The wacky refereeing was always going to be the story at the end of a game featuring a ludicrous red card for each side and the extremely harsh decision to disallow an Everton goal.
Just as noteworthy though from an Everton perspective was how a line-up that nobody got close to predicting played some decent stuff and took all three points from what looked like a tough away game.
In the absence of Marouane Fellaini, Kevin Mirallas, Tony Hibbert and Seamus Coleman, David Moyes played Phil Jagielka at right-back and threw the returning Phil Neville and Victor Anichebe straight back into action. Almost everyone did the wince that you normally reserve for horrible Youtube videos when they saw the teamsheet, but the Blues coped with the changes far better than anyone could have really hoped.
Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar were both at their best and a home side that was also depleted by injuries struggled to match their intelligence on the ball.
It was Sylvain Distin who had the game’s first real chance though. He should have scored when meeting a Leighton Baines free-kick with a powerful downward header but the ball bounced harmlessly over the bar.
Moments later the Blues had the ball in the net, this time when Osman crashed home a header from Baines’s deep corner, but the first wacky decision of the day by referee Anthony Taylor saw him listen to his weird Escape From New York looking linesman and disallow the goal. Apparently it was for a foul by Anichebe on Jussi Jaaskelainen but fucking hell, it was nothing. Anichebe had his arm around the keeper’s side for a second as they waited for the kick to come in, but if you are going to start giving them then how about the shove between the shoulder blades that that keepers always give the striker on the line at every corner? Ridiculous.
Everton’s indignation was only deepened as the home side immediately went downfield and opened the scoring themselves. Carlton Cole cut inside Johnny Heitinga and from just outside the box drilled a shot into the bottom corner of Tim Howard’s goal. It was the sort of goal that Cole never really scores, and although he took it well he was given far too much room to manoeuvre.
Nikica Jelavic shot straight at Jaaskelainen from six yards as Everton probed for an equaliser; the Toffees were definitely the neater team but we’ve seen it plenty of times already this season when they struggle to convert possession into clear-cut opportunities. Thankfully though, on 63 minutes they drew level when Anichebe got his head on Pienaar’s cross and flicked the ball past the keeper and into the far corner of the net.
Fair play to Anichebe, we skitted him in the preview, wondering why Moyes always makes a point of listing him in the absentees, but he does seem to have developed a knack of nicking goals in tight games, especially away from home. And let’s face it, if he hadn’t netted here there would definitely have been an inquest from supporters into why he was chosen ahead of Steven Naismith, Apostolos Vellios or even Ross Barkley.
Three minutes after Everton levelled, referee Taylor made his second inexplicable blunder, issuing Cole with a straight red when his high foot caught Baines on the arm. The decision was so poor that even the Blues’ players looked mortified for Cole – they did everything but organise a whip-round and sign a big card for him as he traipsed off the pitch.
If all that wasn’t bad enough for Big Sam, he tore off his bib, wiped the barbecue sauce off his fingers and pointed a spare rib in disgust at his players when Everton scored the winner on 72 minutes.
Baines, Pienaar and Osman – an absolute stone-cold classic triumvirate of ‘Everton’ footballers – combined on the edge of the West Ham area before Osman, with his those feet, soft like John McEnroe’s hands, made a mug of the most overrated underrated player in the league, Mark Noble, and crossed low into the six-yard box for Pienaar to force the ball home.
Jelavic almost put the game to bed but a good challenge by James Tomkins was enough to force his shot into the side-netting. That kept ten-man West Ham alive and they almost saved a point when Kevin Nolan put a couple of shots narrowly wide when you might have expected him to do better.
In the final minute the referee capped off his bizarre performance by dismissing Darron Gibson, again for an innocuous and completely accidental high challenge. Moyes and Allardyce are going to get all tag team on the FA and should, surely, get both cards downgraded to yellows.
Four points from Stoke and West Ham away is pretty good going but the top four have taken on an all-too-familiar look now, with Arsenal back occupying their coveted mingebag sweet-spot behind Manchester United, City and Chelsea.
It would be ace if the Blues could build on this then and really make a statement in the two home games over Christmas and have us all going into the New Year buzzing but, well, you know what they’re fucking like.
Finally, a happy Christmas and New Year to you all and thankyou to everyone who has been reading the website since the summer and all those who have sent encouraging emails, left comments and passed the link onto their friends – it’s all very much appreciated.
Oh, and this is definitely the last thing, if you receive a Kindle for Christmas and are horrified by the price of the books, well, Vision Sports Publishing are offering The Everton Miscellany in magic electrical format for just over a quid.