Victor Anichebe marked his surprise return from injury with his fourth goal of the season as Everton eked out a 2-1 win over West Ham, a game more discussed afterwards for the intervention of the officials than the striker’s vital contribution.
Pre-game there was much talk surrounding how Everton would cope without the suspended Marouane Fellaini, and what David Moyes would do without the Belgian. Of all the solutions proposed, a switch to 4-4-2, with Anichebe partnering Nikica Jelavic, was barely given a mention. Moyes has been attached to playing with one striker for much of his decade at Everton, sticking with the plan through good times and bad.
But even if it could have been predicted the manager would deploy two centre-forwards, the odds would still have been against Anichebe being the one to line-up with Jelavic. Apostolos Vellios, the young Greek striker, would have been the choice of most observers. When the team sheet was revealed and Anichebe’s name was on it, the consensus was that the 24-year-old would play on the right of midfield with perhaps Leon Osman supporting Jelavic, but Moyes had other ideas.
It was Osman on the right wing, with Phil Neville returning to action in central midfield alongside Darron Gibson. The result was very narrow midfield four, with Osman on the right and Steven Pienaar on the left always looking to come inside. Leighton Baines provided the width on the left as ever, but injury to Seamus Coleman meant it was down to Phil Jagielka to do likewise from right-back and, while the England centre-back was ever willing, he was distinctly out of position.
Yet, despite Everton looking a little patched-up, and having to cope with the double blow of having a goal disallowed followed almost immediately by West Ham opening the scoring, Moyes’ side dug deep for an important three points. The rights and wrongs of the decision to rule out Osman’s header because of a foul by Anichebe could be debated endlessly, much like the decision to send off Carlton Cole and later Gibson.
More important is that Everton picked up a second win of December, did so without the talisman Fellaini, and Anichebe got a confidence-boosting goal. With Jelavic still struggling to find his best form another source of goals is crucial, particularly while Fellaini is suspended. If Anichebe can provide it then Moyes may have a decision to make when Fellaini returns, especially if he wants to revert to a lone striker.
Moyes is though a long way from having to make that choice. Fellaini has two more games to sit out while Anichebe’s track record of both form and injury means the goal at Upton Park may have been a fleeting involvement. More pressing is how to compensate Gibson’s potential suspension. Chances are, if Coleman or Kevin Mirallas are fit, Osman will slip into midfield with one of that pair on the right. But after springing a surprise against the Hammers, Moyes may have something else up his sleeve.
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