With a win at Old Trafford and a draw at Arsenal we turned up to meet lowly Fulham with our only concern being: Who would replace McCarthy?

We entered our hallowed house of Wisdom and Learning and, after ordering, we retired to the Room of Nonsense. In the corner, a tele was muted as it showed Man City v Arsenal; no-one seemed bothered as Christmas cards were exchanged and tales various of trips to Manchester and London were exchanged. Four points out of six away to Sky darlings seemed no more than a precursor to a routine victory at Goodison. Not all seemed normal though as our alehouse was neither full nor buzzing and the crazy scoreline from City seemed irrelevant.

The walk up to the ground in a strong wind was muted at best; although there was a fair queue at the outlets, nothing like a day to savour a possible top four berth come 4:50 pm. A lad said he had been to the fan zone and the ice rink was like using ice skates on wood but the young kids who went loved the give-aways.

As I entered our historical palace of dreams, the Sally Army Band were just coming to the end of their set and were warmly clapped off.

Teams announced and Osman, making his 300th Premier League appearance, replaced McCarthy while Mirallas was dropped in favour of Deulofeu. On the ref's whistle, we set off on what many thought would be a journey of wondrous passing and enough goals to help the goal difference stat. Footy just isn’t like that and we ended up with a game that frustrated the hell out of many assembled as it failed to live up to expectations yet would end in emphatic victory. "If you can’t win well... then just win!" came to mind from a back of the brain memory of a title win many decades ago...

The opening period of the game was best described as non-descript by both players and fans; in that period, you just knew that this game was not going to hit the heights. Players not rousing fans and fans not rousing players was the perfect mix for the game that would unfold.

Almost 20 mins gone without much to write home about and then we put a move of menace together culminating in a play that had quality in pass-and-move ending in an exquisite finish. I bet Martinez dreams of his players putting these together. Distin started it by moving it on to Oviedo who found Pienaar just infield from him and he immediately moved it up to Osman who controlled with one foot and hit home with the other. No euphoric celebrations from fans – just sort of "Well done – good goal". We sat back, anticipating more of the same, but it just wasn’t happening. Deulofeu was seeing a lot of the ball but, although his direct running was eye-catching, his final ball was poor each time.

As time went on, Lukaku was not the force that might be expected and his best contribution came when, from a Pienaar corner, he chested an effort from close range that the Fulham keeper did very well to turn behind. Coleman had an effort thwarted by the keeper; then Lukaku was put through on goal but his pass selection was poor as he really should have gone on himself. I felt for Lukaku though as he made run after run yet none of our players ever looked likely to find him and that must be really frustrating after the energy expended in making them. The half was ticking down and Barkley was just not his Arsenal self so it was left to Osman to carry the threat and he almost made something happen when he hit a dipper just wide after Barkley had made a hash of his attempt.

It was getting a tad boring now but that was lightened when a ball flew out toward the dug outs. The Fulham manager failed to control but our man Roberto trapped, flicked and returned to play – very Barcaesque!!!

As the half drew to a close, I was left to reflect on the passing game that Martinez demands: whilst being pleasing on the eye, it hasn’t yet fully developed a killer instinct – corner after corner was gained rather than an attempt on goal and, but for Distin blocking a shot and Berbatov firing over, we could easily have been level at the break.

Half-time and the chat was centred on the difference today from our exploits that half and the two previous games. That just left season’s greetings to be exchanged: "Are you going to Swansea?" And "See ‘yer Boxing Day"...

The second half commenced and Goodison was quiet... eerily so considering our position. The Fulham manager must have brought the Old Trafford hairdryer with him as his team tore into us. Early doors, both Fulham midfielders, Parker and Sidwell, forced Howard into half-decent saves.

We then had a right let-off when Kacaniklic (I checked the proey for name and number) had a Joe Allen moment and missed an open goal, bad enough to be described as "My missus could have scored that" – and hell, wasn’t he with Liverpool before Fulham???

Our contribution this half so far was getting less by the minute but the players did rouse us when Pienaar put in Oviedo, who had a good shot cleared off the line, but it was the visitors doing all the pressing; the equaliser came, as many thought it might, in that period of play, but it was possibly a bit fortunate as Barry seemed to no more than tangle with the open-goal misser and he needed no encouragement to go down. The ref deemed it a foul only – no yellow card – and Berbatov slotted with consummate ease.

