Is there anything that can match the elation of turning a game on its head and winning it in the last 10 minutes? Add in a first away victory for Roberto Martinez, two audacious, sublime, Sheedy-esque free kicks by Leighton Baines, a debut goal for Romelu Lukaku, and Everton sitting pretty as the only team left unbeaten in the Premier League, and you have a pretty fantastic day to be an Evertonian.
Having put a fairly pedestrian first-half performance behind them – Martinez apparently let his players know in no uncertain terms that their display in the first 45 minutes fell well below expectations – the Blues were looking a decent bet to complete a come-from-behind victory after Baines had swept a brilliant free kick past Jussi Jaaskelainen to make it 1-1 with just over an hour played.
But then James McCarthy, a half-time replacement for Steven Naismith, tripped Kevin Nolan in the Everton box, Mark Noble buried the resulting penalty and it felt like another post-scalp let-down was on the cards after last weekend's morale-boosting win over Chelsea.
Few could have anticipated the drama that was to follow once the clock had ticked past the 80-minute mark, though, as first Baines and then Lukaku flipped the tables on the Hammers and catapulted the Blues into fifth place in the table for the time being.
It's hard to understate how transformed Everton were as an attacking force after the interval. As expected Martinez had rewarded the team that started against Chelsea and, in particular, the Nikica Jelavic-Niaismith combination that had combined for the winning goal last Saturday with an unchanged starting XI but for long periods the first half was reminiscent of the goalless draws against West Brom and Cardiff. The Blues had plenty of attractive possession but were crafting very little in the final third.
Kevin Mirallas had the one genuine effort on goal in the 6th minute when he cut in from the right and whipped in an excellent shot that Jaaskelainen did well to parry away but otherwise, for all their effort, Everton had little to show for their superiority.
Sam Allardyce's West Ham hadn't scored in their previous three games and they needed a huge slice of fortune to break that sequence midway through the half when Ravel Morrison's shot took a wicked deflection off Sylvain Distin and past the helpless Tim Howard to make it 1-0.
Importantly, Martinez responded boldly and decisively at half time, replacing Jelavić with Lukaku and Naismith with McCarthy and the Blues immediately looked a different prospect. With his first meaningful contribution, the Belgian striker had played in his international teammate, Mirallas, who took the ball past the 'keeper on the edge of the area but, unfortunately, was forced too far wide and his under-hit centre gave Ross Barkley too much to do.
The new line-up had barely got into its stride, though, when Leon Osman pulled up with what looked to be a thigh injury just five minutes into the second half and he was forced off, to be replaced by Bryan Oviedo. The Costa Rican tucked into the left flank ahead of Baines and Mirallas swapped to the right where is often more effective.
The equaliser would come but only after the Hammers had survived an impressive, sustained spell of pressure from the visitors on the hour mark. Lukaku started it with a terrific ball to Barkley but, not for the first time since his barnstorming strike against Norwich on the opening day, the teenager elected not to shoot from 20 yards when the goal opened up in front of him. Everton kept the ball and the move ended with Baines pinging a cross agonisingly above Mirallas' leap and out to the far side.
Barkley was at the centre of the action a minute later, though, when James Collins scythed him down in full flight just outside the penalty area. It was ideal Baines territory – you just never know with Mirallas standing over the ball as well – and, right on cue, he swept a brilliant free kick beyond Jaaskelainen's hands and into top left corner of the goal. 1-1 and you sensed that West Ham's resistance had been broken.
Though a Baines cross almost surprised Jaaskelainen at his near post when it flicked off a defender and the Finn parried it behind for a corner, the Hammers weren't without their moments. Mohamed Diame headed a decent chance wide from a corner while some worryingly poor distribution at times from Jagielka was going unpunished.
Everton were firmly in control by the time ticked on to the 70-minute mark with an astonishing 70% of the possession but potential disaster struck when Jagielka tried to shepherd the ball over the byline but was robbed by Mladen Petric. He fed the ball back to Nolan who surged into the area, neatly turned inside McCarthy who couldn't avoid catching his trailing leg and referee Lee Mason had little choice but to point to the spot. Noble did the rest and Allardyce must have been anticipating a first win since the opening day of the season.
Noble went from Hammers hero to villain 10 minutes later, though, when, in an almost carbon copy of the incident that led to Everton's first goal, the midfielder chopped down Barkley as he sped into space outside the area setting up another direct free kick opportunity for Baines. Having been booked for pulling Mirallas back earlier in the half, Noble was shown a second yellow card and was ordered off for an early bath.
To be honest, you half expected Mirallas to take his opportunity at this point but with all the impudence and precision of Kevin Sheedy in his prime, Baines picked his spot with a curling effort that bounced off the right-hand post and into the net to send the army of traveling Blues into rapture to the right of the goal. Jaaskelainen, rooted to the spot, could only watch.
