Everton boosted their hopes for European football with a 1-0 win at the London Stadium, in turn puncturing a hole in West Ham’s ambitions of joining the continent’s elite via the most honourable route.
David Moyes’s side remain in the hunt for the Champions League, but the opportunity to profit from Leicester City’s 4-2 defeat to Newcastle United on Friday was scuppered by a Dominic Calvert-Lewin strike midway through the first half. They remain five points adrift of fourth spot, still in possession of the Europa League placing in fifth, though have played a game more and are one point ahead of sixth-place Liverpool.
Everton also have a game in hand but defeat here would have ended any realistic hopes of a top-six finish given how reliant it would have been on other results. Nevertheless, Calvert-Lewin’s 16th goal of the season – joint-third most for an Everton striker in the Premier League era – keeps them on track for a successful campaign.
It was by no means a convincing performance, and you could argue West Ham were the better side in a pretty low quality affair that only served to highlight how tired the players are as a grueling season reaches its conclusion. A beautiful Sunday afternoon in east London was not quite matched by the football on show, certainly not at the start of the first half. Both teams felt each other out in what were relatively unfamiliar circumstances what with West Ham, Champions League aggressors, the more dominant to the two.
But while that manifested itself in terms of possession - West Ham had 68.8 per cent of it – it was Everton who used it more effectively. Though it was hard to discern how much of that was their doing. Certainly, the eye test had the hosts as the more intricate and engaging. Everton, though, did not have to be too expansive to create better chances.
Calvert-Lewin’s opener was Carlo Ancelotti’s side first shot on target, owing to movement in front and then behind his marker. That Craig Dawson, not exactly the sprightliest centre back, was the opponent in question meant the movement had to be smart though not perfect. Ben Godfrey’s weighted pass to find his striker through on goal was certainly both for a touch and side-foot finish that did not require a break of stride.
Lukas Fabianski, powerless to stop the opener, kept out Gylfi Sigurdsson’s 25-yard free kick four minutes later. A third save of the first-half came when a simple long ball and flick on from Calvert-Lewin presented Richarlison with an opportunity on his left foot, which he fired at Fabianksi before following up his own rebound. The Polish international won that second duel, too.
And yet, despite the fact West Ham did not register a shot on target, they should have been certainly been level and arguably ahead by the time it arrived.
On 39 minutes, Said Benrahma was presented with a perfect opportunity to break his scoring duck in the Premier League when Pablo Fornals found him unmarked at the back post with an inch-perfect cross from the right. Alas, a diving header just over the far top corner made it 32 shots on target for the 25-year old without success.
The second was the best of the lot, emerging from the sharpest move put together by claret and blue shirts. Fornals was again the provider, this time from central midfield after Manuel Lanzini went off injured near the end of the first half.
Sharp work on the left gave the Spaniard room to carry the ball on and play a tight one-two with Michael Antonio on the edge of the box. A clever pass to his right found Vladmir Coufal arriving at that perfect juncture of late and on time to side-foot towards the far corner. Jordan Pickford’s right hand was evaded, but the bounce off the post, ricocheting into Jarrod Bowen – Lanzini’s replacement – who was unable to sort his feet out in mid-air. Pickford gladly collected the scraps.
As the game wore on and West Ham’s ambitions for three points settled for just trying to nick one, slickness was compromised for a little more directness, though probably not enough to wear Everton down with wave upon wave. As a result, the visitors were able to fashion opportunities in transitions that should have guaranteed them the win.
A two-on-one counter led by Calvert-Lewin seemed to have lost its fizz before the forward found Seamus Coleman darting behind from deep. But for Jesse Lingard matching the Irishman’s run to block the eventual shot, Everton would have doubled their lead.
They certainly should have done six minutes from time when Calvert-Lewin was forced wide on a one-on-one chance and turned to clip a perfect cross to the far post, where second-half substitute Josh King rose to head off the post.
The misery of the final whistle was compounded by the losses of Lanzini and Aaron Cresswell to injury. Though Declan Rice and Angelo Ogbonna are working their way back into competition – Ogbonna made the bench for this fixture – a small squad is being stretched at a time when all hands are needed on deck.
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