Everton v West Bromwich Albion
Two goals from Leighton Baines helped Everton avenge September’s reverse at the Hawthorns as the Blues beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1 under the lights at Goodison Park.
Left-back Baines’ double was enough to secure all three points but Shane Long’s goal, minutes after he had come on as a substitute, meant it was a nervy finish to a game that at half-time looked like Everton were firmly in control of.
Baines’s first, following a neat one-two with the Kevin Mirallas, was an unstoppable shot from 20 yards that had Ben Foster well beaten, while his second came from the spot following Claudio Yacob’s challenge on Victor Anichebe.
But John Heitinga’s hesitancy in dealing with a Romelu Lukaku shot allowed Long to nip in and head a goal that, while ensuring nerves began to fray, was thankfully nothing more than a consolation.
David Moyes made a solitary change to the side that won at Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup, with match-winner Johnny Heitinga rewarded with a starting berth at the expense of Nikica Jelavic.
It meant Nigerian frontman Anichebe was given the task of leading the line with Kevin Mirallas, who had shaken off a knock, providing the support.
Marouane Fellaini joined skipper Phil Neville in midfield, with Leon Osman on the right.
Despite Everton starting at a blistering pace, closing their opponents down at every turn, it was the Baggies that carved the first half-chance in the opening exchanges.
Jerome Thomas escaped down the left and his cross found Romelu Lukaku but the Belgian’s header lacked power and accuracy.
His countryman Mirallas then fired wide as the Blues responded with a salvo of their own.
Everton were within a whisker of opening the scoring in bizarre circumstances minutes later. Anichebe did well to wriggle free but as Billy Jones came across to tackle, the ball richochted up and over Ben Foster but narrowly wide of the target.
The Blues though were growing into the contest; another flowing move saw Fellaini jink past his marker and arrow a rising shot that smacked the outside of the post.
A goal was coming and it was Baines who got it. Exchanging passes with Mirallas, he allowed the ball to run and, when no Albion challenge came, the left-back rifled the ball powerfully past a helpless Foster from the edge of the box.
It lifted Everton, and their attacking verve began to prove too hot to handle for the Albion defence, however an enforced lull in the game minutes before half-time saw Baggies midfielder George Thorne leave the pitch on a stretcher after an innocuous-looking tackle involving Osman and Anichebe. On came the Argentine Yacob to replace him.
The change added three minutes on to the first half and in that time, Everton doubled their lead. Baines played the ball into Fellaini, his clever flick released Anichebe and Yacob’s first involvement in the game was to bundle over the striker for a penalty.
Up stepped Baines to drive the ball low into the bottom right-hand corner to put the Blues into a convincing lead going into the break.
Seconds after the break, Lukaku reminded the hosts that there was still life in Albion yet, blasting over following a swift counter by Thomas.
But their efforts to find a way back into the contest were thwarted by a wall of Blue shirts. As such, Everton began to regain the upper hand. Foster was at his best to palm away Mirallas’ vicious shot, then comfortably dealt with Steven Pienaar’s driven effort.
Baggies boss Steve Clarke introduced striker Long to partner Lukaku, and the latter saw a shot blocked by Heitinga.
But the change reaped dividends minutes later as, when Lukaku rounded Howard and managed to get a shot away, some uncertainty from Heitinga allowed Long to nod in and give the visitors a lifeline.
Moyes responded, introducing Darron Gibson for Mirallas, but it was Albion in the ascendancy, and they came within a few inches of levelling. Neville’s foul on Yacob handed Dorrans a chance from range and his well-struck effort thundered off the crossbar.
Back came Everton and Osman was halted by a brave sprawling save from Foster from close range, then his clever footwork freed him from a clutch of West Brom players but his shot was always rising. Jagielka then Fellaini followed suit with equal result.
South African schemer Pienaar, however, finally found his range. When Baines was bundled to the floor to the left of the area, he tried an audacious curler that had Foster stretching to tip it over.
Everton were presented a glorious opportunity to make the game safe with 10 minutes to go. Pienaar had two bites at a chance, hitting the post with the second, but when the ball fell to Osman seven yards out and with Foster grounded, he could only fire over, much to the audible disbelief of the crowd.
Off went Anichebe, who had worked his socks off to great effect for 83 minutes, to be replaced by Jelavic, as Moyes went in search of a way to maintain the hosts’ slim advantage.
And that they did, ensuring their second win of the week and three vital points ahead of Aston Villa on Saturday.