Everton 1 West Ham United 1
Saturday, 22nd March 2008
by Graeme Howlett
Teenage striker Fred Sears was the width of a post away from being a Hammers hero for the second Saturday in succession at Goodison Park this afternoon.The 18-year-old, thrust into the game five minutes into the second half raced through in the final minute of the match with just goalkeeper Tim Howard to beat in order to emulate his match-winning antics against Blackburn last weekend.
The youngster kept his cool and picked his spot - but could do nothing but watch as his deft flick agonisingly rebounded against the post and away to safety to preserve a point for the home side that had looked under threat for much of the second half.
Alan Curbishley's team may have taken all three points home from the likes of Middlesbrough and Fulham this season but make no mistake, this was an away performance which was far more impressive than either of those.
Despite going a goal down early doors the Hammers were more than good value for their point, and but for some impressive work by Howard in between the Everton sticks could have taken all three home from Goodison Park for the second time in three seasons.
Even more pleasing was that Curbishley's side ended the game with no less than four Academy products on the field; Anton Ferdinand, Mark Noble, the aforementioned Sears and debutant James Tomkins who, despite a ricket for Everton's goal, gave an assured performance.
Like Sears, Tomkins could have marked his debut with a goal - but his fifth minute header from a Mark Noble corner cannoned off the crossbar with Howard flailing. Three minutes later the young centre-half was given a harsh reminder of the difference between reserve and Premier League level when he was outfoxed by the experienced Yakubu who left him for dead before smashing the ball beyound Robert Green to give Everton an eighth minute lead.
For a brief moment it looked as if the Hammers were going to repeat their last two away results at Tottenham and Liverpool, but thankfully the referee's assistant ruled Yakubu's 15th minute strike out for offside - despite the burly striker being clearly onside AND played through by a Hammers defender.
However as the half went on Curbishley's side became more assured and Dean Ashton should have levelled the scores on 32 minutes when he fired wide from eight yards after a mix-up in the Everton defence left him with just Howard to beat.
At the other end Rob Green has to be at his best four minutes ahead of the break when a superb reflex save denied Victor Anichebe a second Everton goal, whilst Ashton almost pulled the Hammers level three minutes later when his free kick took a wicked delection from Joleon Lescott forcing a great save from Tim Howard.
The break seemed to give the home side a much-needed rest for it was they who started the second half stronger. Alan Curbishley, oft-criticised for dilly-dallying over his substitutions reacted immediately and just five minutes into the half introduced Fred Sears for the yet-again disappointing Luis Boa Morte, back in the side after suspension.
The substitution seemed to give the Hammers a much-needed lift as Sears set about the Everton defence in much the same way as he tormented Blackburn's at The Boleyn last weekened.
Despite the (considerable) size and weight difference the youngster put himself about and was a constant nuisance to the experienced Lescott and Phil Jagielka, Everton's stand-in centre-half.
It is often said that a 'little and large' partnership works best up front; Sears and Ashton (who is gradually returning to his best) lent weight (no pun intended) to that particular theory as they combined superbly to stretch the Everton defence time after time.
It was a Sears flick that set Ashton up for a 20 yard drive on the hour mark, whilst Ashton returned the complement twice later in the game (including the aforementioned opportunity that could have won the game).
But Sears was - like much of the Everton defence - a bystander when Ashton scored United's deserved equaliser on 67 minutes. Lucas Neill, who was also having his best game for some time sent in a wonderful cross which Ashton latched onto to send an unstoppable header beyond Tim Howard.
Ashton has suffered his fair share of injury problems this season (who hasn't!?) but with his second in two games is once again becoming a real attacking force - great news for Curbishley who is still struggling to find two fit senior strikers week in, week out.
Everton - who had beaten the Hammers in both previous meetings this season - are still fighting thier bitter rivals from across Stanley Park for the fourth Champions League spot, and that much was apparent as they opened up as the game wore on in search of a winner. This worked to West Ham's considerable advantage and time after time they caught Everton on the break.
That's not to say that the home didn't have their chances; Rob Green had to be at his very best to deny Yakubu and Baines late on. But it was the Hammers who went closest to snatching all three points in the closing minutes - firstly through Mark Noble, whose fierce drive fizzed inches over the crossbar in the 89th minute and then through Sears who was the width of a post away from making it two goals in two games.
Disaapointed though they may be at the final result given their late chances the Hammers can be justly proud of their efforts today. This result, and last week's win over Blackburn were the perfect antidote to the horror run that immediately preceeded them.
With a particularly nasty run of fixtures behind them United can now look forward to three games against teams in or around the relegation slots (Sunderland, Bolton and Derby).
Meanwhile the likes of Fred Sears, James Tomkins and Jack Collison can no doubt look forward to many more minutes on the pitch.
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Player RatingsRobert Green
An excellent performance, two superb saves that kept the Hammers in the game.
One of his best performances for some time, the cross for Ashton's goal was superb (and clearly something worked on in training).
Some solid defensive work and a couple of good bursts down the line.
Much better than in recent weeks, good concentration throughout.
An interesting debut, outfoxed for the goal by the wily Yakubu but otherwise faultless - and so close to scoring.
Worked hard to frustrate Everton sitting in front of the back four.
A typical Parker performance full of commitment and gusto.
Made good use of the flanks but still drifted inside too often.
A quiet(ish) first 45 but really came to life in the second half. So close to winning the game with the last minute strike.
Luis Boa Morte
Worked hard as always but failed to make an impression.
Little success as the lone striker but scored a superb goal and combined well with Sears after the break.
(replaced Boa Morte, 50) Looked lively again; so close to winning the game at the death.
(replaced Ljungberg, 80) Made little impression in his short time on the field.
(replaced Parker, 82) A long way to come for just eight minutes on the pitch.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, James Tomkins, Hayden Mullins, Scott Parker, Freddie Ljungberg, Mark Noble, Luis Boa Morte, Dean Ashton.
Goals: Dean Ashton 67 .
Sent off: None.
Everton: Howard, Neville, Jagielka, Lescott, Baines, Arteta, Carsley, Cahill, Osman, Yakubu, Anichebe.
Subs not used: Wessels, Hibbert, Gravesen, Nuno Valente.
Goals: Yakubu (8).
Booked: None booked..
Sent off: None.
Man of the Match: Dean Ashton.