West Ham 2 Everton 1
The good news for Everton is that five of the 10 games they have remaining this season are at home. The bad news is that their buffer over the relegation zone is just three points and their away form remains as bad as ever. Five games on the road since Frank Lampard took over have brought five defeats – and what makes this one worse is how unnecessary and self-inflicted it felt.
There was a time when Frank Lampard would turn up at West Ham and be greeted with implacable hostility. There'd be jeers, cries of Judas and taunts based on his round-faced appearance. Not any more. There were boos before kick-off, but they came largely from the away fans and were directed at Kurt Zouma. For Lampard there was nothing. At one point he wandered to the edge of the pitch to kick a ball back into the warm-up and seemed to pause, as though in anticipation of the abuse. But it never came.
If indifference is the true opposite of love, of course, it made sense. What West Ham fan did not look at his performances for Chelsea and wish he had been scoring those goals in claret and blue? But what West Ham fan would look at Lampard's time as a manager and wish it were he, rather than David Moyes, standing in their technical area? They are the ones awaiting a European quarter-final; he is the one in a relegation battle. They have, perhaps, belatedly, moved on. Even the round cheeks have gone, worn down by the cares of time. The longer he stays at Everton the less likely they are to return.
This always looked a brutally tough job. Managers from Sam Allardyce to Carlo Ancelotti, Marco Silva to Rafa Benítez, have struggled with it. Nobody, really, has done it well since Moyes left in 2013. If a pattern has been discernible in their transfers since Farhad Moshiri took over the club, it has only been that they have repeatedly paid too much for players on the way down.
The financial results released last week offered only cause for concern. The pandemic may be in part to blame for losses of £120.9m, but they were incurred despite record turnover, while the wage-to-turnover ratio reached a surely unsustainable 95 per cent. With the club forced to sever its ties with the sanctioned oligarch Alisher Usmanov and major expenditure to come on the move to the new stadium, it’s hard to see anything but retrenchment in the near future even if they stay up – and if they do so, it will not be because of their away form.
To say that Lampard’s problem at Chelsea was an inability to organise his defence is not quite true. There was that run of nine games in the autumn of 2020 in which his side conceded only two goals. The problem was that there were three 0-0s in that run. He could organise a defence; the issue was organising a team that had the balance also to attack.
There was no sign here of bowing to circumstance. Everton may have leaked 14 goals in four away games under Lampard, but there was no adopting a safety-first approach and accepting that keeping things tight might be the better part of valour. Rather Lampard went with a 4-1-4-1 that would have looked even more attacking than it did had Donny van de Beek not pulled up in the warm-up to be replaced by Mason Holgate.
The result was that even in a largely soporific first half this weary West Ham, whose focus has understandably shifted to the Europa League tie against Lyon, cut through them pretty much every time they were able to muster the energy to try. The opening goal arrived after 31 minutes, a free-kick swept into the top corner by the former Liverpool youth player Aaron Cresswell.
Some West Ham laxity then invited Everton into the game. culminating in Holgate levelling with a deflected effort following a corner. Assuming the goal is credited to him, he becomes the first Everton player to score an away goal under Lampard (his own goal at Newcastle meant he was already the first player to score against Lampard’s Everton away from Goodison).
But the sloppiness was catching and, just six minutes after Everton had pulled level, Alex Iwobi's miscontrol allowed West Ham to restore their lead, Jarrod Bowen clipping in the rebound after Jordan Pickford had denied Michail Antonio. That was bad enough, but Michael Keane, already booked, then lunged into Antonio to collect a second yellow.
And with that the game was done. The positive for Everton was that this probably was their least bad away performance under Lampard, but they were still beaten easily enough by opponents who rarely seemed to be playing much above half-pace.