Long and McAuley extend impressive start
SHANE Long’s 65th-minute opener set Albion on the way to their best-ever start to a Barclays Premier League season – and ended Everton’s 12-match unbeaten league run.
Gareth McAuley wrapped up the Baggies’ second successive home win with a towering header eight minutes from time.
Long worked tirelessly throughout but endured a game of two halves in front of goal, missing a gilt-edged chance during the first 45 before adding a killer touch to sub Peter Odemwingie’s perfect cross to break the deadlock. The Republic of Ireland striker’s standing ovation when he was subbed 14 minutes from time was richly-deserved.
Everton had not tasted a Premier League defeat since losing to Arsenal six months ago and proved a tough nut to crack – but Steve Clarke’s men were worthy of their three points.
Clarke is now unbeaten in four games at the helm and cries of ‘Clarkey, Clarkey give us a wave’ from the packed home sections are becoming increasingly frequent.
It may be very early days, but the fact it was third visiting fifth at The Hawthorns today underlined the impressive starts both teams have made to the campaign.
Clarke named an unchanged team from the draw at Tottenham but there was mixed injury news among the subs.
Odemwingie returned to the bench after a two-game thigh-injury absence while loan star Romelu Lukaku missed out after failing a late fitness test on an ankle problem.
David Moyes also named an unchanged league team from Everton’s 3-1 win at Villa last weekend.
Albion started confidently and immediately put the Toffees on the back foot during the opening minutes.
However, it was the visitors who recorded the afternoon’s first effort at goal. Claudio Yacob cleared Leighton Baines’ cross straight to Steven Pienaar, who saw his 18-yard drive blocked in the box by McAuley’s outstretched right leg.
The game then entered a scrappy passage of play which Everton enjoyed the best of, despite failing to trouble Ben Foster’s goal. Albion were proving their own worst enemy as they struggled to keep possession.
Everton had loud penalty appeals turned away on 17 when Nikica Jelavic clashed with Yacob in the box. However, TV replays showed referee Jon Moss was right to wave play on, with the Argentine getting a toe to the ball before clashing with the Croat.
Albion surged straight upfield and after good hold-up play by Long, Marc-Antoine Fortune was well off target with an acute drive from the left-hand side of the penalty area.
Everton suffered an early injury setback when Darron Gibson limped off in the 20th minute and was replaced by Tony Hibbert.
The Baggies began to get their act together and Steven Reid tested Tim Howard with a 35-yard missile, which the former Manchester United keeper did well to hold after an awkward bounce.
Things should have got much worse for the visitors on 29 when the Baggies created the best chance of the game by a mile. Liam Ridgewell found Long unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box with a peach of a left-wing cross – but the Republic of Ireland international crashed his header against the bar.
A minute later, Everton went close themselves when Marouane Fellaini looped a header from sub Hibbert’s diagonal ball onto the roof of Foster’s net.
Headed chances had become the order of the afternoon and from Steven Naismith’s dink across the box, Jelavic headed tamely at Foster from 12 yards.
The off-balance Jonas Olsson was the next to threaten when he nodded over from Morrison’s angled free-kick into the Everton box.
Albion almost snatched the lead on the stroke of half-time when Youssouf Mulumbu flicked Reid’s ball into Morrison’s path. The Scotland international beat Sylvain Distin before seeing his 15-yard effort well saved by Howard.
The hosts started the second half on the front foot and after a great move involving Yacob, Reid and Morrison, Long would have had an open goal had Hibbert not managed to get a last-ditch clearing touch onto ‘Mozza’s’ centre.
Moments later, Mulumbu fired wide from 20 yards.
Albion were forced into a change of their own on 53 when the injured Reid was replaced by Billy Jones.
Everton had been quiet since the break but almost fashioned an opening when clever work by Pienaar and Fellaini gave Baines a glimpse of goal – but McAuley blocked the left-back’s shot.
Albion only half-cleared the ensuing corner and Fellaini wastefully screwed wide on the turn from 12 yards from Jelavic’s tee up.
Clarke made another change on 58 when he brought on Odemwingie for Graham Dorrans.
Although clear-cut chances remained hard to come by, this was proving an intriguing tactical match-up and difficult to call.
On 64, Everton spurned their best chance thus far. The Merseysiders hit Albion on the break from their own corner and Fellaini looked certain to score when sub Kevin Mirallas’ right-wing cross was deflected into his path. The Belgium international had all the time in the world to pick his spot – but blazed high and wide from 12 yards.
The Baggies punished Fellaini’s profligacy in the 65th minute. Odemwingie raced onto Ridgewell’s slide-rule pass down the left and found Long with an inch-perfect cross and the former Reading man swept home from seven yards.
Everton regrouped but Foster had little trouble keeping out Mirallas’ deflected shot from the edge of the box.
But Albion had a real grip on the game now and Morrison will feel he should’ve done better when he fired over from the edge of the box on 76.
Five minutes later, the once-again impressive Yacob wasn’t too far away with a 25-yard drive which had Howard scampering across his line.
The Baggies were turning the screw and Howard had to produce a fine reflex save to keep out Mulumbu’s 20-yarder.
It was game over from sub Chris Brunt’s ensuing corner. McAuley lost marker Fellaini to flick a header home from inside the six-yard box.
ALBION (4-2-3-1): Foster; Reid (Jones 53), McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Yacob, Mulumbu; Dorrans (Odemwingie 58), Morrison, Fortune; Long (Brunt 76). Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Dawson, Rosenberg, Gera.
EVERTON (4-4-2): Howard; Neville (Anichebe 73), Distin, Jagielka, Baines; Naismith (Mirallas 61), Gibson (Hibbert 20), Osman, Pienaar; Fellaini, Jelavic. Subs not used: Mucha (gk), Coleman, Gueye, Heitinga.
GOALS: ALBION – Long (65), McAuley (82).
BOOKINGS: ALBION – Reid (foul 47). EVERTON – Hibbert (foul 36), Neville (foul 70), Fellaini (foul 71).
REFEREE: Jonathan Moss (West Yorkshire).
ALBION STARMAN: Gareth McAuley.