West Bromwich Albion 2 - 3 Everton
Much is expected of Romelu Lukaku. As the current Talisman of Everton FC, the striker is the club's record signing, focal point of Roberto Martinez's team and the main source of its goals. He's also still only 22 so he could be forgiven for feeling the burden of those expectations on his relatively young shoulders, although his own lofty standards and burgeoning self-belief mean that he bears them fairly comfortably.
Nevertheless, an inevitable consequence of his responsibilties and the Toffees' reliance on him is the criticism that comes when he isn't producing the goods, as was the case at Swansea nine days ago and at Reading in the Capital One Cup last Tuesday. Everton played another "Get Out of Jail Free" card at the Madjeski Stadium in coming back from a goal down to progress to the fourth round but had Lukaku put his chances away in South Wales, Martinez would have been toasting a second away League win of the campaign.
As it was, he had to wait a week or so and Lukaku delivered just when his manager and supporters needed him to. Everton don't do grandstand recoveries from 2-0 down. The Premier League era is littered with awful performances where the Blues have fallen two goals in arrears and not managed to stage a thrilling comeback... although, you could say that the importance of the one occasion prior to this evening when they did manage it – that Wimbledon game 21 years ago – probably made up for many of the others.
Tonight seemed to be heading the way of many of those other demoralising defeats when Craig Dawson took advantage of an unchallenged opportunity to head West Bromwich Albion into a 2-0 lead eight minutes into the second half at The Hawthorns. Coming after a calamitously conceded goal at the end of the first half, it threatened to be the nail in Everton's coffin on the night, the end of their unbeaten record away from home this season, a haunting reminder of that dreadful night in Stoke back in early March and, perhaps, a reality check for Evertonian hopes of another push for the top four.
Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu, and the Everton team as a whole had other ideas and in the ensuing 36 minutes they clawed their way back to party and then won the game in thrilling fashion when the Belgian gleefully rapped home from close range following another in a catalogue of excellent deliveries from the right by the Spanish winger. In doing so, they not only lifted the club up to fifth place but they perhaps delivered a defining moment in what we all hope will be a similarly uplifting season to Martinez's first year in charge.
Forced into at least one change from the side that drew at the Liberty Stadium following John Stones's absence through injury, the manager actually made two to that starting XI, handing Deulofeu his first Premier League start since returning to Goodison Park on a full-time basis this summer and Ramiro Funes Mori his full League debut in his more accustomed central defensive role to the left-back assignment with which he looked a little shaky against Reading.
Indeed, despite the Argentine rounding out a largely inexperienced back four, the Blues looked fairly solid for the first 40 minutes of a Monday-evening encounter that definitely took its time in warming up under the glare of Sky Sports' cameras. The hosts settled more quickly, without really troubling Tim Howard apart from a ninth-minute effort from James Morrisson that the American parried and safely gathered. The visitors meanwhile, struggled to get anything going – from raking passes and attempted short triangle inter-changes to tame set-pieces and a breakaway on the counter-attack that foundered as Ross Barkley's control let him down, nothing was working for Martinez's men in the early going.
They gradually established a grip on the contest as the first half wore on, though, and were the better side by the half-hour mark when Barkley had the first goal served to him on a silver platter by Deulofeu's teasing ball behind the West Brom defence. The 21-year-old froze, though, and instead of leathering it past the stranded keeper, he barely made any contact as the ball squirmed past him and out for a goal kick.
It was profligacy that, along with sloppy defending at the other end, would be punished by Tony Pulis's men four minutes before the break. Funes Mori had spent much of the half tentatively but wisely taking the safest passing option available to him – often, a pass backwards – but Howard's bowl out to him put him under immediate pressure and led him into a cul-de-sac by the touchline. A sliding tackle on him saw the ball break to Gareth Barry who gave it straight to Morrisson and within seconds he had set up Saido Berahino just inside the Everton box to fire home via Howard's out-stretched leg.
James McCarthy's low shot was bundled behind and Browning headed over from the resulting corner as Everton tried to find an equaliser just before the break, while Deulofeu flashed a tempting ball across the face of goal in stoppage time but there were no Blue jerseys gambling near the goal line.
Martinez no doubt told his troops in the dressing room at half time that they needed to score the next goal but the early chances all fell to West Brom, with James McClean lashing wildly over after a block by Jagielka had fallen to him just outside the area and Darren Fletcher missed with a stooping near the post that the Everton skipper prodded behind for a corner. From that dead ball, Barkley lost track of Dawson and he nodded the ball home to double the Baggies' lead and increase the size of the mountain facing the visitors.
Everton were back in it just a minute later, however. Having long since dispensed with trying to beat his man down the outside, Deulofeu whipped an early cross in from the right flank that Lukaku had anticipated by moving off his marker, James Chester, to allow him to climb meet the delivery and guide it past Boaz Myhill with what television replays suggest might have been his shoulder.
It was a moment that turned the tide in the Blues' favour, but it needed a decisive move from Martinez before the equaliser arrived after 20 minutes of stalemate that was punctuated by a deserved yellow card for James McCarthy from referee Robert Madley for a blatant dive in the West Brom box. The Catalan withdrew Browning and the industrious but largely ineffective Steven Naismith in favour of Darron Gibson and Arouna Kone and within three minutes, the Ivorian had doubled his goals tally for the season.
It was a crucial leveller arguably made possible by an intervention by Galloway who might on another night have picked up the man of the match gong for another age-defyingly impressive display. His lunging tackle took the ball away from Baggies striker Solomon Rondon as he set himself to shoot in front of Howard's goal which allowed the American to begin the passage of possession that would end with Lukaku driving purposefully infield from the right and springing the offside trap with a defence-splitting pass to Kone – perhaps a shade offside but it was a hairline decision – who couldn't miss.
A draw would have been a creditable and morale-boosting result ahead of the Goodison derby next Sunday but Deulofeu and Lukaku would combine one last time with six minutes of the regulation 90 to go to hand Everton all three points. Lukaku muscled in to meet one more early cross from a deep position on the right by the Spaniard on his chest and he was able to get to the rebound ahead of the 'keeper to bang it over the line before wheeling away in redemptive delight.
Pulis's retaliatory substitution almost ruined the party as neither Funes Mori nor Jagielka were able to get a toe on a low cross from the right but as Evertonian hearts leapt into their mouths, the ex-red fired wide with the goal gaping to let the Blues off the hook. That allowed them to see out the remaining minutes of stoppage time and claim three precious points, although they passed up a chance to put the icing on the cake when Deulofeu made a mess of a four-on-one counter-attack with a poor pass forward.
For teams aspiring to finish in the top five, six or better in the Premier League, these are the sorts of games they need to be winning. (Indeed, even amid Chelsea's rocky start to the defence of their title, their one away win to date came at the Hawthorns by the same 3-2 scoreline.) That Everton were able to do so and from such a dire predicament as the one in which they found themselves less than 10 minutes into the second half speaks volumes for the team's resolve and offers renewed hope that Martinez can oversee a similarly odds-defying campaign as 2013-14.
It's worth noting that the trip to this ground that season saw a newly-shorn Lukaku struggle and his Everton teammates battle to a lethargic 1-1 draw before being embarrassed at Anfield in the following game. This stirring fightback hints at better things to come if the Blues can use this as a springboard to even better performances and results this season... starting, of course, against the local enemy at the weekend.