Ref justice as Everton seal comeback win
If Premier League managers are allowed to send Christmas cards to referees, neither Sam Allardyce nor David Moyes will be choosing Anthony Taylor as a future recipient.
Two teams shorn of iconic hairstyles - Andy Carroll's less than divine ponytail and Marouane Fellaini's Funkadelic afro - hoped for pre-Christmas cheer. The season of goodwill must wait for Allardyce, whose turducken is likely to be devoured with far less relish than Moyes' lean cuisine turkey.
A refereeing error cost Carroll's replacement, Carlton Cole, place in the game after his fine goal had given West Ham the lead. Fellaini's stand-in, Victor Anichebe, eventually turned the tide back in Everton's favour just when his team looked to be running low on ideas. That was before another Taylor decision cost Everton a vital midfielder for their Christmas fixtures when Darron Gibson was sent off for a very similar offence to Cole.
Moyes' chance of finishing in the top four is strong if his team repeat the late-season surges they have patented in recent years. They do so from a position of strength. Glad tidings came from White Hart Lane, where Stoke's draw gave Everton a welcome gift.
"We're bobbing in and out at the moment," Moyes said. Their season's story is told in the middle column of 'W-D-L'. Only Stoke had drawn as many as their nine games, before making it ten at Spurs. The inconsistencies of Arsenal and Spurs have not been fully capitalised upon; neither has Chelsea's unrest. Finishing again above Liverpool will not be enough for Moyes. A greater prize than local bragging rights is the stated aim and it can still be claimed.
Fellaini's absence after his stupidity at Stoke meant Everton would have to overturn a damning statistic. Since the beginning of the 2011-12 season, they had won 41% of games the Belgian had played and been victorious in just 17% when he was in absentia. To balance that out, they were able to field another stats guru in the unlikely shape of Gibson, unbeaten in his last 33 Premier League matches. Make that 34. However, barring successful appeal, his sending off means Gibson will have to wait to make it 35.
The bulky figure best known for his shooting at Manchester United has slimmed down - Moyes players operate at military fitness levels. At United, fans unkindly referred to him as 'The Void' for a propensity to go missing when the opposition had the ball. Moyes has converted him, and he now combines hard work with a decent range of passing. Two dangerous free-kicks whistled past the angle to show venom has not been traded for svelteness.
"I thought it was going to be a day when it didn't work," said Moyes, who still approved of his team's first-half display despite going into the break with a deficit.
Leon Osman's goal had been chalked off for what looked a minimal infringement by Anichebe on Jussi Jaaskelainen. Everton's rage turned into bitterness when Cole scored almost straight away. A drop of the shoulder and a fierce drive beat Tim Howard. West Ham had a lead they had hardly threatened.
But rather than Carroll, it is Mohamed Diame whose absence is most keenly felt. The twang of his hamstring cost a lead against Liverpool, and his drive was missed in the dull draw at the Hawthorns. The pattern was repeated. In the first half, Everton's passing triangles were picking holes but failing to find Nikica Jelavic or Anichebe in onside positions.
The usually reliable supply lines of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar were being penned back by Matt Taylor, playing a very Allardyce-ian role of defensive winger. As Taylor tired, and was shuffled inside by Modibo Maiga's arrival for Gary O'Neil, who played with a groin injury amid an injury crisis, Everton began to create better chances, though Jelavic erred when a ball cannoned off two West Ham defenders into his path.
Everton's diagonal crosses were providing discomfort, but failing without their usual mushroom-shaped target until Piennar's chip into Anichebe, and the subsequent angled header, left Jaaskelainen rooted. The Hammers' disappointment became indignation when Cole was sent off for a high kick on Baines that barely merited a yellow card.
"You're not fit to referee," sang the Bobby Moore Stand. Baines agreed, looking apologetic as he walked with Cole to the sidelines with a sympathetic arm around him. Cole's kick had not hurt. Allardyce prowled his technical area, seeking Moyes' agreement that it had been a wrongful sending off. The fourth official and linesman were treated to several pieces of his mind.
"Anichebe did a similar challenge on James Collins in the 32nd minute and yet nothing for him, not even a talking to, never mind a yellow card," Allardyce said, using case law in his argument against the decision he said had "a massive effect on the result".
Pienaar claimed the winning goal, but it owed much to more good work from the outstanding Osman - praised by his manager as "top notch".
"If he plays like that, he'll get more than one cap," Moyes said of his recently capped England man.
Taylor and Jaaskelainen got into a tangle as the ball was bundled home from close range. "2-1 to the referee," sang Hammers fans, though they might also wonder how a previously good defensive performance had fallen apart so readily.
When Gibson was dismissed late on for mirroring Cole's offence, West Ham fans were still in no mood for forgiveness. As Gibson departed in bemusement, referee Taylor was still targeted, despite his equalising of his earlier decision.
"The two challenges were two players being relatively honest," Moyes said. "Neither was dangerous play." He struck on the idea of a Christmas alliance with officialdom as the enemy.
"I'll be speaking to Sam," he added, preparing his joint initiative. "I don't think you could put the word 'frivolous' by the appeal."
"I'm not sure they'll take any notice," Allardyce said, Christmas goodwill failing him. "It's difficult to take."