Toffees turn to talisman Lukaku

Everton 2 West Ham 1

The spotlight, inevitably, fell on Leon Osman, the 33-year-old midfielder who celebrated a 400th appearance for his only club by ensuring Everton’s pick-me-up victory — only their second in the Premier League at Goodison Park this season — against a team threatening to be fellow contenders for the top six.

The Toffees went in front with a 26th-minute strike from Romelu Lukaku and though Mauro Zarate equalised via a deflection off Phil Jagielka, midfielder Osman slid in to convert a low cross from Samuel Eto’o.

However, as well as the spirit of a team shorn by injury of several first choices, it was the performance of Romelu Lukaku that reassured Roberto Martinez, his manager, of the future well being of Everton’s tilt at the higher echelons.

It is fair to say that the Belgian striker has made a less than spectacular start to the season in the wake of his club record signing from Chelsea this summer on a five-year contract, and his struggle to match last season’s heroics had led to murmuring on Merseyside about the budget-stretching investment to prise him from Stamford Bridge and even the questioning of his commitment to the cause on the field of play.

The presence in the opposition line-up of Andy Carroll, at the centre of an ill-starred and eventually wretched £35 million move to Liverpool from Newcastle, for his first start of the season following an ankle ligament injury, served only as a reminder to those doubters present of how big moves can hit the buffers.

However, there was nothing half-hearted about the manner in which Lukaku smashed the opening goal past the helpless Adrian on 26 minutes, after Ross Barkley’s blocked shot fell kindly for him in an admittedly offside position. Moreover, the big striker’s appetite to add to only his fifth Premier League goal of the campaign got the better of him when he later pilfered the ball off Barkley’s toes as his team-mate shaped to shoot on the edge of the penalty area.

“Whatever money was spent, it was well spent. Nobody else in our squad can give us what he gives,” said Martinez, whose summer was made by the £28m deal after Lukaku’s loan last season brought 15 league goals. “He holds the ball and brings a lot of fear to the opposition; he’s got power, he’s got pace, he’s a clinical footballer. You don’t get that sort of player easily.

“He wasn’t fully fit at the start of the season. The World Cup took a lot out of him, and other players. The teams expected to challenge for the title, apart from Chelsea, have all had a slow start, and that is down to the individuals being at the World Cup. Rom cares so much that he wants to be on the pitch. There were at least three games I’ll admit he probably shouldn’t have been on the pitch because he was carrying knocks. But he wants to do it for the team. That is the measure of the man. He puts his body on the line and that is far more important than having a player who’ll only play when he’s 100% and performs in those times he chooses to play.”

Midfielder James McCarthy showed no signs of the hamstring injury which prompted Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane to question Everton’s handling of their players in the run up to international duty when he clattered into Morgan Amalfitano sparking full-on confrontations all over the pitch.

West Ham were rejuvenated by a fortuitous 56th-minute equaliser when lively sub Mauro Zarate’s shot looped off Phil Jagielka’s heel and over a helpless Tim Howard.

But Lukaku was at the heart of Everton’s winner too, leading a crucial breakaway on 73 minutes, sent cartwheeling by a desperate John Collins lunge. Referee Mark Clattenburg waved play on, choosing to book the West Ham defender only after substitute Eto’o crowned another tidy cameo with a low driven cross that was met by Osman.

Carroll, hurried back because of injuries, for his part showed signs of the aerial prowess that made him a Tyneside idol but, understandably, he lacked match sharpness. Sam Allardyce is prepared to be patient with Carroll.

“We didn’t want to play him for 90 minutes but with circumstances, unfortunately, it had to be that way,” Allardyce, beset by enforced absences, said. “We know he is going to get better. The way (Diafra) Sakho and (Enner) Valencia have played, they have put big pressure on Andy. The longer he plays, stays on the field, the more goals he will score.”

EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Howard 7; Coleman 7, Jagielka 6, Distin 7, Hibbert 5; McCarthy 7, Osman 8; Barkley 6 (Besic 80, 6), Naismith 7 (Atsu 89, 6), Mirallas 5 (Eto’o 66, 6); Lukaku 7.

WEST HAM (5-3-2): Adrian 7; Jenkinson 7, Tomkins 6, Collins 6, Reid 5, Cresswell 7; Amalfitano 7 (Vaz Te, 81), Nolan 6, Noble 6 (Jarvis 51, 6); Cole 5 (Zarate 51, 7), Carroll 6.

Referee: Mark Clattenburg.

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