A must-win game in early March may have been an unpalatable prospect at the start of the season for West Ham but such has been their irrepressible form that it's Europe and not a possible exit from the Premiership that consumes them at present.
Yesterday, it consumed their manager, Alan Pardew, a little too much and he was moved to say sorry for an obscene gesture aimed in frustration at Phil Neville as Everton threatened to win. "It was an emotional moment," said Pardew who was angered by the midfielder's easy tumble under a challenge. "And I apologised to him for that."
Presumably his players were equally sheepish after fading badly and only avoiding defeat because of a brilliant and brave headed clearance by Danny Gabbidon as substitute Simon Davies prepared to bundle the ball over the line. It would not have been undeserved if Everton had won. "We got out of jail," admitted Pardew who saw a sequence of five successive Premiership wins come to a halt.
For a slew of his players there was also the disappointment of not performing well under the gaze of England coach Sven Goran Eriksson. Paul Konchesky, in particular, failed to press his case at left-back although Pardew argued that striker Dean Ashton was "unbelievable".
That tag fitted a little bit more comfortably with Mikel Arteta who ran the midfield as Everton's resurgence continued. Manager David Moyes said that their improvement may have come a little late for another tilt at Europe - after last season's fourth place - but they are a different side from that which struggled so much before Christmas. "Three points would have been more of a reflection on our performance than one," he added.
Everton started as if they would gain them, with wave after wave of attack. Unfortunately that came crashing back against them as West Ham broke, with the direct running of Yossi Benayoun. The Israeli exchanged passes and suddenly released Marlon Harewood who turned on the area's edge and calmly beat Sander Westerveld with a low shot for his 14th Premiership goal of the season.
To their credit Everton immediately quickened the pace with a strong diagonal run by Arteta who laid the ball off to Leon Osman. His first-time drive from 14 yards was still rising as it flew into the West Ham net. Back came the home side with Harewood hooking the ball over his shoulder and into Ashton's path. The £7m England Under-21 international ran on and struck an unerring left-footed shot from the angle. It was the most confident of executions.
And all this inside the first half-hour. "I thought we were going to have to score a barrow-load to win," said Moyes, reflecting on how open the game had become. Harewood failed to connect with Anton Ferdinand's knock-down and then volleyed a Matthew Etherington centre back across the six-yard area. For Everton, Alan Stubbs wasted a free header and Lionel Scaloni diverted James McFadden's goal-bound effort.
By now Everton were in the ascendancy. "We are a good side but I feel we lost our way," said Pardew. Everton found theirs even if their equalising goal was a result of woeful defending. Scaloni and Ferdinand missed Nuno Valente's cross and then Gabbidon blocked it, only to present the ball to James Beattie who nimbly half-volleyed it over Shaka Hislop. Then came Gabbidon's redeeming clearance as Everton finished strongly. Pardew will hope that the way his team lost their way is not an omen for the coming months.Reuse content