Everton’s Romelu Lukaku tallies late to force FA Cup replay vs. West Ham
Everton striker Romelu Lukaku’s added-time equalizer in the FA Cup 1-1 draw against West Ham eased some of the mounting pressure on his manager Roberto Martinez.
The Belgium striker’s smart turn and finish – his fourth goal in as many matches for the Toffees against the Hammers – earned a 1-1 draw and at the very least postponed another inquest into what is going wrong at Goodison Park. Lukaku’s first in seven matches ended a four-game losing streak and ensured they live to fight another day in the competition after James Collins’ 56th-minute header had exposed the Toffees’ defensive Achilles heel – only QPR have conceded more in the Premier League this season.
"It would have been very damaging but you always get an opportunity to win the next game," said Martinez on avoiding a fifth successive loss. "At the moment the cup is such an important competition for us it would have been a horrendous setback. It is very important we are still in the cup and now look forward to the next game in the league (at home to Manchester City) but still aware we are in a bad run."
West Ham were on the verge of their first victory in 15 attempts since 2007 against their perennial bogey side. Everton’s current figures do not make for much better reading. They have won just once in the last 10 matches and their last clean sheet came against Europa League opponents Wolfsburg in late November immediately prior to their current slump.
The goal was the least Lukaku, in his first start in three matches, deserved. It looked like the rest had done him some good as he twice forced Adrian to fumble shots, the West Ham goalkeeper recovering once to deny Kevin Mirallas on the rebound and then being bailed out by Winston Reid.
The Belgium striker also rolled an effort wide of the far post after he was picked out in the inside-left channel by an eye-of-the-needle pass from Ross Barkley, who appeared to lurch from brilliant to dreadful and back again in the first half. Lukaku has been criticized for not playing like a £28million striker but he was offering plenty to the team, with his brilliant ball over the top picking out Steven Naismith, who shot from such a narrow angle it beat Adrian but eventually rolled out for a throw.
Seamus Coleman, who just failed to connect at the far post, and Mirallas both had efforts before Barkley showed the best and worst bits of his game as a 60-yard drive at the West Ham defense ended with him passing tamely into the path of Reid as he tried to pick out Lukaku.
The visitors were not without their chances with Stewart Downing, who drifted effectively across the pitch, forcing Joel Robles to tip over and Morgan Amalfitano firing wide. Everton’s opportunities began to dry up in the second half as, for all Lukaku’s good early play, the side were lacking runners to get beyond him.
The visitors sensed their chance and after defender Carl Jenkinson had driven through the left of Everton’s defense, only to be denied by a good, low near-post save by Robles, they took the lead. Sylvain Distin, whose scalp did just enough to divert wide Downing’s drive, was partly to blame after losing Collins at the resulting corner but the Wales defender was still allowed to get between Naismith and Muhamed Besic to head in at the near post.
Robles, deputizing for the injured Tim Howard with his own position under threat, reacted well to tip over Enner Valencia’s header while Lukaku’s own header was ruled out at the other end as he had climbed all over Aaron Cresswell to get to the ball. Martinez had labeled the match as the most important of their season so the significance of Lukaku pouncing on Bryan Oviedo’s cross late on could not be underestimated.
Asked about the importance of the goal Martinez added: "Huge. When you walk into a dressing room with a defeat it is a completely different situation. It is a big moment to be able to go in with different emotions and I am extremely proud of the players."
Martinez also praised Lukaku on his return to the starting line-up after two games on the bench.
"The whole week he has trained very well and his attitude was perfect," Martinez added. "Rom at his best will change games. We carry a different threat. I was really pleased with his attitude, showing real responsibility and maturity. In a period like ours you have two options, you can shy away and hide or you can take responsibility."
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce could only bemoan Lukaku’s knack of scoring against them.
"That man scores against us. Every time he plays against us he does," he said. "The disappointing thing was we didn’t make it two when we had the chance. Enner Valencia’s (header saved by Joel Robles), particularly, we should have scored. That would have made it 2-0 and it would have made it too much for Everton to come back."