Tomas Soucek left it late to awaken the first Premier League game of 2021 from its slumber, but David Moyes and West Ham cared not a jot as they celebrated a first win in five outings at Everton. Carlo Ancelotti’s side were out of ideas and out of energy as they missed the chance to go second in the table.
The West Ham midfielder struck in the 86th minute to give Moyes his first points at Goodison Park since leaving Everton for Manchester United eight years ago. The game desperately needed his intervention, as this was a sterile and dull contest until the visitors punished Everton’s laboured display.
After three matches enriched by the noise of fans, Goodison fell eerily silent once again following the Liverpool city region’s move into tier 3 on Wednesday. It was as depressing for the 2,000 hoping to start the new year by watching their team in the flesh for the first time since March, as it was for those due to attend Monday’s postponed match against Manchester City. Though small, the attendances had played a big part in Everton’s rise up the table and their absence contributed to a subdued affair.
Ancelotti was able to recall Richarlison after the Brazilian’s head injury against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup, while James Rodríguez returned to the bench having missed thepast five matches with a calf problem. Everton also had the benefit of extra rest as a result of the City postponement, at least in comparison to West Ham playing twice since Christmas Day, but that did not translate into any obvious advantage. The home side were restricted to playing their neat, sharp passing triangles in harmless areas as West Ham, well organised and clear in their objectives, cut off service to Dominic Calvert-Lewin and closed down quickly whenever Richarlison, Gylfi Sigurdsson or Bernard had possession.
The visitors were forced into a late change of goalkeeper when Lukasz Fabianski suffered an injury in the warm-up. His replacement, Darren Randolph, did not have a save to make until the 45th minute, such was the strength of the defensive shield around him. Everton’s first shot on target was a dipping volley from Bernard after a Sigurdsson corner had been cleared into his path, but Randolph was equal to the effort.
West Ham arguably had the better of what few chances were created in the first half. Jarrod Bowen glanced an early header wide from Aaron Cresswell’s cross while the left-back, making his 200th Premier League start for the club, dragged a decent opportunity off target when found in space inside the penalty area. Sébastian Haller also connected with a Bowen corner at close range, but the ball skimmed off the top of his head and through a crowded six-yard box. And, aside from Craig Dawson requiring lengthy treatment after falling awkwardly, that was the sum total of incident from a flat and disjointed first half.
Seamus Coleman was close to enlivening proceedings within seconds of the restart when Cresswell left Tom Davies’ chip into the area but the alert Randolph punched clear as his Republic of Ireland teammate closed in for a header. At the opposite end, Haller was inches away from converting a low Declan Rice cross that flew across the face of Jordan Pickford’s goal.
The Everton goalkeeper made his first save of the contest, and impressively so, when Cresswell arched a free-kick towards the far, top corner following a foul by Ben Godfrey on the overlapping Vladimir Coufal. Fornals then drew a routine stop from Pickford from a corner before squandering an excellent chance to break an increasingly tedious stalemate. The midfielder was unmarked when Bowen picked him out with a dinked cross into the area but, from only eight yards out, he miscued a header so far wide that a teammate’s scream echoed around the stadium.
Both managers attempted to inject much-needed creativity and quality by introducing Rodríguez, André Gomes, Andriy Yarmolenko, Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio from the bench but only Moyes’ changes succeeded. With four minutes remaining, Yarmolenko released Soucek with an intelligent flick. Pickford parried the midfielder’s initial shot on the turn but the rebound fell to Cresswell who drilled the ball back across goal where Soucek was on hand, and onside, to convert.