Two minutes later and, incredibly, Everton were in front for the first time in the game. Mirallas did brilliantly to engineer space for a cross from the right, one that picked out Lukaku who met with his head and steered it past the keeper. Unfortunately, he made contact with O'Brien's head as well leaving both players prone on the turf and Lukaku, especially, in an unconscious heap. He would remark after the game that he'd had to be informed by the club's medic that he had scored the goal so it was somewhat surprising to see him not only return to the field to see out the remainder of the match but to also twice go close to killing the game off in injury time: once when he rampaged through and just hesitated too long allowing Winston Reid to close him down as he bore down on goal; and then when Mirallas ended a quick counter-attack in acres of space in the area but he couldn't find the striker with a square pass.
Seven minutes of injury time should have been a nail-biting nightmare as the Hammers chased the game but with Everton's ability to keep hold of the ball these days, they passed largely without incident at their end. Mirallas exhibited some delightful footwork as he danced along the touchline teasing defenders down by the corner flag and Seámus Coleman followed suit, winding the clock down to a magnificent result, one that could prove just as important as last week's over Chelsea in terms of the team's self-belief.
While it's still too early to get carried away, there was so much to admire and from which to draw real optimism, firstly, in the way that Martinez responded to a lethargic first-half display and, secondly, in how dangerous the Blues looked with Lukaku on the field. So much more than a physical presence, the Belgian showed a deftness of touch, an awareness of his teammates' position and, crucially, the ability to play them in with the right kind of pass, that make him an all-round threat in the way that, sadly, Jelavić is not. Then of course, there is his aerial prowess displayed so effectively with the winning goal.
It's fair to say that without him, Everton wouldn't have won this game and without Baines' breath-taking dead-ball ability from 25 yards they wouldn't have been in a position to. He was a pest to West Ham in the second half with his movement and passing interchanges in the final third but he struck them two devastating blows with two efforts on goal, neither of which Jaaskelainen had a prayer of stopping.
Praise should also be reserved for the more unsung heroes of a valuable away victory, not least Gareth Barry who pulled strings in midfield and broke up a couple of dangerous moments with his own awareness and tigerish determination to protect the back four. Sylvain Distin and Seámus Coleman also stood tall when required at the back as Jagielka occasionally slipped from his normally high standards. Osman was quietly effective in midfield before he went off, McCarthy was energetic and competent, but clumsy in giving away the penalty, while Oviedo provided pace down the left flank to give the home defence one more thing to worry about.
The important thing now for Martinez is to ensure that the momentum is carried through to the midweek League Cup game at Fulham and then to the Newcastle game under the Goodison lights at the end of the month. Both opponents will be reeling from poor results and, hopefully, will be ripe for the taking. Two wins from those matches to close out the month would really strengthen the belief that the Blues could really be a force this season under the new man.
An unchanged side began the game, and soon looked stale in terms of ideas, made worse by a simple deflection that allowed Morrison's shot to get past Howard. Martinez rightly rang the changes at half-time, Lukaku and McCarthy making a huge difference but the Blues had to wait for a Baines special to equalize brilliantly on the hour. But dominance was insufficient for the lead which swung back to West Ham when McCarthy gave away a penalty. Then up stepped Baines again after Noble was dismissed (fouling Barkley from behind for his second yellow) to curl another brilliant free-kick in the other side of the West Ham goal. More great work from Mirallas set up Lukaku for a powerful winning header that made him an instant (if wounded) hero in a fantastic result for Roberto Martinez.
Despite Darron Gibson and Arouna Koné supposedly being declared fit, neither even make the bench, where Romelu Lukaku is eligible to make his debut, as Roberto Martinez sticks with an unchanged line-up from the side that started in the win against Chelsea. Steven Pienaar and Antolin Alcaraz are out injured, while Gibson and Koné do not make the bench.
The contrast in styles was clear from the off with plenty of hoofballs from Big Sam's side while Everton built steadily with their patient passing game... neither initially looking particularly effective against two teams classed as 'hard to beat' until Barkley picked out Mirallas who cut inside and took a decent shot that forced an early save from Jaaskelainen.
Jarvis sprinted rather easily past Jagielka and it needed an amazingly fast run from Distin to dispossess him before he pulled the trigger. Everton looked a little at odds defending the corner through a number of scrappy phases. West Ham thankfully squandered a couple of free-kicks while pushing Everton back with their high pressing game.
Neat passing across the back was all well and god, but the lack of cohesion moving the ball forward was increasingly obvious, while West Ham's more direct approach was winning set pieces that put the Blues defence under pressure. Barkley did try a clever jink forward to Jelavić but it did not come off. A midfield free-kick won by Mirallas was wastefully scooped over the attack to Jaaskelainen.
