Romelu Lukaku has made a habit of upsetting West Ham United, scoring in his nine previous appearances against the London club. It says everything about a desperately dull game that the prolific forward never came close to extending that run, nor was he alone in failing to demonstrate a meaningful goal-threat.
On offer to West Ham was the opportunity to secure their Premier League status with a win while Everton could have moved into fifth. Neither side proved capable of taking the opportunity in a game that barely produced a chance of note.
It was the kind of game that reminds managers of the deficiencies in their side and of the work they would like to do over the summer months although for West Ham, there is still work to do before manager Slaven Bilic can start looking too far ahead.
Bilic had been left frustrated by his side’s failure to effectively preserve their Premier League status for another by failing to beat bottom club Sunderland, despite twice taking the lead at the Stadium of Light. Darren Randolph, the goalkeeper, paid the price for that display, losing his starting place in favour of Adrian, who returned for his first league appearance since early November.
Injuries and suspensions forced the West Ham manager into more changes with Bilic handing a first league start of the season to Jonathan Calleri, the Argentinian striker who was signed on loan last August, and the patched-up nature of the home line-up was reflected in a disjointed start. It would prove to be a disappointing game for 23-year-old who was eventually withdrawn in the 61st minute having made little impression.
Everton were similarly underwhelming during a drab first half when there only real threat came after a lapse by Adrian just 13 minutes into the game. The keeper took too long to clear after collecting Edimilson Fernandes’ throw-in, allowing Romelu Lukaku to charge the ball down before gratefully diving on the loose ball.
That, though, proved to Lukaku’s most significant contribution before the break. The forward found himself isolated and his frustration was reflected in the way he started drifting away from the home penalty area in search of the ball and it took until the 57th minutes before Lukaku managed to run at the West Ham back-four, drifting past one defender before his attempted shot was blocked by the covering James Collins.
West Ham did at least find a way to unsettled the visitors as the first half progressed with Everton’s back-four appearing distinctly uncomfortable in the air. Arthur Masuaku capped a positive run down the left with a cross that flew across the face of goal and led to a corner. Manuel Lanzini managed to get the ball into a threatening area at the second attempt and Collins should have done better than head wide at the far post. Then shortly before the interval, Lanzini’s free-kick led to a goalmouth scramble that was ended by a panicked clearance.
Neither manager had cause for satisfaction after a desperate opening 45 minutes and Koeman responded with a double half-time substitution, replacing Tom Davies and Idrissa Gueye with Gareth Barry and Ademola Lookman.
Lookman, the teenage winger signed from Charlton, certainly injected some much needed urgency into Everton’s play, producing his side’s first shot of the game after 71 minutes, a 25-yard effort that drifted harmlessly wide but did at least suggest intent. The youngster followed that with a rising drive that flew over the crossbar, again from outside the penalty area, and Lookman’s drive did appear to have the effect of coaxing more ambition from his team-mates.
West Ham United (3-5-2): Adrian; Fonte, Reid, Collins; Fernandes, Kouyate (Cresswell 79), Nordtveit, Ayew, Masuaku; Ayew, Calleri (Sakho 62).
Subs: Randolp, Fletcher, Holland, Rice, Makasi.
Everton (4-2-3-1): Stekelenberg; Holgate, Jagielka, Williams, Baines; Schneiderlin, Gueye (Lookman 46); Barkley, Davies (Barry 46), Mirallas (Calvert-Lewin 72); Lukaku.
Subs: Robles, Kone, Pennington, Kenny
Referee: R East