A point at Craven Cottage, combined with Totthenham’s surprise home defeat by Wigan Athletic, means that Everton move up into fourth place in the Premier League.
We should all be delighted then, especially given Fulham’s impressive home form, but everyone associated with the Blues knows that this was another ridiculous case of points dropped given the overall level of performance.
The game was bookended by Fulham goals, the first for Bryan Ruiz/Tim Howard on six minutes, and the equaliser scored by substitute Steve Sidwell in the 89th, with both falling under that rather amorphous category of ‘avoidable’. Phil Neville conceded a cheap free kick for the first and although Ruiz’s effort was decent, Howard looked to have plenty of opportunity to push it away. Instead though, the Blues’ keeper could only touch the ball onto the post from where it rebounded into the net off the back of his head.
That came against the run of play as Everton once again started really quickly, with Leon Osman seeing a couple of decent shots blocked in the opening exchanges. Sidwell’s sickener arrived at the point where Everton, despite creating a ludicrous amount of opportunities to put the result beyond any doubt, had decided to try and ‘see the game out’. Sylvain Distin, replaced in the starting line-up by Johnny Heitinga, came on for Nikica Jelavic as Martin Jol desperately threw the big units like Brede Hangelande forward, and if Everton had hung on no one would have commented. However, Seamus Coleman lost possession in midfield, the home side moved the ball out to the right and Sascha Reiter lashed a ball across the edge of the six-yard box that was nastier than the lining of Jimmy Savile’s Lotto tracky bottoms. Dimitar Berbatov, whose only real moment of danger in the match was snuffed out by a great point blank save from Howard, couldn’t turn the ball home but Sidwell, arriving at the far post, got ahead of the recovering Coleman and nicked a point that his side hardly deserved.
It’s a bit chicken and egg, whether bringing on defenders to deal with a late onslaught actually hands the initiative over to the opposition and becomes a more or less self-fulfilling situation. In this case though, that’s a side issue, because the overwhelming reason Everton never took all three points was that they once again failed to convert their possession and dominance into enough goals.
Jelavic hasn’t scored for a number of games now, but it’s probably a bit overly simplistic to say that he is out of form. Even away from home a lot of teams are willing to concede a certain amount of ground to the Blues, such is their fear of their attacking strength, and gamble on packing the box and defending the stream of crosses into the box. Jelavic thrives on the early ball in, where his movement can give him the advantage over the retreating defenders, so once they are all back behind the ball and set to attack it he ends up feeding on the proverbial scraps. He’s still working his plums off in a system that asks a lot of him, and essentially doing nothing different to when he was slotting with every other touch, so as long as he doesn’t start to lose confidence he will be just fine. A far post header over the bar and then a wayward finish after latching onto Chris Baird’s back-pass were more or less his only real sights of goal on a tough day here though.
Thankfully, packed defences hold little fear for Jelavic’s strike partner, Marouane Fellaini, who netted both Everton’s goals in the second half.
The first, on 54 minutes, elicited a massive sigh of relief from the Evertonians who had already watched their team miss a stream of great chances. The most glaring came when both Heitinga and Fellaini failed to tap in a Leighton Baines free kick despite being unmarked at Mark Schwarzer’s far post.
Kevin Mirallas had already seen one low cross narrowly evade Steven Pienaar when he got away down the right and displayed the presence of mind to look up and cut a pass back to Fellaini who smashed a shot first time, high into the net from eight yards out.
On 71 minutes the Toffees then moved into the lead when Fellaini did that chest-trap-over-the-defender’s-head thing, taking down a long ball from Phil Jagielka while casting aside Aaron Hughes like a half-finished sausage dinner on Goodison Road before firing low – unerringly even – past Schwarzer before going nuts with the Everton fans behind the goal.
Both Blue Belgians were distinctly ‘up for it’ by this point, and Fellaini could have completed his hat trick only for Schwarzer to make a great save when a Mirallas cross was thundered goalwards on the volley.
Schwarzer denied Fellaini again in the final stages, touching his angled shot onto the post. Steven Naismith, on for Mirallas by this point, could only knock the rebound tamely towards Baird who gratefully cleared off the line.
That, my friends, was probably the point at which everyone thought, ‘Ooh, hang on’. And rightly so, it transpired.
Still, look on the bright side, we’re playing great stuff, we’re up in fourth and we are disappointed about only drawing at a ground where very few away teams will go and dominate this season. To borrow a phrase from, well, whoever uses this phrase, our problems are distinctly ‘first world’ at the moment.