Everton successfully collected their annual three point haul against Fulham, although it wasn’t quite as emphatic as the 4-1 score may suggest.
Martinez made 2 changes for this fixture with Gerard Deulofeu rewarded for his goal against Arsenal by taking the place of Kevin Mirallas and Leon Osman deputising for the suspended James McCarthy in midfield. Fulham remained unchanged from their Villa win last week and lined up in a 4-3-3 – and shape wise it was pretty similar to ourselves.
Blues take control
After a fairly bland opening period the first goal arrived on 18 minutes following some enterprise from Oviedo down the left wing. The Costa Rican played a good forward pass to Pienaar and the diminutive South African schemer teed up Leon Osman who scored ‘a typical Leon Osman goal’ using his close control and trickery to evade defenders in the box before curling a lovely left footed strike into the bottom corner. The little general certainly had his cigar on yesterday.
The first half was generally uneventful and we lacked the crisp bite to our passing in the final third that has been the hallmark of recent matches. Deulofeu was our main attacking weapon down the right as he ragged bad weapon Riise all over the show but his final ball was poor – failing to pick out a blue shirt with any of his 9 crosses. His day got worse after the break when he done his hamstring which should keep him out for up to 10 games. It’s a real blow given the impetus he can bring from the bench against the big hitters coupled with his ability to embarrass the league’s lesser operatives seemingly at will. With Deulofeu disappearing down the tunnel Everton’s chances of getting into the top 4 by close of business appeared to be going the same way as after some poor hold up play from Lukaku Fulham broke and were able to win a penalty after a dubious Barry foul. Berbatov duly dispatched the pen, putting it in exactly the same corner as he did last week against Villa.
With Everton looking more ragged in comparison to what we have seen this season the fear was that a typical everton style capitulation was on the cards, however the inner strength of this ‘group’ enabled them to go from this bad ‘moment’ to quickly turning up the heat on a Fulham side who had been on top either side of half time despite not having a shot on target until the equaliser.
Firstly, after some impish jinking down the left from Pienaar – the creator of the most chances in the game (5) – resulted in him playing an exquisite one two with Lukaku before Pienaar cut the ball back for Coleman to tuck home. It was a role reversal of the winning goal against Fulham at Goodison last season and underlined the growing force that is Seamus Coleman. The league’s top scoring defender is known for his marauding antics and fearlessness but what has improved significantly is his ability on the ball. If we look at his debut season in 10/11 his pass completion was down at 78% – this has steadily risen each season and this season he is averaging an impressive 87.8% – underlining the work he has done on his technique which was arguably his greatest flaw. Yesterday he had the best passing data on the pitch with 98% completion.
The one slight tweak that Martinez had made to the shape was by swapping Osman and Barkley so the teenager terror was now sitting deeper in the 8 role with Osman now the closest central support to Lukaku at number 10. As tweaks go it worked fairly well and certainly asks more questions of the opposition than the calamitous Cahill-Fellaini 8/10 swap that we used to endure. Barkley has the tools to play deeper as he has shown already against Liverpool – namely his long passing and driving runs from deep – in fact you could argue his skill set is better suited to the number 8 spot long term. With Osman, Martinez has mentioned several times how he admires the veteran’s ability to find pockets of space in the final third particularly when defenders are tiring in the latter stages of games so we should probably get used to seeing this switch or a significant amount of dovetailing as the season unfolds.
With Fulham still threatening to crash the pre Christmas toffee party we got the third goal which ended the game as a contest. The goal – our 8th from a set play this season – came from a Mirallas corner kick delivery with Lukaku making a nuisance of himself before Barry bundles home on the goalline. With the game wrapped up, there was time for Martinez to continue his process of bedding in the ‘3 at the back’ as Stones came on for the game’s stand out performer Steven Pienaar. With Fulham having now thrown the towel in Mirallas was able to bang one home after being teed up again by the diminutive Osman for 4-1.
This was a fairly hum drum fixture and we certainly didn’t scale the heights performance wise as we did at the Emirates or Old Trafford, but a 4-1 triumph over any one in this division is still mightily impressive. Even when Fulham had us on the rack a bit they failed to really open us up with the exception of maybe one clear cut chance early on in the second half. Indeed, its 7 hours since an opposition side scored against us from open play at Goodison. This, coupled with the goals we are now scoring – that’s back to back 4 goal hauls at Goodison for the first time in years (couldn’t be arsed finding the exact date) – and it’s fair to say we deserved the three points, albeit perhaps not the winning margin.