West Bromwich Albion 1 Everton 2

That Diego Costa is now only a little pipe and a hat away from being the Sampdoria badge.

Not that that’s got anything to do with Ronald Koeman’s first Premier League win in charge of the County Road Azzurri.

The key to that result came with a change of formation and personnel towards the end of the first half in the Midlands, when Romelu Lukaku replaced James McCarthy and Koeman jibbed the three central defenders. That was the point when it felt as if this new ‘regime’ really began in earnest.

Because before then it was the same side that started against Tottenham, with similar results. Without a proper centre-forward there was a reluctance to play the ball forward to a frustrated Gerard Deulofeu, and even less inclination to make runs beyond the Spaniard as he was bullied by the notoriously uncompromising Baggies’ rearguard.

Matters were made worse by the fact the Toffees found themselves behind after only nine minutes. Maarten Stekelenburg was blatantly bundled over on his goal-line and Gareth McAuley out-jumped the Toffees’ defenders to get his head onto Craig Gardner’s deep corner and score from close range.

The majority of the rest of the half was pretty uninspiring – Everton were simply too lightweight up front and the home side always threatened to get something by virtue of being more direct and having the willing and powerful Salomon Rondon to aim for.

To Koeman’s great credit he never waited until half-time to make the necessary adjustments and the reward was an equaliser in first-half injury time. Lukaku wasn’t directly involved, but his sheer presence gave the rest of the Blues the confidence to get up and play on the edge of the home side’s area, where Barkley and the outstanding Gareth Barry combined cleverly to play in Kevin Mirallas for a smart, angled finish across Ben Foster and into the bottom corner.

The second half was pretty much all Everton, and only some poor finishing gave the Baggies any hope of salvaging what would have represented a fortunate point – the sort that we conceded constantly when we were on last season’s Möbius Loop of defensive incompetency.

When the Throstles did get an opening, Stekelenburg was again superb. You can almost see a situation arising now where we go all in for Joe Hart, he makes a couple of early blunders, as he is prone to do, and there ends up loads of pressure from the stands to put Stekelenburg back in.

Hang on, is it only Everton who can make you worry about crowd unrest over selection headaches concerning goalies who don’t even play for us?

Anyway, on the evidence of his first two games, the Dutch international keeper looks a really good signing, whether that’s as the number one or as back-up to dopey-hole, or whoever.

Another astute appropriation was versatile defender and established firm of chartered surveyors, Mason Holgate. The John Stones comparison is the obvious one because of the Barnsley connection, but Holgate is a quick-thinking defender first and foremost. That said, when deployed at full-back he attacks with a straightforward, strong-running determination that is less like Stone and more reminiscent of Joleon Lescott. The Lescott who famously kept Leighton Baines out of the Everton first team for a season, not the nervy-looking Manchester City misfit or the pocket-tweeting pantomime villain he turned into at Aston Villa.


Lescott was always a threat in the opponent’s box, and Holgate showed similar instincts here, not least in the build-up to the winner when he seized on waist-high ball following a Deulofeu corner. His shot looped up to the far post, leaving Foster stranded and allowing Barry to keep his eye on the ball and tuck a header into the roof of the net.

Koeman said that Barry is one of the best players he has ever worked with, and you get the impression that sentiment is absolutely genuine. The former England international’s vision, and particularly his ability to manipulate the space around himself and the ball, is nothing short of masterful. You almost feel like you get better at footy yourself, just by watching him.

After starring in pre-season, Deulofeu has had a tough start to the season proper, sacrificing himself to a certain extent by playing in that less familiar centre-forward role. His prospects for continuing as a starter only got harder as well, when he was replaced by our biggest signing of the summer so far, Yannick Bolasie.

The DR Congo international – not everyone knows this, but that’s actually short for Doctor Congo – comes with a reputation for being hugely entertaining and frustrating in equal measure. There was definitely a feeling of ‘this could go either way’ when the transfer was announced, but the initial signs are positive. Bolasie certainly looked a threat as he seized upon the space conceded by the Baggies’ ponderous back four when they pushed forward looking for an equaliser.

Indeed, he should have have marked his debut with two ‘assists’ at least. The first opportunity saw him use his pace down the right before wrapping his foot around the ball and whipping a perfect cross onto the head of Ross Barkley, just six yards out. The midfielder – another who is going to have to start fulfilling his potential if he’s going to survive under a cold-eyed manager with money in his pocket – planted an absolute sitter wide of the mark.

It was Bolasie’s combination with his mate, Lukaku, that looked the most exciting though, as the Belgian – now apparently staying at Goodison for at least one more season (good of him) – looked delighted to have another powerful runner up alongside him, giving the frantic defenders even more to contend with.

A couple of the breaks the pair launched, and the sleight-of-foot interchanges between them, looked almost impossible to defend against. The best of these saw Bolas put Lukaku clean through in the dying minutes of the game, only for Foster to gamble and make an excellent sprawling stop. Tony Pulis, sporting a sick, box-fresh pair of ice-creams on his feet, still had a glimmer of hope then during the vinegar strokes of the match, but thankfully a late free kick ended up with Foster, up from the back, screwing a shot wide of the post.

It’s too early to start making grand claims – don’t forget, Liverpool had one hand on the league trophy after they struggle-cuddled Arsenal last week — but after what was a bit of a water-treader on the opening day for Everton, if we’re honest, it felt like things at least started to take shape here at the Hawthorns.



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