As seven minutes of added time were being announced at Upton Park on Saturday, Romelu Lukaku was sitting on the side lines trying to piece together what had just happened. Having to be informed by the physio that he had just put Everton in front, Lukaku groggily set foot back on the pitch and spent the remainder of stoppage time looking dazed and confused. It’s likely that most of the West Ham supporters were feeling the same way.
Yet rewind back to about 2pm when the team news emerged and the Hammers fans would have been pleased to see that the Belgian was not starting. Equally, there were a few murmurs of discontent amongst Everton fans at this decision, such was the excitement to see the new man in action. However it was clear that Roberto Martinez was offering Nikica Jelavic one last chance to start scoring goals, but sadly it was a chance he did not take. After an anonymous first half, Jelavic did not appear for the second period and the on loan debutant stepped on as his replacement.
Everton looked a completely different team in the second half, with this arguably being down to the introduction of the 20-year-old from Antwerp. His presence on the pitch was felt immediately and only minutes into the restart, he dropped deep to pick up the ball and charge forward causing panic amongst the West Ham back line. It was during this attack that he showed off one of many aspects of his game (this occasion being his passing nous), to play through Kevin Mirallas into a dangerous position. From then on he proved to be a consistent threat throughout the game and it was obvious that an element of fear had developed amongst the opposition players as a result of his introduction.
It could be argued that such fear has been lacking since the days of Duncan Ferguson and in just one half of football, Lukaku proved that he is capable of filling the void up front for Everton. His performance offered a presence up front that has been lacking for far too long and you can only begin to imagine what might have been had Everton had a player like him in past seasons.
Looking at the stats from Opta, he proved an effective target man, receiving the ball 31 times and making 20 out of 26 successful passes. This was even more telling when looking in comparison to Jelavic, who only managed 8 successful passes after managing to receive the ball 15 times. Lukaku’s introduction also allowed the likes of Ross Barkley to flourish as the Hammers defence were too busy worrying about the big man up front. Both Barkley and Mirallas were found by Lukaku on 9 and 4 occasions respectively, with one particular combination between the two Belgians leading to Everton’s third goal.
With regards to Lukaku’s goal, he worked hard to begin the move himself, dribbling well and finding Mirallas in a good position to cross. It was a real show of bravery from the young forward to get himself on the end of the cross and it exemplified his whole performance. Lukaku has certainly set himself high standards with a performance of such tremendous hunger and desire, with his manager Martinez duly impressed:
“It’s a great introduction to his Everton career to score a goal in the manner that it really hurts. It’s going back to the old Dixie Dean times and the passion of Dave Hickson.”
His imposing debut creates promise for the rest of the season and it is clear to fans that there is a new big haired Belgian star in town. Such were the rapturous celebrations in the Everton away end after he scored, it would be hard to imagine there were not a few accidental knocks to the head there either. Romelu Lukaku may not remember his debut goal, but the fans will.