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Romelu Lukaku marked his return from injury by earning Everton a late 1-0 win over West Ham United at Goodison Park on Saturday.
Lukaku's 81st-minute goal proved the difference as West Ham's mini revival came to an end following a run of four wins and one draw in their previous five Barclays Premier League matches.
The hosts controlled the majority of the first half and went close through Steven Naismith and Gerard Deulofeu, but neither could find a way past Adrian in the Hammers’ goal. Steven Pienaar hit a post straight after the restart and Sam Allardyce's men looked set to clinch a point and their 14th clean sheet of the Barclays Premier League season before Lukaku struck nine minutes from time to send Everton back above Manchester United in the table.
Much of the build-up was focused on whether the two sides' respective first-choice forwards would start, but Lukaku was only deemed fit enough for a place on the bench, while Andy Carroll sat out the first half-hour after his three-match ban. Although Leon Osman nearly turned in Naismith's headed front-post flick-on, clear chances were scarce during the first 20 minutes, despite Roberto Martinez’s side generally dominating proceedings.
Naismith forced Adrian into his first save 22 minutes in as he fired at goal from an acute angle, but he made a fairly straightforward stop, and with West Ham offering little threat in attack, Allardyce made the decision to introduce Carroll for Carlton Cole after just 28 minutes.
Deulofeu was the next to go close for Martinez’s side nine minutes before the break. The on-loan Barcelona winger twisted and turned his way past a couple of defenders on the edge of the area before curling a left-footed effort towards the bottom-left corner, but the attempt went agonisingly wide.
The home side made a ferocious start to the second half and within two minutes of the restart Pienaar was presented with a massive chance as he latched on to Leighton Baines' through-ball, but his first-time effort came back off the right post.
John Stones enjoyed a solid first half, but just before the hour the full-back almost gifted West Ham the lead as he sliced a clearance only as far as Carroll, but Tim Howard palmed the subsequent half-volley over the crossbar.
The London side were doing a good job of keeping Everton at bay, but with nine minutes to go Baines cut a pass back to Lukaku, who hit an emphatic left-footed finish past Adrian to move the the Merseyside club up to sixth.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez: "It was exactly what we expected. West Ham are a team in form in terms of results, with four straight wins and a draw at Chelsea. They are very well organised and confident in their defensive duties.
"What pleased me more than anything is that we never got emotional or frustrated. We never left ourselves exposed or lost our concentration, which is easy against a side like West Ham that is very efficient in the final third. To restrict them to one shot on target is a magnificant achievement.
"What is important is that on a day like today, at home against a side like West Ham, when everyone expects you to win, it could have been all too easy to get emotional and frustrated after losing the way we did last week. It gave me incredible satisfaction to win the way we did and I think you will see this side at its strongest in the next 11 games."
"We want to win every game and if we do that, who knows where we will finish. We've got five games away and six at home. This league has got many twists and turns until the last second. We're not looking at where we are going to finish - we are looking at how well we can finish. And then we will see where that leaves us.
West Ham United manager Sam Allardyce: "That was the difference - the gilt-edged chance that fell to Lukaku, he put away. When we were in that position, on the counter-attack, we didn't find the type of ball that Baines found to get a get a clear shot at goal and put it in the back of the net.
"We had several opportunities, particularly the second half, but we couldn't produce a lot more effective deliveries to score a goal. Whereas our technique in the last four games has been absolutely spot-on, and we've scored lots of goals, this time it wasn't as good as it has been. Because of that, we lost the game.
"Even right at the death, we had the last free-kick of the game but the quality on the delivery wasn't there. What we needed to do was produce that quality and we'd have got a 1-1. It wasn't there when it had been over the previous four games. It's my responsibility to get the lads producing that quality in the final-third, like they had been in those games, when we got four very big wins."
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|30 Mar 2014||v Fulham (A)|
|22 Mar 2014||v Swansea (H)|
|20 Apr 2014||v Man Utd (H)|
|06 Apr 2014||v Arsenal (H)|
|11 May 2014||v Hull (A)|