After a punishing schedule and a gruelling spectacle, West Ham finally received their reward. Tomas Soucek’s late winner gave David Moyes his first points at Goodison Park since leaving Everton eight years ago and the manager responded in kind by giving his weary players four days off.
Everton could have gone second with a fifth consecutive Premier League win but served up a laboured display bereft of ideas. Carlo Ancelotti claimed his side merited a point. He was being extremely kind. They deserved exactly what they got as West Ham defended expertly, grew stronger as the game went on and produced the only creativity on show.
“Going back to your old clubs is always special,” said Moyes. “I had a brilliant time here. Coming here and winning was really important. Everton are in a great moment and you cannot underestimate what it would mean to go second, and we were on the back of our third game in six days. I cannot praise the players enough. Their fitness levels and professionalism is a great credit to them.”
Covid-19 loomed large over the fixture, with Ryan Fredericks self-isolating after a positive test and West Ham preparing to clean out their training ground once again. Moyes said: “We have not been told to do that and it is not because of the one Covid player we have got. It’s because we are trying to do everything we can.”
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 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 was reflected in a subdued performance. Everton’s players could not find inspiration from within. Ancelotti recalled Richarlison following the Brazilian’s concussion against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup and must have wondered why he bothered. Richarlison was woeful. James Rodríguez also returned as a substitute after missing the past five matches with a calf problem but could not improve a flat attacking display either. So much for the benefit of extra rest after the City postponement.
This was West Ham’s third game since Christmas Day but they never appeared at a disadvantage and were on top before Soucek’s late winner. They restricted Everton to playing neat, sharp triangles in harmless areas, stopped all service to Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who looks shattered, and closed down quickly whenever Richarlison, Gylfi Sigurdsson or Bernard received possession. The visitors were forced into a late change of goalkeeper when Lukasz Fabianski felt a recurrence of a thigh injury during the warm-up. His replacement, Darren Randolph, did not have a save to make until the 45th minute.
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. Jordan Pickford’s first save arrived even later, when Aaron Cresswell arched a free-kick towards the far corner following a foul by Ben Godfrey on Vladimir Coufal. Pablo Fornals then squandered an excellent chance to break a tedious stalemate. The midfielder was unmarked when Jarrod Bowen picked him out with a dinked cross into the area but, from only eight yards out, he miscued a header so far wide 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 but only Moyes’s changes succeeded. With four minutes remaining, Yarmolenko released Soucek with an intelligent chip. Pickford parried the midfielder’s initial shot on the turn but the rebound fell to Cresswell whose low drive deflected off Yerry Mina and into the path of Soucek, who made no mistake for his fifth goal of the season.