Tomkins travesty gives Everton the vital edge

Everton 3 West Ham United 1 WHEN Arsenal clogger Willie Young hauled down Hammers young hero Paul Allen when he was clean through in the 1980 FA Cup Final, the world of football wanted him sent off, but the rules of the game had made no provision for it,

Everton 3 West Ham United 1

WHEN Arsenal clogger Willie Young hauled down Hammers young hero Paul Allen when he was clean through in the 1980 FA Cup Final, the world of football wanted him sent off, but the rules of the game had made no provision for it, writes DAVE EVANS.

On Saturday at Goodison Park we witnessed the regulation that was brought in to make sure that sort of foul play was outlawed, but also how the referee's interpretation has turned the professional foul rule into a farce.

"The penalty changed the game," said West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola after Saturday's 3-1 defeat. "I have watched it on the television and maybe, maybe not.

"If I was the referee, maybe I would have given the penalty, but maybe I wouldn't and because it was very close, maybe I wouldn't have given the red card."

Having watched it a dozen times on television, it looked like a penalty, but it was the sending off of young star James Tomkins which was the real talking point, and the real turning point of this game.

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"Maybe it was just a yellow card because James did try to get the ball, but unfortunately, their player got there first," said Zola.

He was right. This was no Willie Young cynical foul. Louis Saha's clever flick had put Tim Cahill in and Tomkins attempt at a tackle was merely a reflex action. He even tried to pull his foot away, but it was too late, there was contact, it was a penalty, but was it really worth a red card?

Herita Ilunga and Lucas Neill were not too far away and Rob Green was closing in on the situation. Surely this scenario is not what this rule was invented for?

West Ham had started this game slowly and a lively Everton side had already seen Saha and Leon Osman shoot wide, as well as the classy Steven Pienaar fire inches over the top with Green beaten, when the Hammers grabbed the lead against the run of play.

It certainly came from a surprising source as well. Mark Noble played a quiet ball inside to Radoslav Kovac, but the big Czech saw nobody around him, and hit a swerving shot from at least 30 yards which flew past Tim Howard and into the Everton net.

It was his first goal in claret and blue and will give his manager food for thought when he considers whether to offer him a contract for next season, though one super strike does not make you Arthur Scargill.

"It was a great strike by Radoslav Kovac," agreed Zola. "We didn't start the game properly and we weren't playing as well as I wanted us to, but just before we scored we picked up a bit and we seemed to be in control of the game."

The goal left Everton shellshocked and Joseph Yobo's awful back pass allowed in Diego Tristan, who could only pull a shot wide when a second goal was a distinct possibility.

But then on 35 minutes came the decisive moment. Cahill went down like a sack of potatoes; Phil Dowd pointed to the spot and had his red card out for Tomkins so fast, it may well have been attached to his hand.

Zola reshuffled at the break. The ineffective Tristan and David Di Michele were replaced by Jonathan Spector and Carlton Cole, with skipper Neill moving into the centre of the West Ham defence.

Kovac had been shuffled into the defence before the break, and that may well have been worth persevering with as within four minutes of the restart, the Blues had grabbed the lead.

Luis Boa Morte conceded a corner and when Pienaar swung the ball to the far post, Yobo stood there unmarked, before drilling a shot off the inside leg of Matty Upson and completely through the legs of Noble on the line.

It was Kovac who lost Yobo, but West Ham can count themselves a little unlucky that the Everton defender's effort managed to get past the Hammers defence like a croquet ball through a set of hoops.

A minute later, Saha's header was deflected on to the post by Spector and it looked like Everton had the chance to run riot, however, slowly but surely, West Ham began to haul themselves back into the game, with some incisive play on the break.

First Noble's free kick picked out Upson, who headed firmly, but straight at Howard, and then Cole's superb through ball found Boa Morte, but with just the goalkeeper to beat, the Port-uguese winger shot too close to Howard who gratefully clut-ched it.

Striker Cole commented: "I'm disappointed that Luis couldn't put it away, because it would have capped off a great season for him.

"He's come on strong at the end of the season and I wanted him to score that so much."

Every West Ham fan would agree with those sentiments, but how many had confidence that he would have put it away? That is the problem with Boa Morte.

A couple of minutes later, Noble unleashed another classy pass and Cole controlled superbly, only for Howard to grab the ball at the second attempt, before on 72 minutes, substitute Junior Stanislas sprinted goalwards from halfway, but Howard was again equal to the effort.

Three good chances to level matters came and went and Everton took full advantage to make the game safe on 77 minutes.

Pienaar roasted Spector on the left wing and with Upson forced out to mark Cahill, the South African simply squared for Saha to tap in from just a couple of yards out.

It was Saha's fourth goal against the Hammers this season out of a total of just seven, and he could have added another before the end when Cahill put him through, only for Green to save superbly.

Seconds later, Cahill's header was also beaten away by Green and any more than three goals for the home side would have been belied the huge effort that the Hammers had put in.

"What can I say?" said a clearly disappointed Zola. "Sometimes the referee can make the right decision, but he doesn't have the videos and cameras that we have.

"It's painful, but I accept it."

Tomkins, one of the stars of the season for West Ham, will have to accept it as well. He will miss the final game of the season on Sunday, and that, like the judging in the Eurovision Song Contest, simply isn't right.

It was May 10, 1980 when Young hauled down the pint-sized Allen and caused a national storm. Almost 29 years to the day later and the officials still haven't got things right.

And it was that which finally ended West Ham's hopes of a place in Europe.

West Ham: Green, Neill, Ilunga, Tomkins, Upson, Kovac (Stanislas 67), Noble, Boa Morte, Collison, Di Michele (Spector h/t), Tristan (Cole h/t). Unused subs: Kurucz, Lopez, Savio, Payne.

Attendance: 38,501. Referee: Phil Dowd.