Everton missed its chance to spend a few extra days in that enviable fourth spot of the Premier League table following a 1-1 draw Monday at West Brom, where the Pepe Mel era started with a semi-positive result.
Everton, without much pep but mostly in control, took a 1-0 lead at the Hawthorns on Kevin Mirallas’ goal before the break but gradually yielded initiative to the Baggies. Diego Lugano got the first goal in the Mel era – he took over the Midlands club just last week and was debuting Monday as West Brom manager – with a near post equalizer in the 76th minute.
West Brom will need better at home to stay well north of that relegation red line, but a draw with Everton isn’t a bad way to begin. Roberto Martinez’s side stood to have a week or so enjoying life in 4th place (and all that it implies), looking for an opportunity to leapfrog Liverpool and Tottenham with a good afternoon at the Hawthorns.
That “extra time” is because of an FA Cup weekend is ahead. But instead of seeing themselves in the fourth spot though the upcoming FA Cup spell – that 4th place would mean Champions League soccer for Martinez and Co., a high value target for a smaller club like Everton – they’ll remain in 6th, having lost ground in Round 22 to most of teams ahead in the table.
Despite playing at home, West Brom had little of the ball over the first 45 minutes, only bothering Tim Howard once as Everton’s U.S. international comfortably beat away a drive from 20 yards.
A couple other balls went scooting through Howard’s penalty area – mostly from gaps exposed along the flanks as Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines attempted to scoot forward for Everton – but surely not enough to please the new boss.
Everton held the ball enough but seemed to miss the playmaking of injured midfielder Ross Barkley, who is having such a great year under Martinez.
Newly shorn teammate Romelu Lukaku still can’t snap his troubling goalless stretch (the young Belgian hasn’t put one way for Everton since November) but did figure into the visitor’s goal. He was the target as Everton changed up a bit, going long and direct rather than keeping possession along the ground. Mirallas was rampaging into the penalty area as Lukaku was the target of a ball off Everton’s back line.
Two quality touches later, Mirallas’ goal this year was the first between these teams in more than two hours of soccer this season; they played to a scoreless draw back at Goodison Park early in the campaign.
West Brom increased the pressure gradually through the second half and it was Lugano finding the target. The Uruguayan got just a little bit of working room inside Everton defender Sylvain Distin and headed home James Morrison’s driven cross past Howard at the near post.
West Brom’s Nicolas Anelka – notorious of late for controversial quenelle celebration – was bright with ball at his feet but couldn’t find many chances near goal.
West Brom: Foster, Reid, Lugano, Olsson, Ridgewell, Brunt, Morrison, Yacob, Gera (Mulumbu), Vydra (Anichebe 46), Anelka (Berahino 76).
Goal: Lugano 75
Everton: Howard, Baines, Jagielka, Distin, Coleman (Stones 79), Barry, McCarthy, Osman (Naismith 89), Oviedo (Mcgeady 80), Mirallas, Lukaku.
Goal: Mirallas 41