee: M Oliver (Northumberland)