Romelu Lukaku and Everton denied as West Ham inch towards safety
LONDON -- Three quick thoughts on West Ham 0-0 Everton at the London Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
1. Stalemate little use to Everton
For West Ham and Slaven Bilic, Saturday's stalemate was a faltering step towards safety, but for Everton, it was an afternoon of great disappointment. A point took them above Arsenal to climb into sixth, but the Gunners now have three games in hand. This was a blunt performance from Ronald Koeman's men, and the Dutchman's attempts to freshen up his sagging team with substitutes came to nothing.
Both managers made goalkeeping changes, with Darren Randolph and Joel Robles both dropped after recent mistakes, and Adrian and Maarten Stekelenburg playing in their stead. Adrian looked none too safe himself in the 15th minute when skewing an Edimilson Fernandes throw-in straight off Romelu Lukaku's backside. That was as much work as Adrian had to get through in the first half, and as close as Lukaku got to scoring all afternoon.
Everton produced next to nothing of attacking note, with Ross Barkley having a very bad game and Lukaku overmanned as a lone striker. When substitute Ademola Lookman drifted a shot wide in the 71st minute, he registered Everton's first shot of the whole match, a statistical representation of a hugely disappointing display from a team still theoretically with a chance of qualifying for the Champions League. That pipe dream will be denied due to Everton not winning away from Goodison Park since January.
West Ham had the better of the opportunities, but they were slim pickings, with James Collins heading well wide and Cheikhou Kouyate having an overhead kick blocked, although Stekelenburg could hardly be said to have been kept busy. In terms of saves that the Dutchman had to make, there were 44 minutes between a first-half block of a Havard Nordtveit effort and a shot from Manuel Lanzini.
His team having created even less than that, manager Koeman made a half-time switch that brought on Gareth Barry and Lookman for Tom Davies, energetic yet ineffective, and a below-par Idrissa Gueye.
It made little change to the balance of play, as West Ham pushed on again. Only Phil Jagielka, hit full in the face, stopped a goal-bound Lanzini shot. Bilic's team were going for the victory that would have taken them up to the magical 40 points barrier, but a lack of quality in their attacking lineup meant only a point could be saved.
Up front, Hammers' record signing Andre Ayew struggled against Jagielka and Ashley Williams, and Jonathan Calleri's 60th minute replacement by Diafra Sakho received the loudest cheer of the afternoon. The Argentinian's contribution had been negligible, while Sakho, absent for most of this campaign with injury, is remembered fondly as the club's top scorer in the 2014-15 season.
The Senegalese striker subsequently failed to impress in a match that will not linger in anybody's memory
2. Lukaku starved of service
Lukaku's record of always scoring against West Ham ended here at nine matches, and the Premier League's top scorer was unable to add to his total of 24.
He was anonymous in the first 45 minutes, though admittedly had little service provided. He ended up dropping deep in search of possession -- although in vain; Hammers central defender Winston Reid repeatedly had the Belgian striker's measure.
Not that Lukaku's level of application was unstinting. It is such a lack of work rate that has stopped Europe's elite making their move for a player who has consistently scored goals in England yet still fails to convince he is worth anything like the £100 million price that Everton are demanding.
A lack of service was a considerable excuse, but it was not until the 60th minute that Lukaku made an attacking incursion of note. He blazed down the left-hand side of Everton's defence, beating two defenders yet could not get past a third as Collins hurriedly cleared.
West Ham's defence, porous all season, looked like ready prey for a player who had scored nine in his past nine matches, but Lukaku's performance was not of a level to extend his previous sequences.
3. Patched-up Hammers show fight
West Ham captain Mark Noble, suspended here but celebrated prematch for passing 400 first-team appearances, had spoken of reaching 39 points as the safety barrier, but West Ham will have to wait to reach that. They are one short at 38, and Hull and Swansea's victories kept them in the dogfight.
Bilic's future is even less secure after a painfully inconsistent season in charge. Only a 1-0 defeat of Swansea a fortnight ago has broken up an otherwise winless run that stretches back to winning 3-1 at Southampton on Feb. 4.
Thirteen players came last summer, plus Robert Snodgrass and Jose Fonte in January. Snodgrass, yet to score for the Hammers, missed out through injury, while the Hammers have kept one clean sheet with Fonte in defence.
Injuries had left Bilic with a bare-bones selection, with Andy Carroll having suffered his latest groin injury and Michail Antonio out for the season having been rushed back from a hamstring problem at Arsenal on April 5.
It at least looked as if West Ham's undermanned team were playing for their manager. Everton may have been ponderous but the energy of their opponents was a significant contributor to that. Bilic's patched-up team worked hard for their point, with Reid outstanding in defence and Kouyate industrious in midfield.
And the promise shown by Fernandes in midfield suggested that at least one of the recent arrivals can prove of value at the London Stadium.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.