Lots of chat now of how we looked likely to squander the platform gained by our last results – especially as just before, Deulofeu was seen lying on the turf, no idea why... A stretcher was called and the two blokes bringing it on started from the furthest point from him and then proceeded at a pace that would have been overtaken by a man walking underwater. The crowd gave them the hurry up but they must also have been deaf but fair play, some 30 yards from the stricken player, they broke into a three-yard jog which was cheered to the rafters. I hope those blokes are not on duty if a real emergency occurs.

Deulofeu was stretchered off and Mirallas came on. Many were not too concerned about the change as Deulofeu had not been at his best. Things were just not clicking for us but in true football fashion, the game yet again demonstrated what an imprecise sport it is. 20 mins to go and Pienaar, with a twist and turn after showing well for the ball, got to the byeline and pulled it back for the incoming Coleman to crack home. Lead restored and a celebration that said "Relief" as much as "Celebration".

Then, for some time, we went into the bad old ways under Moyes: just taken the lead and didn’t know whether to stick or twist. Passes all over the place, Fulham having a go, and poor movement off the ball stopping us operating on the break. The two players to rise above this malaise, Osman and Pienaar, slowly started to get some midfield control and, after a good joined-up move, Distin put one into the box: from my seat, it was difficult to see exactly what happened but it seemed Lukaku got something on it and Barry headed home. 3-1 – surely game over?

It did cause a few songs being attempted but never as loud by today's 33,000 as the 3,000 at Old Trafford. They did inform everyone though that "We are going to win the league". We were playing it out but you got the sense the players knew it hadn’t been their best day and – fair play to them – looked to put a little icing on the cake. Roberto wasn’t so sure so he swapped Pienaar for Stones with 2 mins to go but we still went forward as Fulham now looked drained and, on 90 mins, Mirallas was put through by Oviedo I think, and he galloped away, steadied himself, and drove one goalwards which eluded the diving keeper, hit the net, and thanks very much for the points. I bet their keeper will not want to see that one on Match of the Day!

MotM – Osman

Overall, I enjoyed the day out; although the game didn’t create much of a spectacle, it was one of those that often happen in a busy period of the season – a time when the result is more important than the performance – especially if you have success in mind...

Today, I thought it was the old guard that got us through – Osman, Pienaar, Barry, Jagielka, Distin and Howard. The younger element will have benefitted from the experience. Fourth in the league and I always take my first interest in league tables around this time; my unscientific method tells me the table changes little from here, maybe two places either way, so we shall see... Don’t put any bets on using my method though!

Next four games come thick and fast and against teams all beginning with the letter S. I wonder if that means anything? I am off back to my Brown over Bitter now and see what depths the conversation has reached in the Room of Nonsense...

Were on the up – It’s in our DNA.
UP THE BLUES

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Ajay Gopal
595 Posted 15/12/2013 at 04:17:34
Thanks, Ken. Missed your report on the Arsenal game. From the grainy feed on my PC which often froze up and the live forum, I am just relieved we got the 3 points as I am sure many Blues are. It just shows that McCarthy has turned into such an important player for us. An injury to him or Barry, and our season would be truly over.
Lukaku has been having a poor run by his standards and I think he needs a rest - I was surprised Jelavic did not get a run out today.

The injury to Geri was unfortunate - he could have been an important weapon for us in the upcoming fixture list and given Pienaar/Mirallas/Barkley a bit of a breather. Ross, Romelu & Geri are guilty of poor decision making in the final 3rd; but I guess this is part of their learning curve. I only hope that after their apprenticeship with the Blues, they help Everton on to win some silverware!

Paul Johnson
602 Posted 15/12/2013 at 05:35:01
Thanks Ken it is not just the match report it is the experience of the day. For the guys who have never been to L4 Ken paints a seriously realistic picture of being a blue. Just the mention of a brown bitter gets me all teary-eyed.

Roll on, Boxing Day: a few pints of Guinness, a couple of brandies (just for medicinal purposes), and curry and chips, 3 points off Sunderland and hopefully second in the table – a little slice of heaven.

