After what was a wonderful week to be an Evertonian- taking 4 points from Old Trafford and the Emirates- there was only one way a home fixture with Fulham could go.
The Cottagers had lost each of their last 20 league visits to Goodison Park, so it was little wonder just one die-hard Lilywhite decided to leave the capital for L4. Add to that the fact that Everton have lost just twice in their last 35 league games at home, and it was never going to be a merry visit for the lone traveller.
For Blues, there was only optimism spewing out of the County Road establishments leading up to the game. Pre-match talk barely landed on the possible score-line except perhaps to guess the margin of the home win. With the excellent James McCarthy suspended, who would take his place in the starting XI?
We hoped it would be Gerard Duelofeu. The Spaniard took much pleasure in tormenting Stoke City two weeks ago, surely the winger would get the nod? The realism of Leon Osman was also mentioned, even though we were all certain that a merciless midfield of Steven Pienaar, Kevin Mirallas, Ross Barkley and Deulofeu should be let loose on a side ripe for the picking.
They both got the nod and Osman kindly returned the favour with Everton’s opening goal, and how typical Leon it was. The move started where they so often have under Roberto Martinez, Sylvain Distin finding Bryan Oviedo hugged to the touchline before the Costa Rican fed Pienaar.
Osman received the ball just outside the area, shaping to shoot with his right before checking onto his left, and passing the ball beyond Stekelenburg. The most impressive thing about the goal was Osman’s ability to leave some-time Kopite John Arne-Riise lying on backside with a manoeuvre only slightly quicker than the last Ice Age.
The goal proved to pacify a rather subdued crowd in the opening 20 minutes. It seems Blues have been spoilt over the last week and the crowd were expectant of something special. But with the likes of Deulofeu patrolling the right flank there was every reason to expect just that, and the Spaniard went close on a number of occasions; dragging a shot just wide and then changing tact with a beautifully disguised cross for Romelu Lukaku. Unfortunately the cross was so well disguised that even the Belgian was simply not expecting it.
Everton continued to dominate proceedings but Fulham were not without periods of possession. But rather than the fear of the enigmatic genius of Dimitar Berbatov undoing them, Everton were only at risk of undoing themselves as one or two casual back passes almost proved costly.
In the second half, the absence of McCarthy became more and more obvious. It says a lot about the Scottish-born midfielder that something important appears missing when he’s not in the side. Fulham came out with their tails up after the break (I know, I didn’t think they bothered bringing their tails to Goodison anymore either) and pressed Everton high up the pitch, forcing them into unnecessary mistakes in dangerous areas.
And in typical Everton style, the undoing process began. Gareth Barry took the legs of Alex Kacaniklic and Berbatov, clearly irked by Osman’s talents, tied things up on the ‘whose-goal-can-be-scored-with-a-slower-pass’ competition, from the penalty spot.
With the scores level and Deulofeu stretchered off with a hamstring injury moments before, what was supposed to be a routine victory was now in the balance. Fulham suddenly looked capable of scoring while Everton struggled to gain any momentum beyond the half-way line.
Mirallas replaced the injured Duelofeu and with Lukaku struggling to make himself a presence in the game, the home crowd looked to the speedy Belgian for inspiration.
Fulham’s lead lasted only six minutes but it was Pienaar who burst into gear in the 73rd minute to help restore Everton’s lead. Oviedo is looking every bit Leighton Baines’ understudy with the partnership he has formed with Pienaar and the South African allowed the left-back’s inside ball to go through his legs before getting the return from Lukaku.
When he pulled the ball back across goal Seamus Coleman came steaming in at the back post to steer the ball home, notching his third goal of the season.
The Irishman revealed to the Daily Mail’s Dominic King that Martinez urged the full-back to get at the back post during half time in the opening game at Norwich. He went on to score in that game, as well as last weeks 4-0 win over Stoke: all in similar back-post circumstances.
With the lead reclaimed, Everton looked more like Martinez’s Everton: composed, patient and fluid. Ball retention was much better, players were quick to press when Fulham came forward and quicker to break when the opportunity arose. It was the football that saw the Blues win for the first time in 21 years at Old Trafford and almost saw them take three points at the Emirates.
And sure enough more goals followed to give the afternoons work a more flattering appearance. Barry atoned for conceding the penalty by nodding in almost unaware from a yard out and as the clock ticked over into injury time, Mirallas’ low drive from outside the area made it four.
It was by no means pretty and for a spell in the second half the game swung perilously close to going Fulham’s way. There was a lack of bite in the middle of the park without McCarthy and less urgency to regain possession without the Irishman snapping at the heels. But the players get the credit for sticking at it and grinding out a more than respectable 4-1 win on one of our ‘off-days’.
Well, if you’re going to have an ‘off-day’ you might as well have it against Fulham. Anyone else feel sorry for their support? I do hope he gets home okay.