Long's header not enough for Albion
SUB Shane Long made a welcome return from injury AND to the scoresheet – but Albion were unable to comeback from a two-goal half-time deficit for the second game running.
Everton shaded an eventful first 45 and surged two-up thanks to a Leighton Baines double, with the England left-back firing home a superb 29th-minute opener before converting a stoppage-time penalty.
Long’s introduction just past the hour-mark beefed up Albion’s attack and he netted his ninth of the season just two minutes after coming off the bench by punishing a John Heitinga error.
Graham Dorrans almost grabbed an incredible leveller in the 68th minute with a stunning free-kick which smashed the Everton bar.
But that scare prompted the hosts to move up a gear and it was Everton who looked more likely to add to the scoring during the dying stages.
Fifth entertained ninth at a blustery Goodison Park, with the two clubs separated by only four points.
Steve Clarke made three changes from the draw against Villa, with Goran Popov, Jerome Thomas and George Thorne coming in for benched pair Liam Ridgewell and Claudio Yacob and Peter Odemwingie. The subs line-up was bolstered by the return from injury of Shane Long and Marc-Antoine Fortune.
David Moyes made one change as Victor Anichebe, who scored in both games against Albion last term, replaced Nikica Jelavic.
There was a subdued atmosphere among the home sections during the opening exchanges and it was the Baggies – backed by an exuberant following – who went close first.
After linking up well with Thomas down the left in the ninth miniute, Romelu Lukaku pulled the ball back to Graham Dorrans on the edge of the box and his first-time, goalbound drive was blocked by Sylvain Distin.
Everton responded with an effort of their own a minute later when Kevin Mirallas advanced forward before dragging his shot well wide from 25 yards.
Albion had made an assured start on Merseyside and were knocking the ball around with confidence.
However, they had a real – not to mention bizarre – scare on 18. Billy Jones just beat Anichebe in a 50-50 challenge but the ball ricocheted off the Everton forward and looped just wide of the stranded Ben Foster’s right-hand post.
The Toffees went much closer through more conventional means 60 seconds later. Marouane Fellaini shot on the turn from Distin’s downward header and struck the outside of the post from an acute angle.
After a lull in proceedings, Everton broke the deadlock with a real bolt of the blue. Leighton Baines raced onto Leon Osman’s ball inside before smashing an unstoppable 18-yard drive into the top left-hand corner. Foster did manage to get a hand to it, but the ball was virtually past the partially unsighted keeper when he made contact.
Apart from the goal, there was a distinct shortage of scoring opportunities during the first half.
Albion showed plenty of endeavour but continually lost their way in the final third.
Everton threatened again on 34 when Mirallas’ corner fell neatly for Phil Jagielka, whose goalbound prod was blocked at point-blank range by Popov.
Albion suffered an injury set-back on 43 when Thorne, who looked in some discomfort after an innocuous tangle with Osman, was stretchered off and replaced by Yacob.
The Argentinean had barely touched the ball when, three minutes after coming on, he upended Anichebe in the box and conceded a penalty. Baines made no mistake from the spot, sending Foster the wrong way.
Albion started the second period positively and created their best chance just 67 seconds after the restart. Thomas latched onto Brunt’s neat forward pass to thread in Lukaku, who advanced to the edge of the Everton box before shooting wildly wide.
Clarke’s side enjoyed plenty of possession in the Everton half during the opening minutes but found the Blues’ defensive wall tough to penetrate.
With the visitors prodding and probing for a lifeline, there was always the danger they would be caught on the counter-attack and Foster had to be alert to push away Mirallas’ awkward 20-yard drive in the 57th minute.
From Everton’s ensuing corner, Stephen Pienaar shot straight at Foster from just inside the box.
Clarke made his second change on 62, replacing Morrison with Long and switching to a 4-4-2 formation. Long set up a half-chance for Lukaku with his first touch but the on-loan Chelsea man’s shot was blocked by John Heitinga.
Long made an even bigger contribution within two minutes of coming on – by pulling a goal back. Lukaku raced onto Brunt’s fine through-pass before rounding Tim Howard and, despite losing his footing, prodding the ball goalwards. Heitinga stopped the ball going over the line but instead of clearing, he merely dinked the ball upwards and Long nipped in to head home.
The goal breathed new life into the Baggies and only the woodwork denied them a leveller on 68. Dorrans curled a brilliant 25-yard free-kick over the Everton wall and beat Howard all ends up – only to see his shot bounce off the crossbar.
Everton hit back a minute later and Foster did well to deny Osman at point-blank range after Jagielka’s centre had taken an unfortunate ricochet off Gareth McAuley.
Moyes’ men had upped their game since Dorrans had hit the woodwork and Foster had to be at his best to tip over a deft free-kick from Pienaar.
Albion then had an incredible escape on 82. Foster tipped Pienaar’s close-range effort onto the inside of his near post before Osman inexplicably fired over the empty net from seven yards.
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Howard; Jagielka, Heitinga, Distin, Baines; Fellaini, Neville; Osman, Mirallas (Gibson 64), Pienaar; Anichebe (Jelavic 83). Subs not used: Mucha (gk), Oviedo, Naismith, Hitzlsperger, Gueye.
ALBION (4-2-3-1): Foster; Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Popov; Thorne (Yacob 43), Brunt (c); Dorrans, Morrison (Long 62), Thomas (Rosenberg 76); Lukaku. Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Tamas, Ridgewell, Fortune.
GOALS: EVERTON – Baines (29 & 45+2 pen). ALBION – Long (64).
BOOKINGS: ALBION – Yacob (foul 61), Dorrans (foul 80).
REFEREE: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).
ALBION STARMAN: Billy Jones.