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Calvert-Lewin has Everton poised to gate-crash race for Europe

LONDON — Everton have a live chance of succeeding in their late scramble for European qualification if Dominic Calvert-Lewin really has discovered his clinical touch. The 24-year-old settled a hard-fought 1-0 win over Champions League hopefuls West Ham United with a dead-eyed finish from his only clear sight of goal all afternoon.

Their chances of gate-crashing the Champions League places still appear remote given an eight-point gap to Leicester City but Carlo Ancelotti’s side have a game in hand and will be encouraged by the Foxes’ devilish run-in, which comprises games against Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur punctuated by the FA Cup final. At the very least, Everton are firmly back in the conversation for a Europa League place courtesy of Calvert-Lewin rediscovering something like the match-defining form of earlier in the campaign.

The striker became the first Premier League player to reach 10 goals this season when netting a brace in Everton’s 3-2 win at Fulham on Nov. 22. However, that consistency had deserted him of late, scoring just twice in the league since Feb. 6 before Sunday’s contribution at London Stadium.

It was precisely the type of finish that put Calvert-Lewin in the mix to act as Harry Kane’s understudy at this summer’s delayed Euro 2020. Ben Godfrey slipped a 23rd-minute pass in behind the Hammers backline and Calvert-Lewin showed excellent strength to fend off Craig Dawson and slot a low finish expertly past West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski. It was Everton’s first shot of the match and his 16th goal of the season, equalling the highest tally for an Englishman at the club since Tony Cottee in 1993-94.

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Earlier in the campaign, Ancelotti made somewhat lofty comparisons between Calvert-Lewin and a player once under his management, AC Milan great Filippo Inzaghi, but encouraging him to think in those terms has clearly had a positive effect. Only Kane, Mohamed Salah (both 30) and Bruno Fernandes (25) have scored more league goals than Calvert-Lewin’s 24 since Ancelotti took charge of Everton in December 2019.

“It is a goal of a top striker, “said Ancelotti. “The striker prepares the movement, moves at the right time. This was a fantastic goal he scored.

“If we don’t win we are out of the fight for Europe so we needed a result here but we managed it well.”

West Ham dominated possession and could have equalised when Vladimir Coufal hit the inside of the post with a first-time right-footed shot from 12 yards out, but they did not manage a single shot on target all afternoon and in fact could have fallen further behind if Everton had made better use of several threatening counterattacks. Calvert-Lewin did well to thread a through-ball to Seamus Coleman but he couldn’t get a shot away. Shortly afterward, he was forced wide when sent clear and stood up a superb cross for Joshua King, on as a substitute seconds earlier, to hit the post with a close-range header after climbing above Coufal.

West Ham are five points behind Leicester, and given the Foxes’ aforementioned run-in, David Moyes will retain hope they can still land the most unlikely of successes by sealing a top-four spot, although there was a hint of resignation in his voice afterwards.

“Sometimes when you are shooting for the stars you forget about the stuff you have done before,” he said. “If we don’t quite make it, whatever we get we’ll look at as a good result. They’ve not overachieved in my eyes, maybe in other people’s eyes. The biggest compliment I can give them is they’ve been competitive in every game.”

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that they are running out of steam, having lost three in their past four with defeat to Everton mirroring the one at home to Chelsea in that it has the added effect of boosting a direct rival. They are running out of players, too, with Manuel Lanzini and Aaron Cresswell forced off injured here. It has been a remarkable season for West Ham but they are presently limping towards the finish line.

Moyes opted to pair Lanzini with Tomas Soucek in central midfield in what represented a bold, attacking move. Lanzini worked the ball with impressive precision but what they gained in greater invention they perhaps lost in positional discipline. Lanzini was slow to close down Godfrey for the through-ball that gave Calvert-Lewin his big chance.

“I think every game is getting more important from now until the end of the season, so we simply have to keep believing and go into every game trying to win,” Calvert-Lewin told Sky Sports. “This game is gone now. We have taken three points and we go onto the next one with the same intensity, the same attitude.”

West Ham will view their final three matches against Brighton & Hove Albion, West Bromwich Albion and Southampton as the chance to end strongly. But they do not possess the same momentum Everton are beginning to generate, nor a striker as sharp as Calvert-Lewin.

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