Even before this match, Everton's sequence of successive home League wins against Fulham was unmatched in English football but they extended it to 21 – 13 in the Premier League – with a win that was emphatic even if the scoreline was a touch flattering in the final reckoning.
As routine as three home points are against the Cottagers these days, I can't have been alone in feeling midway through the second half that the frustrating Everton to which are all so accustomed – you know, the one alluded to in the ToffeeWeb match preview that allows complacency to undermine the building of real momentum – was rearing its unwanted head.
Gerard Deulofeu, the emerging, now-not-so-secret weapon in Roberto Martinez's arsenal, had left the field on a stretcher, the team was seemingly hell-bent on committing footballing suicide in its own half with a slew of misplaced passes, Fulham had equalised thanks to a borderline penalty decision, and memories of the reverse the Blues suffered at Craven Cottage in the League Cup earlier this season started to surface.
What followed over the remaining quarter of the match was illustrative, therefore, of what this team has become under Martinez in terms of its resilience, its character and its ability to move up a gear in order to regain the initiative from a team growing into the contest. Not only did Everton win, they scored three more times to underscore both their attacking talents and their top-four ambitions.
The cliche about grinding out wins even when you're play badly has been a feature of the post-match dissection of the game but, taken as a whole, the Blues' performance was only poor relative to the lofty standards they have established under Martinez so far this season. Again they amassed 60% of the possession, forced a dozen corners and had 22 shots on goal – all signs of an excellent home performance in seasons gone by.
Save for a particularly sloppy 25-minute spell after half time when they could, with worse luck, have found themselves 2-1 down, this was an effective and dominant Everton display but one that could very easily have ended disappointingly had they not got their act together when they did. The crowd became very uneasy during that second half dip, though, a sign of just how important every game and every victory is at the moment.
Martinez had rewarded Deulofeu for his form against Stoke City and his contributions to the excellent results at Old Trafford and the Emirates with his second League start and dropped Kevin Mirallas to the bench, favouring Leon Osman in the centre to replace the suspended James McCarthy (although it seemed for long spells as though Barkley was playing deeper than Osman and closer to Gareth Barry).
Deulofeu would find this a less profitable afternoon than was the case against Stoke but he nevertheless played his part in another dominant Everton display in the first half. Fulham had started with the greater intent to keep the ball and pass it around but the Blues soon had their familiar vice grip on proceedings and, after Phil Jagielka had glanced a Steven Pienaar corner a yard wide, they took the lead after 17 minutes.
A move down the Blues' left saw Bryan Oviedo find Pienaar infield and he laid it on to Osman just outside the Fulham penalty area. With one neat feint to his left he had completely wrong-footed Jon-Arne Riise and had all the space he needed to curl a sublime left-foot effort into the left side of the goal and past Maarten Stekelenburg. The 32 year-old marking his 300th appearance with a goal.
After Deulofeu had flashed an inviting ball across the face of goal, the visitors' keeper had to be at his best six minutes later to prevent Romelu Lukaku from doubling the lead. Barry flicked on a corner from the right that came off the Belgian striker and was heading for the bottom corner when Stekelenburg turned it around the post superbly.
While not 100% convincing, the Blues remained dangerous and Coleman saw a low shot palmed aside by the goalkeeper and Osman volleyed wide after a Barkley's shot had been blocked following a lovely touch by Oviedo to create the chance.
Georgos Karagounis bobbled a rare chance for Fulham wide 10 minutes before half time when he might have done better and Osman thought he had scored when yet another corner came through to him six yards from goal but his goalbound effort took a crucial deflection off his marker's out-stretched leg and flew narrowly over.
Having escaped to the interval just a goal down, Rene Meulensteen had clearly instructed his players to come out from half time and have a go, which they did more or less from the first whistle. In combination with Everton's nonchalance bleeding into complacency and sudden profligacy in possession, it made for a very different contest and Tim Howard, largely a spectator in the first half, was called into his first save inside three minutes of the restart.
The American denied Scott Parker with a fine save after an awful mix-up between Osman and Phil Jagielka and then got arguably the game's biggest let-off a minute later when he spilled Steve Sidwell's shot straight into the path of Alex Kacaniklic who scooped over an open goal when it was surely easier to score.
With Goodson becoming increasingly restless, Sascha Riether then picked Dimitar Berbatov out at the back post with a deep cross that the Bulgarian could only steer into the side-netting. And as if Deulofeu's departure with what looked like a badly-torn hamstring a little past the hour mark wasn't bad enough, Fulham were awarded a penalty in the 66th minute when Kacaniklic went down under Barry's somewhat awkward challenge and referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot after a moment's pause for consideration. Rather than any real intent from the Everton man, the Swede appeared to have jumped into Barry's challenge but it was one of those you'd have felt was nailed on if the boot were on the other foot. Regardless, Berbatov assumed the honours for the spot kick, did his usual stutter-step run-up and rolled the ball into the corner having sent Howard the other way.
Credit to Everton, they regrouped and kicked on, re-taking the lead in the 73rd minute with a wonderfully-worked goal that deserved to effectively win the game. Pienaar's world-class dummy-and-roll off his marker allowed him to collect a one-two pass with Lukaku behind the Fulham defence and though Stekelenburg got a hand to his centre, he merely diverted it into the path of the incoming Coleman who side-footed into the empty net.
11 minutes after that it was 3-1 and game over when Sylvain Distin's downward header off a corner from the right seemed to come off Lukaku's arm but Stekelenburg parried the ball on his goalline, only for Barry to nod the ball home from a yard out as it rebounded up off the keeper's gloves.
