Everton manager Roberto Martinez applauded “special” Gerard Deulofeu after impressing on his first start since returning from injury.
Deulofeu was drafted back into the Everton starting XI against West Ham on Saturday at Goodison Park as Romelu Lukaku’s 81st-minute goal separated the two sides.
The hosts found it difficult to break down Sam Allardyce’s men, but Deulofeu had arguably Everton’s best chance in the first half as he cleverly turned away from two defenders before curling a left-foot shot just wide.
Deulofeu was sidelined for just under two months with a hamstring injury sustained in mid-December and Martinez is delighted at how the on-loan Barcelona winger responded to the setback.
He said: “You need to remember it was very difficult for Gerard. He found a good level and then he got injured. I feel now he is ready again.
“As you could see for the first 10 minutes they (his team-mates) were really demanding of him and he grew into the game. He is a really special footballer for us.
“He played up to 70 minutes for us and it is important to make sure he is really fully fit and strong from now until end of season.
“I am really happy with his contribution and the way he had to suffer to get that match fitness. I think we will get the rewards of that from now until May.”
West Ham manager Allardyce claimed Everton midfielder Gareth Barry should have been given a 19th-minute red card for bringing down Kevin Nolan when through on goal, but Martinez believes referee Jonathan Moss made the correct decision to ignore the visitors’ protests.
“I don’t think there was much in that,” he added. “There was a little bit of contact (but) Leighton (Baines) is covering.
“I don’t think that is decision the referee can give as a free-kick. Unfortunately you get situations where you are looking for those actions too much and I think referees do the right thing to allow play on.
“I didn’t feel, when I watched it live, that it was a free-kick.”