Romelu Lukaku scored a total of 87 Everton goals in his four years at the club. A number of them were matchwinners. But while the Manchester United forward’s maiden Blues goal was one, it was just one of many intriguing details in a topsy-turvy match best remembered for some Leighton Baines magic.
West Ham was far from a formidable foe for Everton. Of their last 30 meetings, the Blues had won 17 to the Hammers’ four. Sam Allardyce had not enjoyed a good start to the season, and Roberto Martinez’s side were fresh off the back of victory over Chelsea, so all signs were good for the visitors to Upton Park. Goals were expected to be at a premium for Everton’s sunny September Saturday sojourn in East London; the two sides had scored a total of five goals in the Premier League all season, having played four games apiece. The Toffees opened the season with an infuriating 2-2 draw at Norwich, but two 0-0 stalemates with West Brom and Cardiff followed, before Steven Naismith put Chelsea to the sword. West Ham’s 2-0 opening day victory over the Bluebirds was followed by three successive blanks, with two ending in a draw. It was to everyone’s surprise, then, that the two sides would double their collective tally in just 90 minutes.
New signing Lukaku, who West Ham had pursued that summer, was left on the bench by Martinez, with the centre forward role entrusted to Nikica Jelavic. The Croatian was unable to register a single shot on Jussi Jaaskelainen’s goal in the first half, but Mirallas tested the West Ham stopper’s reflexes with a well-struck effort. Just over half an hour in, it was the home side who broke the deadlock. Matty Jarvis cut inside and found Ravel Morrison, whose weak effort struck Phil Jagielka on the chest and wrong-footed Tim Howard. The packed away end was suitably unimpressed by Everton’s profligacy, and so was Martinez. Jelavic and Naismith, who had combined to topple Chelsea, were brought off. James McCarthy, another deadline day signing, joined Lukaku on the field.
There was a blow early in the second half, as Bryan Oviedo was drafted in to replace the injured Leon Osman, but all signs looked positive for the dominant Blues, who were keeping West Ham camped in their own half. Mirallas stretched to reach a low Baines cross but couldn’t quite get there. Ross Barkley was proving a real thorn in West Ham’s side, and a bursting run was ended crudely by James Collins. Baines stepped up to the free-kick, 30 yards out, lined it up, and curled a delicious effort to Jaaskelainen’s right. It was exactly the moment of magic Everton needed. Now all they needed to build upon the equaliser was even more pressure, and the winner would come.
Naturally, it was West Ham who scored next. Substitute Mladen Petric kept the ball in play ahead of Jagielka and teed up Kevin Nolan, before Sam Allardyce’s long-term right hand man went down softly under McCarthy’s challenge. Mark Noble stepped up to take the penalty and slotted it into the bottom right-hand corner, Howard flinging himself in the opposite direction. All of a sudden, Everton needed someone to get them out of trouble.
Noble certainly helped the cause. Minutes after scoring, the midfielder fouled Barkley and took a second yellow card. The away side had another free-kick in Baines territory. Surely, he couldn’t score again.
He could. And sorry for calling you Shirley. This time Baines went to Jaaskelainen’s left, the big Fin powerless to stop the perfectly placed free-kick sailing into the inside of the post on its way to the back of the net. Conceding one free-kick is enough, but a perplexed Allardyce watched on as Baines ensured every goal his side had conceded so far that season was via the set piece.
Luckily for him, Lukaku would then end that unusual run. The dreadlocked Belgian shrugged off a series of challenges before laying the ball off to compatriot Mirallas, who twisted and turned before sending in a blind cross. Lukaku was on hand to finish off the move with a powerful header, before the classic ‘collapse on the floor and lie perfectly still’ celebration. Or, more aptly, Lukaku was clattered by Joey O’Brien while planting the winning goal past Jaaskelainen. It was a memorable moment for everyone watching on but not for the striker, whose first words after recovering from the blow was to ask Seamus Coleman who had just scored.
Lukaku had become the first Everton player since Alan Ball in 1966 to score the winning goal in a game, but all the plaudits went to Baines’ Sheedy-esque display. “We are all well aware of the quality he has but where Leighton takes it to the next step is that he’s capable of doing it twice against a world-class keeper with experience like Jussi Jaaskelainen. That’s what makes him special. He’s unique. He just places the ball wherever he wants to” said Roberto Martinez. Yes, he did call Jaaskelainen “world-class”. Yes, we really should’ve seen what was coming.
It was just about the perfect weekend for Everton. Liverpool’s defeat at home to Southampton meant that Martinez’s Blues were the only unbeaten side left in the Premier League. That run would continue for another couple of weeks before defeat to eventual champions Manchester City, the only side able to win against Everton in the league before Christmas Day. And while Lukaku’s contribution provided plenty of cheer, it was Leighton Baines’ left foot that made the West Ham win one to remember.