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for 78 minutes horribly wrong Blues look so good and then it all goes.


at Goodison Park IF any game embodied this wild, maddening and unfathomable season at Goodison Park then it was this one.

For three-quarters of Saturday's match against West Ham United - and against all the odds - Roberto Martinez 's side were brilliant.

For the last 12 minutes, it's hard to see how they could have been much worse.

This should have been a tale of a valiant, defiant victory that gave their hopes of Europa League qualification a shot in the arm.

Instead, this is the launch of another inquest into how Everton conspired to let yet another lead slip.

For so many reasons, the Blues didn't deserve to lose this fixture, but for so many others they have only themselves to blame.

It had been a day of frenzy at Goodison Park and the atmosphere, fuelled by a heady mix of Everton's stirring performance and the ire towards official Anthony Taylor, was driving the home side to victory.

But at the end of the game, after West Ham scored three goals in the final 12 minutes to seal a dramatic win, it was the conflicting sounds of anger and apathy that filled the ground.

Twenty-nine points have been dropped at Goodison this season and no side have conceded as many goals at home, but even by the standards of this unpredictable team this took matters to a new level of despair.

Few at Goodison will be able to look past Romelu Lukaku's penalty miss with just over 20 minutes to go.

Had he converted the spot-kick then Everton would have been 3-0 up and heading for a huge win in their pursuit of the top six.

Instead Lukaku, who had delivered a masterful performance as the lone front man, stuttered in his run-up, scuffed his shot and watched in disbelief as the ball tamely rolled towards Adrian.

He had another chance not long after, when he used his pace and power to burst through West Ham's defence, but saw Adrian once more equal to his effort.

Then came Everton's collapse.

But there was more to it than Lukaku's missed opportunities.

They had defended manfully, none more so than rock-solid captain Phil Jagielka, but as the game entered the home stretch, they failed to deal with three crosses.

Three crosses. Three goals.

Three points gone.

And then there was Mirallas. Sure, it was debatable that he should have been booked for diving early in the game but there was no denying he was utterly daft for lunging in on Aaron Cresswell to earn his second caution.

And yet amazingly, with a man less against one of the best sides in the division, Everton were excelling.

They tweaked their formation, Joel Robles produced a fine save to deny Emmanuel Emenike and the Blues saw out the half.

Martinez replaced John Stones with Mo Besic for the start of the second period and with their 4-4-1 formation, together with bags of enthusiasm and an insatiable appetite to work, Martinez's side not only kept West Ham at bay, but extended their lead.

The goal was a thing of beauty as well.

Lennon exchanged passes with Lukaku on the edge of the area before racing into the box and prodding the ball past Adrian.

Goodison was alive. Lennon, James McCarthy and the inspired Besic hounded West Ham, Lukaku was a constant threat to their makeshift backline and Everton dealt with anything that came their way.

But that all changed. And when Michail Antonio muscled his way free of Ramiro Funes Mori to make it 2-1, heads dropped.

Shoulders sagged, legs suddenly felt heavier and, maybe, the doubt began to eat away at their belief.

A test of mental strength, one that Everton were well on course to pass with flying colours, suddenly became that bit harder and those painful memories of Bournemouth, Stoke and Chelsea came flooding back.

The dam had been breached.

Brilliantly resilient for so long, the fuel light on Everton's dashboard popped up.

They had run out of gas. They were suddenly running on empty.

The wheels on a West Ham comeback were now in motion and it came as little surprise when Diafra Sakho glanced another header past Robles to make it 2-2. It was then that Everton being down to 10 men was made itself felt.

Many will want to scrutinise the substitutions that Martinez made.

His reasons for taking off Lennon and then Lukaku are understandable because both had run themselves into the ground and were clearly beginning to tire, but the results were not as he had hoped.

Oumar Niasse was unable to offer the same workrate as Lennon and then Gareth Barry, Lukaku's replacement in the final minute, was unable to steady the ship in time as Dimitri Payet stole in to poke home Sakho's flick on after two Everton defenders.

It's easy to see in hindsight, but maybe Martinez wishes he'd not made the first switch at all.

Yet it there is more than that for him to rue; Lukaku's misses, the poor defending and rush of blood that went straight to Mirallas' head.

If Everton's new investor Farhad Moshiri thought Tuesday's routine win at Aston Villa was par for the course then this will have him much more about where his new team are at.


Romelu Lukaku shoots to give the Blues the lead against West Ham at Goodison on Saturday PIC: TONY MCARDLE/EVERTON FC VIA GETTY IMAGES
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Date:Mar 7, 2016
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