West Ham United v Everton
Everton stretched their impressive away form to eight games unbeaten with a hard-fought point at West Ham United.
The 1-1 draw means the Blues have not been beaten on the road since a 1-0 reverse at Aston Villa back in August – their longest unbeaten sequence away from Goodison Park since 1985.
The draw also means they have only tasted defeat on their travels four times in the calendar year, thus equalling a Club record set in 1969 and equalled in 1996.
Yet it could have been even better for David Moyes’ side had either of two late chances – one for Tim Cahill and one for Marouane Fellaini – found the target.
As it was they had to come from behind to grab a share of the points as Seamus Coleman confidently finished off a swaggering Blues move just before half time.
Earlier the unfortunate Tony Hibbert had sliced the ball past his own keeper following some unconvincing Blues defending at a corner.
Reflections on whether it was ‘a point gained’ can wait until the end of the season but there was no shortage of effort on display at the Boleyn Ground.
Yet in the end, despite some bright play and some decent goalscoring opportunities, a point from a largely scrappy game against a team fighting desperately for Premier League survival was a probably a fair return.
Everton could have been ahead as early as the eighth minute had it not perhaps been centre-half Sylvain Distin on the end of Fellaini’s cute through ball.
After skulking at the back stick following a corner, a poor first touch and a hacked finish were scant reward for the vision the Belgian had shown in unlocking the home defence.
That was the only chance of a lacklustre opening period and when the breakthrough goal arrived it did so with little warning.
James Tomkins was given a free header from a corner and, after Tim Howard had palmed away his header, Radoslav Kovac hooked the ball hopefully back towards goal.
Hibbert hung out a leg and the ball span into the net. Not the prettiest of goals and one which will look ugly when the tape is watched back again at Finch Farm.
The visitors sprung forward in search off an instant reply and the Hammers were reeling for a spell as the Blues forced a couple of corners in quick succession.
There should have been a third but referee Howard Webb missed an obvious deflection on Distin’s rising shot.
And when play got back down the other end Victor Obinna skinned the returning Mikel Arteta and crashed a vicious shot against the top of Howard’s near post.
So as the game neared the interval one solitary attempt on target had been enough to give the struggling hosts a slender lead.
But with just three minutes of the first half remaining, the Blues showed some genuine quality to stylishly wipe that stat out.
Steven Pienaar provided a trademark burst into the pocket between midfield and the forward line and fed the advancing Arteta with a sly reverse pass. The Spaniard found Cahill spinning out wide and the Aussie crossed deep for Seamus Coleman to finish emphatically at the back post.
It was the best move of the match and conspicuous in a lively encounter not lacking in endeavour but starved of such quality.
The Blues started the second half with a calmness about their work and, after Pienaar had curled a peach of an effort inches past the junction of post and bar, the Hammers called for benched England striker Carlton Cole.
And five minutes later it was the Blues making a striking change as Yakubu replaced Jack Rodwell, with the Nigerian partnering Cahill up front.
Despite the attacking reinforcements the game seemed to have lost it’s impetus as it lurched towards the final 20 minutes.
And when one of the new faces did step into the limelight fortunately for the Blues he was unable to make his mark as Cole feebly scuffed an excellent chance across the face of goal.
Hitting the target hasn’t been a problem for Cahill and he did so again with 10 minutes remaining. This time, however, the Aussie’s shot was straight at the keeper.
And two minutes later the visitors saw their final chance to snatch all three points slip by as Rob Green again thwarted the Toffees, this time beating away Fellaini’s powerful header.