West Brom hold Everton to goalless draw, stay unbeaten under Pulis
Forward Kevin Mirallas’ missed penalty cost Everton the chance of a first win in eight matches – but what was more galling for home fans was the fact he took it in the first place.
Whoever made the decision a minute before halftime needed to take a long hard look at themselves considering spot-kick regular Leighton Baines had previously scored 15 out of 16.
Mirallas’ withdrawal at the interval of the goalless draw merely posed more questions as speculation continues to link the Belgium international, who has 18 months remaining on his contract, with a move away.
Manager Roberto Martinez admitted in the wake of the forward’s impressive display in last week’s FA Cup exit at West Ham that the club had to satisfy the Belgian’s ambitions for him to commit to a new contract, but considering his injury record the 27-year-old may have to consider if he still owes the Toffees something.
A week is a long time in football and, after leaving the Upton Park pitch to rave reviews, Mirallas left Goodison under something of a cloud. That a missed penalty, and the whys and wherefores of who should have taken the kick, was the main talking point spoke volumes about the quality on show.
Everton knew West Brom would be tough to break down under new manager Tony Pulis and so it should have come as no surprise to see the visitors employ a 4-5-1 formation with Saidho Berahino, with six goals in three matches, posted wide left to curtail full-back Seamus Coleman’s forward runs.
Pulis came for — and left with — a point which extended his unbeaten run since taking over to three matches, although one of those was against non-league Gateshead in the FA Cup.
His first task on replacing Alan Irvine was to make the Baggies difficult to beat — something of a trademark for the experienced manager — and he has done that with no goals conceded on his short reign.
The draw took them three points clear of the relegation zone and has given them a platform on which to build. Everton are only a point ahead, having taken just two points from a possible 18, and the chorus of boos when Martinez replaced midfielder Muhamed Besic, comfortably their best player, with striker Arouna Kone late on and also at full-time was an indicator of how frustrated the locals are.
The football has not been anywhere near what they expect after some brilliant performances last season and, while it has not all been their own fault, they have to turn things around.
Martinez has officially complained about a lack of decisions going Everton’s way and referee Mike Oliver’s leniency in allowing James Morrison and particularly Craig Gardner to get away with hard and late challenges on Seamus Coleman and Ross Barkley respectively did not help the manager’s early mood.
In truth there was little else for Oliver or indeed anyone else to get too agitated about until the final minute of the half, with Mirallas’ free-kick comfortably held by goalkeeper Ben Foster and Joel Robles saving from Gardner’s offside half-volley.
It appeared the mediocrity would be broken in the 44th minute when former Toffee Joleon Lescott handled Romelu Lescott’s chest trap, but Mirallas – so deadly from 20-plus yards but apparently much less so from 12 – hit the foot of a post and the ball spun behind.
The half-time video message from Hollywood star Sylvester Stallone, urging the crowd to generate some atmosphere as filming took place for Rocky spin-off movie Creed, was an optimistic one considering what had gone before but, somewhat fittingly, Everton did show a bit more appetite for a fight.
It was without Mirallas, however, who did not appear for the second half. Ross Barkley, Lukaku and Besic (twice) all had shots deflected behind but Foster barely had a save to make. The same was true of his counterpart Robles, but West Brom’s priorities lie elsewhere.