Thanks again, Ken. Also for me, Leon was MotM: a great goal and performance on his 300th appearance. Keep it up, lad – and you may go to Brazil.

Anto Byrne
604 Posted 15/12/2013 at 06:00:13
Funny old game... Fulham have the makings of a good mid-table team with lots of good experienced footballers (Berbatov, Sidwell and Scott). It looks like they are using the ’70s Southampton model.

I thought they played really well and reminded me of what we were like this time a year ago when we were playing some nice football under Moyes but a bit powder-puff up front. These were the games we struggled to get results in, always raising our game for those big games with the likes of Spurs and Man City.

After 34 years down under, I am making the trip back home and hope to see my beloved Everton v Southampton at home and it was back in 1971 when I stood in the Gwladys and witnessed an 8-goal romp.

David Chait
605 Posted 15/12/2013 at 06:42:45
I mentioned on the live forum that we have a lot of relatively selfish youngsters spearheading our final 3rd. All were schoolboy heroes who the tactic was probably pass to them and they will win it for the team.

Barkley seems to be learning more than the others to share but his final ball needs a lot of work... Deulofeu has no final ball to the extent I wanted us to stop passing to him... And Mirallas wants to be the hero (I have an unresearched theory about his impact on Jelavic drying up).

It can be very frustrating like yesterday ... But then when they pull off something it does lead to the spectacular .... The decision-making needs to improve if we are to keep the momentum.

Danny Kewley
607 Posted 15/12/2013 at 07:25:18
Made a pretty ropey show sound good there Ken lad! Nearly fell off the chair with the description of the stretcher bearers!
At least we won and are sitting in 4th. Hope to be in a good position after Crimbo! COYToffeeeeeeeeeees!
Steve Pugh
610 Posted 15/12/2013 at 08:24:06
It amazes me that after that performance some people were still criticising Ossie and Pienaar. That is why Ken's reports are so good, he understands football and doesn't have prejudices against certain players.
Wayne Smyth
615 Posted 15/12/2013 at 09:04:25
Ken, I think far from Roberto being unsure of adding the icing on the cake at 3-1 up, his substitution of Stones for Pienaar was basically to shift to 3 at the back which seems to be his preferred solution to any team who play with 2 strikers against us.

Having never seen us play such a formation before Roberto's arrival, I've been pleasantly surprised at how much more comfortable we look than with 2 central defenders.

Steve, I thought Pienaar was generally fantastic. Ossie put in a good performance as well capped with a superbly taken goal, but also got out-muscled too many times.

I think the opposition go for Osman on purpose because they know he is weak and slow. Pienaar, who is equally as weak and slow, seems to suffer less because his technique, balance and awareness are sufficient to get him out of those situations on most occasions.

Brent Stephens
619 Posted 15/12/2013 at 10:01:06
I thought when Stones came on, Distin shifted to LB and Bryan pushed further forward?
Paul Andrews
622 Posted 15/12/2013 at 10:25:23
Brent,

Distin played left side of 3 after the sub
Brent Stephens
623 Posted 15/12/2013 at 10:28:20
OK, Paul. Misread it, then.
Derek Thomas
624 Posted 15/12/2013 at 09:18:24
Dave # 605 Re the learning curve, although Deulofeu 'seems' to be the main culprit, I think Lukaku needs to be told his fortune as well, he is hanging back waiting to Deulofeu to make or in most cases not make the right decision, so that when the ball IS played in he is a yard slow in getting to it.

Romelu; ALWAYS, ALWAYS, make the run to the optimum position, then worry about the ball being there, or not. If the supplier does get it right, there are still other factors that might prevent it getting to you... but if you aren't there, it will NEVER get to you.

Howard; don't just dive one way on a whim, you're supposed to be a reflex shot stopper, wait as long as you can... until just before the none striking foot is planted... 19 times out of 20 the none striking foot will indicate which side the ball is going... honest.

Mark Taylor
632 Posted 15/12/2013 at 11:07:06
I can see McGeady being at the club fairly early into January. In the meantime Christmas will be tough on the squad without Deulofeu, Kone and Gibson., particularly Steven Pienaar.
Alan Rodgers
648 Posted 15/12/2013 at 13:09:27
Nice write-up as always mate. Brown over bitter is your tipple eh? Haven't had one of them for yonks. Cheers!
Jim Harrison
652 Posted 15/12/2013 at 13:32:41
Derek, 624, I am sure Howard will read your penalty tips with interest. I mean, its not like Berbatov does that to other keepers is it? (See Villa last week.)