Icing on the cake would come from Mirallas in injury time when he was sent clear down the channel by Osman and he single-mindedly drove towards the Fulham area and whipped a low shot goalwards that bounced in front of the keeper and flew into the goal off his hands.
So a second-successive home game where Everton scored four goals and a result that keeps up their momentum in the chase for a Champions League slot. Having done the hard work against Manchester United and Arsenal and collected four priceless away points, this was one of those games that the Blues simply had to win in order to press those claims for a top-four finish. That they did so, despite needing to shake off some schoolboy stuff in the first part of the second half, not helped by the absence of McCarthy and a sub-par display by Barry, lends more credence to the belief that this team could have the discipline, the drive and the ability to last the distance this season.
Lack of depth in the squad could yet hinder those hopes, though, and the loss of Deulofeu and his game-changing impact is a real blow. Martinez has suggested that he is looking to strengthen in January – it's unclear, though, how much money he will have at his disposal and just how much the Board are prepared to back his charge for the top four – and if the Spanish teenager is sidelined for the next couple of months, as seems to be expected, then a threatening wide man should be high on his shopping list.
Thankfully, though, Mirallas remains a potent force himself when he is in the mood. He hasn't found the requisite consistency to his game yet under Martinez but he has added greater industry to his game that makes him a more rounded member of the first team and less of a luxury player. As if to underline the point, he had positioned himself superbly for a cut-back by Pienaar for the second goal that, had he received it, would almost certainly have seen him score instead of Coleman and he crashed home his second goal of the season to round off the win.
So to Swansea, another a happier hunting ground for the Blues than the venues of their last two away games and another opportunity to capitalise on this favourable part of the fixture schedule. There is no question that by the end of the year we'll have a clearer picture of just what this team is capable of achieving this season but so far under Senor Martinez, so very good.
Everton were soon on the attack, Deulofeu's cross going behind for the first corner from Pienaar that was cleared and led to a period of extended Fulham possession that went nowhere.It then took a while for Everton to go forward again, Oviedo delaying his cross.
Barry intercepted well to get a second corner that Deulofeu played short but they again chose to play the ball around the Fulham area rather than cross it in early. Jagielka came close on the third corner, the ball evading Osman running in. It was the 15th minute before Fulham got into Everton's area and won their first corner, played too deep and out.
A nice piece of passing brought a wonderful goal from Osman, after Oviedo and Pienaar combined well to feed him on the D. Excellent control and shifting the ball on to his left foot, making space to curl the ball inside the post, a lovely goal.
Everton started to click into gear, some great threatening play, Lukaku coming very close on the fourth Everton corner from Pienaar, forced behind at the post by Stekelburger.
Deulofeu was well involved with a lot of fine play down the right and occasionally through the middle but his final ball wasn't coming off. A faster move saw Coleman pressing in and firing low, forcing another good save.
Bright play from Deulofeu set Lukaku off but the ball was touched away from him as he seemed certain to score. More brilliant play, Pienaar laying it back for Barkley who wanted more time, Osman, firing just wide on the half-cleared ball. But Osman gave the ball away and Fulham came close to equalizing without troubling Howard.
A great run from the back by Barkley but his final pass anticipated Deulofeu coming in and the Spaniard had stopped his run. Deulofeu then whipped in a fantastic near-post delivery just ahead of Lukaku. More corners followed, Osman's hook blocked behind.
Osman picked out Deulofeu with a wonderful crossfield pass but Deulofeu soon had three on him and could not escape as a hugely dominant Everton closed in on the break with plenty of possession.
Ossman getting in Jagielka's way, allowed Parker to fire in on Howard for Fulham's first shot on goal, well saved. But Fulham would not lie doen, Sidwell lashing a firec shot in that Howard could only parry, Kacaniklic lashing the rebound over an open goal.
Some really shoddy play from both of the youngsters causing good positions to be squandered cheaply as Everton looked to allow over-confidence to become their downfall as they failed to get a grip on the second half, gifting Fulham a path back into the game.
But good work by Deulofeu won the first corner of the second half, and the ball came out to Oviedo but his first-time shot was blocked away as Everton struggled to reimpose their first-half dominance, Berbatov seemingly certain to score on a deep cross at the far post that went into the side netting.
Deulofeu pulled up with a hamstring injury that did not look at all good, and he was carried off, out potentially for the rest of teh year, replaced by Mirallas. This was his big chance to really show what he could do, given a full game, but he had shown some really poor decision-making at times.
Then a nothing clash in the corner of the Everton area, Kacaniklic jumping into Barry and going down... penalty given. Berbatov converted from the spot. Something like that had been on the cards since the break.
Everton tried and tried to get going again but things were just not going right at key moments all over the field, with Fulham sensing their opportunity.
But better pressure off a free-kick and some excellent play got Pienaar to the byeline, his low cross pushed out toward Coleman who followed up to lash home and restore the lead.
A real tussle ensued, with Fulham not prepared to give up the 3 points that easily, and they continued to make things difficult for the Blues. But Everton did themselves few favours, not pushing forward on the break, then making some horrendous passes to cede possession.
But a good ball in from Distin caused havoc for Fulham at the far post as Lukaku and Barry combined for the defender to power his header past Stekelenburg from close range, perhaps bouncing up off Lukaku's hand.
A huge sigh of relief, and a much more respectable-looking scoreline... perhaps a little flattering off a poor second-half performance; Stones replaced Pienaar just before full time. Ovideo wanted to do it all himself after Senderos upended Mirallas. Then, into injury time, and Osman played a nice ball fro Mirallas to run onto and he drove low and hard, beating Skelenburg at the near post to give the Blues a very respectable scoreline and an excellent result to keep them plugging away in 5th place.
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* Everton deducted 6 points for PSR breachView full table