The end to Everton’s long unbeaten run in the Premier League hinged on two main incidents. Apart from the goals, obviously.
The first was a thigh injury sustained by Darron Gibson midway through the first half. Up until that point Everton, fielding the same side that started so impressively at Villa Park, had dominated possession and penned the home side back, admittedly without creating any clear-cut goalscoring chances. They looked the much more composed side though, and Albion struggled initially to establish any sort of rhythm.
Once Gibson left the field though, and Phil Neville shifted from right-back to replace him, Everton lost much of their fluency and purpose. Whereas Gibson’s first instinct is to receive the ball, control it instantly and get Everton moving forward, Neville looks preoccupied with simply not giving possession away. Other players have to compensate for this and these subtle differences have a knock-on effect, especially away to a decent, competitive team like the Baggies against whom small margins make all the difference between success and failure.
The home side enjoyed the best chances to open the scoring before the break, with Shane Long crashing a header against the cross bar before Tim Howard made a brilliant, sprawling one-handed stop from James Morrison after the midfielder exploited a massive hole at the heart of the Everton defence.
The second key moment for the Blues came just after an hour when Kevin Mirallas, on for Steven Naismith, fired a low centre across the Albion six-yard box. His Belgian compatriot Fellaini steamed in unmarked but his attempt at finishing with his left peg was ugly to say the least.
Minutes later Peter Odemwingie broke down the left and crossed low for Long to score from close range.
Everton were hardly convincing in their reaction and on 82 minutes the match was put beyond them when Gareth McCauley ‘monstered’ – to use Jamie Redknapp’s phrase – Howard and the Blues’ defence as he rose to head home a far post corner.
West Brom are a tough side whose centre-halves, McAuley and Jonas Olsson, dealt well with the threat of Nikica Jelavic and Marouane Fellaini whenever the Blues put crosses into the box. Everton, on the other hand, failed to do the same and paid the price.
There’s a two week break now, which should give David Moyes time to work with his new signings before the next match, a home game against Newcastle United.
The Blues’ boss had already given himself a number of options with his spending of Sheikh Mansour’s money this summer, and he strengthened the squad even further on deadline day with the acquisition of FC Copenhagen’s Costa Rican left-back Bryan Oviedo, as expected, as well as teenage winger Matthew Kennedy from Kilmarnock.
The big surprise though was the loan signing of Club Brugge central midfielder Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, whose name looks like someone has had a heart attack while typing. The 23-year-old’s arrival signalled the end of Moyes’s search for another big rascal in midfield following Michael Essien’s inexplicable decision to go on loan to Real Madrid instead of Everton. He’ll be sorry.
Another target was reportedly Steven N’Zonzi. This Belgian character has got to be better than him, hasn’t he? Surely. N’Zonzi always looks like a poor man’s Jack Rodwell. Make of that what you will.
The West Brom result was clearly a setback but the general style of play allied to the new signings – still a novelty around these parts – mean that it’s hard to get too down in the mouth. Unless you are just a miserable get.
Things feel like they are on the up that much that we are even excited by a League Cup tie. Away to Leeds United – it has the makings of a cracker.