What did we say about this game, Roy?
You said don’t be a soft get and balls it up like the last fella and ruin our best chance of winning a trophy.
No we never Roy, you big fat bastard, we said these London cup games have a habit of bringing you down to earth.
At half time at Craven Cottage, with Everton deservedly leading 1-0 thanks to Steven Naismith’s smartly taken 12th minute effort, the match report was going to be all about strength in depth and how Roberto Martinez’s system allows players to seamlessly fit in with minimum disruption to the side. So you have to remember that when looking at the game overall.
The Blues’ boss made eight changes to the team that started against West Ham, bringing in Joel Robles, John Heitinga, Darron Gibson, Bryan Oviedo, John Stones, James McCarthy, Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu.
It was the Spanish teenager who was the star of the show for the opening half an hour at least, mesmerising John Arne Riise and creating openings for the other Everton forwards with his pace and trickery. Naismith, competing here with Philipe Senderos for the title of ‘player most likely to go off injured with rickets’, wasted a couple of those early chances before latching onto Deulofeu’s neat flick around Brede Hangeland and clinically beating David Stockdale with a low shot.
Everton were ace for the much of the remainder of the half but couldn’t score again, despite a Sylvain Distin header grazing the post.
Big Martin Jol, like an ancient talking tree, recently bemoaned the fact that his job doesn’t allow him to have straighteners with supporters who have the temerity to annoy him. You suspect, however, that he has more leeway when it comes to his players as they certainly appeared much more motivated after he’d spent 10 minutes with them in the changies at the break.
Before Everton could get warmed up again Fulham had already threatened Robles goal three times, and on 54 minutes a strong tackle on Lukaku in the centre circle allowed them to quickly break through the heart of the Everton defence where Adel Taraabt held off Stones before squaring for the increasingly influential Dimitar Berbatov to shoot low past Robles.
It had been coming.
Jol introduced Darren Bent on 65 minutes and there was an air of inevitability about his winner three minutes later. With his last touch of the game the tiring Gibson, a player born requiring a late fitness test, conceded a free kick midway in the Everton half. Giorgos Karagounis – you’d never guess he was from Greece, would you? – shaped as if to hoist the ball into the mixer but instead fed it low and wide to the feet of the unmarked Bent. The former Aston Villa misfit finished coolly with his left foot although Robles ‘will have been disappointed’ that the ball flew through his legs at the near post.
To Everton’s credit they put Fulham under plenty of pressure as they chased an equaliser but passed up a number of chances, not least when substitute Kevin Mirallas’s low cross eluded everyone in the six-yard box and presented Seamus Coleman with the lion’s share of an open goal. To be fair to the fullback he and the ball were travelling at some pace, but still he would have expected to guide it into the net rather than ankle his shot harmlessly back the way it came.
For all his inventiveness and undoubted natural skill, Deulofeu became increasingly infuriating as the game wore on. His decision-making seems to deteriorate markedly as he tires and he starts to do a painful American Werewolf In London transformation from Ryan Giggs into James McFadden. More than anything he needs to learn that the obvious option is often the best one: just because you can have another touch doesn’t always mean you should.
He’s clearly still learning and getting used to the pace of the English game, and indeed first team football of any kind, but you can certainly see why Martinez isn’t starting him in Premier League matches yet.
Or do you reckon that’s because he’s got a bit of a Kopite face?
Anyway, Everton did a lot of good things, especially in the first half, but all the changes and the lack of experience perhaps told in the championship rounds.
We’ve certainly gone out of this competition in far worse style before now, but that doesn’t really change the fact that we are out all the same.
Maybe next year, what do you reckon Roy?