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Evergreen Leon Osman Strikes As Everton Thwart West Ham Comeback

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IF Evertonians arrived to laud Leon Osman for his longevity and loyalty on a landmark occasion, they departed grateful for his enduring quality. The midfielder joined the elite band of players who have represented the Merseyside club 400 times and marked the occasion in suitable style.

His winner was a reminder that, over 11 years in the Everton team, he has forged a reputation as a goalscoring midfielder. His intelligence accounts for his ability to find space and it was apparent again. Deputising for the injured Gareth Barry as one of the holding midfielders, Osman was a stranger to the West Ham box until he timed his foray forward perfectly.

“He was marshalling the back four and dictating the play so the last player you expect on a counterattack was Leon Osman,” said his manager, Roberto Martínez. Yet when Romelu Lukaku released Samuel Eto’o and he showed the presence of mind to spot the runner at the far post, Osman materialised to produce an assured finish.

“He is a great ambassador for our football club,” Martínez said. “He was outstanding throughout the game.” His eulogies were not confined to his own players. “I want to praise the referee,” Martínez added. “I really enjoyed his performance.” In particular, he approved of Mark Clattenburg’s decision to play on when James Collins upended Lukaku with a rather crude challenge seconds before Osman struck. Yet both Everton goals had input from the officials. Lukaku scored the opener, two minutes after a glaring miss from Steven Naismith, by capitalising after Winston Reid blocked Ross Barkley’s shot. “It falls to Lukaku who is two yards offside,” complained the West Ham manager, Sam Allardyce. “That decision baffled me so we have to be frustrated.” Having had a conversation with Clattenburg, he will contact the referees’ chief Mike Riley in search of an explanation.

Meanwhile Martínez appreciated Clattenburg’s leniency. One melee followed a challenge on Morgan Amalfitano by James McCarthy, who almost scored with a curling shot. Another, when Kevin Mirallas fouled the Frenchman, ended with the Belgian pushing James Tomkins in the chest and the defender collapsing histrionically, holding his face. “Kevin just tries to push him away; it is not a slap or a punch,” said Martínez, arguing a caution was a proportionate punishment. Allardyce was succinct and scathing. “It was handbags,” he said. “Gucci.”

Yet West Ham played an altogether less fashionable and more direct brand of football, Allardyce putting their aesthetic overhaul on hold and reverting to a direct gameplan featuring an old-school assortment of six-footers. However, it amounted to a pragmatic response to injury problems as he was deprived of five of his six premier midfielders and forwards. Even the lone survivor, Mark Noble, limped off after a challenge from Naismith that upset Allardyce.

Necessity proved the mother of reinvention. Andy Carroll troubled Everton with his aerial dominance. Allardyce began with a back five and then, in a game of influential substitutions, brought West Ham back into contention with a double change and a switch of system. One of the arrivals, Mauro Zárate, levelled after five minutes on the pitch, even if his shot required a telling deflection off Phil Jagielka to defeat Tim Howard. West Ham were in the ascendant then, Howard making a vital save to deny Amalfitano and another replacement, Matt Jarvis, fizzing a shot into the side-netting.

Yet Martínez, who contributed to many an Everton win last season with a mid-match reshuffle, repeated the feat. On came Eto’o and his manager said: “He was the reason for the win.” Nevertheless, it took a brilliant stop from Howard to prevent Collins from scoring a second equaliser for West Ham. “Our finishing was not good enough,” Allardyce complained. “If we had got a point, based on our injury situation, I would have been very happy.” – The Guardian

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