As always a great read Ken. Was at staff Christmas Party so missed the match but from what I saw in the highlights it looked like Howard had another good game?

Funny reading all the reports, quite negative. There are always going to be dodgy games, but winning the games you don't play well in by 3 goals is not to be scoffed at.

Dave Lynch
654 Posted 15/12/2013 at 13:41:08
Great report as always, Ken.

I'm coming out of my self imposed exile for the Boxing Day game with my lads.

I vowed never to go again while OFM and Black Bill where at the club but Roberto has restored my faith In all things blue.

Harold Matthews
668 Posted 15/12/2013 at 15:17:10
David. Spot on with the youngsters and gold limo Mirallis.
Mike Gaynes
698 Posted 15/12/2013 at 16:52:45
Always a pleasure, Ken.

Any theories on why the support was so muted? Even when we were playing well, things sounded unusually quiet on TV... several folks on the Live Forum commented on it. Raised expectations or just not much excitement over the opponent?

Mark Taylor
723 Posted 15/12/2013 at 17:42:05
How bizarre. Seem to have a comment in my name which isn't mine. I don't rate McGeady. Still living off one good season 5 years ago, in my view.
Dick Fearon
809 Posted 15/12/2013 at 20:06:49
Brown over bitter eh' Ken, In my day if the brown was a sweet red label stout it was called a communist.
Bitter/Red, geddit.
Paul Holden
860 Posted 15/12/2013 at 23:29:50
Fulham support was shite as usual but still a shame so many empty seats considering how well we're playing.
Derek Thomas
889 Posted 16/12/2013 at 07:16:49
Jim # 652 flinging yourself one way before the kicker has even got there is top goalkeeping then.

Did Howard see that pen vs Villa?... same corner, did he just play odds or evens, shut his eyes and hope for the best... no matter. Back yourself and leave it as long as you can... and look at the non-striking foot.

Why Jim? basic anatomy, if your non-striking left foot is pointing to the keeper's right hand half of the goal, because your legs are connected to your hips, unless you are have feet like Charlie Chaplin the ball will tend to go that way, try it just to humour me, go on I dare you.... and you.

James Lauwervine
900 Posted 16/12/2013 at 09:34:44
Derek, I was pretty annoyed too with Howard for the pen, though he's been great recently so I forgave him easily enough. When that lazy twat Berbatov lined it up I thought, "He'll do his stutter run-up and then put it bottom left". I would have put £100 on it.

I actually looked up the rules on the stutter run-up, or feint, after the match as I had thought it was deemed unsporting behaviour. Turns out it's not. The rule is that you can feint during the run-up but not at the end of the run-up – ie, if the kicker feints to kick it one way with his foot and then stops and kicks it the other. With Berbatov I think it's not really a feint anyway, I think he's just having a breather as it's further than he's ran the whole fucking game!

Brin Williams
903 Posted 16/12/2013 at 10:06:40
DT - Very interesting theory that about the non-striking or standing foot - didn't know that but will try it out with my grandson over Xmas.

BUT having worked out which side the bloody thing is going how do we work out whether it's going High/Low or straight down the middle?

I suppose it was fairly simple in Berbatov's case to detect that it was going to be a dribble in due to the length of his run-in.

Freddie Truman used to run in from the boundary and having done that was pretty unlikely to pitch in a dolly.

Not being contentious just interested to learn more.

Col Wills
991 Posted 16/12/2013 at 16:45:28
Gotta laugh at those stretcher bearers, they must have taken 3 minutes to get to Ger. Maybe we should get them to do the bleep test before they are selected to carry the stretcher! That little '3-metre jog' moment was hilarious. Reminded me of a slow motion Benny Hill.

On another point, when are the refs gonna get a grip of goalkeepers taking an age to restart games? That Fulham goalie was nearly as bad as Begovic of Stoke. I don't watch 'togger' to see goalies arsing about with the ball, I go to be bloody entertained.

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