Everton kept their hopes of European qualification alive with another home victory over Fulham — their 11th straight in the Premier League — with a performance that was a good deal better than the scoreline suggested, albeit one undermined somewhat by some overly casual play at times in the final third.
For the most part, however — and in stark contrast to their weak showing at Sunderland last weekend — the Blues were purposeful and inventive and had Marouane Fellaini not contrived to bounce a late shot over a yawning goal, David Moyes might have celebrated the week of his 50th birthday with a more convincing victory.
As it was, though, his team claimed all three points with what was their fifth consecutive league win at Goodison Park and there was plenty to admire about the way they achieved it, both from an attacking standpoint where they were, at times, mesmerising, and from a defensive perspective where the returning Phil Jagielka martialed a near water-tight back line.
The Captain was one of two changes made by Moyes from the team that started at the Stadium of Light. He replaced John Heitinga in central defence and Nikica Jelavic came in for the injured Darron Gibson, with Leon Osman dropping back in central midfield alongside Fellaini.
And it was fairly clear from the outset that Everton were determined to extend a 100% home record against the Cottagers in the League that stretches all the way back to 1959. They settled quickly into an easy passing rhythm and forced a couple of early set-pieces, one of which Fellaini headed goalwards but Mark Schwarzer blocked the effort after the Belgian's own shot had been deflected behind for a corner.
A lovely move in the 14th minute that ended with Kevin Mirallas being harshly flagged offside (he fired over the bar in any case) proved to be a foreshadowing of the kind of brilliant football with which the Blues would carve the visitors for the opening goal.
It came just two minutes later when Osman collected a neat return pass from Mirallas, laid it off to the irrepressible Seamus Coleman on the overlap and his cut-back from the byline was tucked home by Steven Pienaar.
It was the kind of slick, passing move for which the likes of Arsenal are regularly lauded and which Moyes's Everton have been known to produce when they're in the mood. And it begged the vexing question why on earth they couldn't have come even close to producing something of that quality against a very ordinary Sunderland side seven days ago. Even once.
Pleasingly, though Fulham were roused briefly to mount some kind of response, the Blues reasserted their control in short order and set about the task of finding a second goal. Fellaini was revelling in his favoured deeper role, Pienaar was on fire after a particularly poor showing at the Stadium of Light and both Leighton Baines and Coleman were given plenty of license to raid down the flanks to offer support in attack.
A nice turn by Victor Anichebe, back to his bustling, bull-headed self after two ineffective performances, provided a chance for Jelavic but he mis-kicked with his left foot before the roles reversed and the Croatian crossed for the Nigerian international but Anichebe could only steer a difficult header wide of goal.
Two more delectable moves by the home side would yield opportunities for Fellaini before half time but he dragged one across the face of Schwarzer's goal nine minutes before the break and was unlucky to drive the second into Anichebe.
If they needed any reminder of the slender nature of the lead, though, the Blues were given a warning a minute before the break when Kieran Richardson flashed a cross-cum-shot across the face of Tim Howard's goal that eluded Mladen Petric, a 29th-minute replacement for the injured Dimitar Berbatov, by about a foot.
Everton seemed to come out of the dressing room at half time with a little less urgency, though Jelavic would waste a decent three-on-three break with what has become charactestically poor ball control. There was an uncomfortable air of complacency about their play for the first 20-odd minutes of the second half, epitomised somewhat by sloppiness from Osman in midfield.
Fulham, meanwhile, began to find some momentum of their own and put together a decent passing move nine minutes after the interval but Urby Emanuelson drove wide.
As the game moved into the final 20 minutes, however, Everton's fire was reignited, along with that of Mirallas who had drifted in and out of proceedings for much of the game but who would come into his own in the closing stages.
It was yet more effervescent play by Coleman that provided the free kick from which Osman would see a smart half-volley headed behind by Brede Hangeland but brilliance by Pienaar five minutes later to lift a one-two pass into the path of Mirallas but Schwarzer parried the Belgian's half-volley to safety.
The killer goal looked to have arrived with five minutes left of the regulation 90 when more good play ended with Baines whipping a cross deep to the back post but Fellaini's side-footed into the turf and then watched in disbelief as his shot bounced over the bar with Schwarzer stranded off his line.
And then when Ross Barkley, a 67th-minute substitute for Jelavic, shimmied past his marker in injury time and advanced on goal, Schwarzer came out to close the angle down and again parried the shot away to deny the young midfielder his first senior goal.
The narrow advantage made for an uncomfortable finale, particularly given what happened in the reverse fixture, but Fulham never really looked like breaking Evertonian hearts like they did at Craven Cottage earlier this season, although Damien Duff created a brief moment of panic when he popped up with just Howard to beat but he was well offside and the American saved his shot anyway.
So another three home points to prolong the Blues' quest for Europe, one helped by Tottenham's draw at Wigan Athletic that keeps the North Londoners three points away in fifth place. Everton's focus shifts to Anfield now, though, where the unpredictability of the Merseyside derby is added to the mix while Tottenham host Southampton and Chelsea face Manchester United.
Moyes has known that his team would have to win at one of White Hart Lane, the Emirates, Anfield, and Stamford Bridge in the run-in and, having drawn at the first two, he will know that any chance of finishing in a European qualification place will hinge on how his team performs at the last two. No better time to go across the Park and win for first time under Moyes's leadership.
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298 Posted 28/04/2013 at 09:09:33
317 Posted 28/04/2013 at 11:39:38
363 Posted 28/04/2013 at 15:09:46
Mind you, even if we finish higher than the Red Shite it will still be handed it to them.
399 Posted 28/04/2013 at 16:57:56
407 Posted 28/04/2013 at 17:33:20
414 Posted 28/04/2013 at 18:21:47
436 Posted 28/04/2013 at 19:22:56
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