Then a simple shot deflected from Morrison past a hapless Howard and a goal to West Ham.
Barkley appeared to be on a break but he showed too much of the ball to O'Brien, then Morrison got the first card for a challenge on Naismith. Barkley then got himself booked for the fourth time this season, for stumbling into his opponent a a largely ineffective Everton side trooped off at the break with a massive hill to climb.
Martinez acted at half-time, hauling off the ex-Rangers pair to be replaced by Romelu Lukaku and James McCarthy. And it was a thousand times better form Everton as the big Belgian looked to make an instant impact, playing a great ball forward for Mirallas, who took it wide and his return ball was poor. His strength in the tussle was immense, which could not quite be said for Osman, who was bundled over... and then came off with a groin injury. Oviedo replaced him on 52 mins.
Barkley finally felt he was positioned well enough to shoot but it was an awful attempt. Lee Mason was blowing up for every contact that ended in a tumble, but none that didn't much to the annoyance of Mirallas who was clearly barged off the ball.
Some ferocious attacking developed from Everton with juicy attacking moves threatening the West Ham goal, but Barkley was still seeking the perfect shot, he did draw a foul from Collins and the free-kick looked perfect for a strike on goal... and that's just exactly what Leighton Baines did, curling it inch perfect, high over the wall, just beyond Jaaskelainen and high into the net.
But, with Everton dominant, McCarthy's first real contribution was to clip Petric in the Everton area and Noble slotted home with ease and all the good work for nought.
As Barkley strode forward, Noble cut him down from behind and Mason had no option but to show him a second yellow. Baines then nonchalantly curled his free-kick the other side of Jaaskelainen's goal, smacking in off the post this time as the keeper stared at it bounced in behind him, and the Everton fans behind him went bananas.
Then some great work from Mirallas set up Lukaku for a powerful header that he drove hone despite some afters from O'Brein that floored the new Everton hero on his debut for a good 5 minutes, getting attention for a smack on the head.
With 7 added minutes, Lukaku looked to score again but allowed Reid to steal the ball off his toe as he readied to shoot.
Everton kept pressing all the way to the final whistle, and registered a tremendous win in the end that looked a long long way off before half time. Excellent decision-making in the end by Martinez, to make up for placing too much faith in his poorer players (Jelavić and Naismith), given much stringer forces on the bench.
With fresh impetus provided by the impressive victory over Chelsea, Everton head south for the first of two games in London, starting with a Premier League clash with West Ham United at Upton Park. The Blues won in the League for the first time under Roberto Martinez last Saturday thanks to Steven Naismith's first-half header and now the Spaniard goes in search of a first victory away from Goodison Park after two away draws so far.
Darron Gibson makes the trip after finally being passed fit following a knee injury that has sidelined him for the past seven weeks, though with his manager admitting earlier this week that he is short on match fitness, it's unlikely he will start. That honour will likely go to Gareth Barry who made an excellent debut last week, and given that Leon Osman had arguably his best game of the campaign so far, James McCarthy might have to settle for a place on the bench again.
Steven Pienaar is rated as 50-50 but will almost certainly not be risked, giving Naismith another chance to impress alongside the impressive Ross Barkley and the mercurial Kevin Mirallas in the more attacking midfield roles.
No changes are expected in the back five — all of Howard, Coleman, Distin, Jagielka and Baines are fit and in fine form — which leaves the one selection question around which there is so much anticipation among Evertonians; namely who starts up front now that Romelu Lukaku is eligible.
Nikica Jelavić has yet to score this season but Martinez was careful to single him out for his contributions to the team in his pre-match press conference, not least his superb assist for the goal that beat Chelsea. It would not be surprising to see the Croatian start against the Hammers, with Lukaku likely to get a run-out off the bench in the second half and then be handed his first start against Fulham in the League Cup next week. Arouna Koné is fit but lacking match sharpness and would be a surprise inclusion in the starting XI.
West Ham come into this one lying a point and a place behind Everton in the table, having won one, drawn two and lost their last home game, 1-0 against Stoke City. Sam Allardyce claims that he has got Martinez's side figured out and that he can nullify their threat down the flanks but the Blues will have their tails up after beating highly-fancied Chelsea and will be looking to re-establish their dominance in possession.
In view of heightened expectations after last weekend, how Everton go about their business in this game and the end result will say a lot about the team's prospects this season. Certainly, if they are to be a force to be reckoned with in the chase for Europe, victory against a team they would expect to beat, even away from home, is a requirement.
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|2013-14 Reports Index|
|Everton fans' reports|
|WEST HAM (4-5-1)|
|Nolan (80' Taylor)|
|Jarvis (72' Vaz Te)|
|Miaga (63' Petric)|
|Subs not used|
|15||West Ham United||5|
|15||West Bromwich Albion||5|