Fulham 2 Everton 2

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.

Fulham And That

Just what is it about Martin Jol that instantly puts you in mind of a predatory prison cellmate? It’s hard to see those granite features on Match of the Day without imagining the screws tittering as they lead you to your two-man cell where Jol seems to make a point of ignoring your presence while peering intently through a magnifying glass at a particularly intricate section of antenna-work on his matchstick model of the space station, Mir.

You shuffle uncomfortably until eventually he looks up at you, one eye distorted grotesquely by the lens, and asks, ‘So, what do you think about space?’

He lays down the ground rules, which all seem fair enough, and essentially revolve around refraining from doing number twos in the bucket at night. ‘Not cool’.

After lights out though, as you huddle under your scratchy blanket and listen to the echoing menagerie noises begin to settle down, for the first time since you were sentenced you begin to drift towards something resembling sleep. And that’s when Martin’s bulk shifts above you and the springs of the mattress creak in relief as his mighty calves swing off the edge of the bunk.

The rest, well, as much as you try to blank it from your mind, you can’t shake the feel of his shovel hands smoothing down your hair and his whispering in your ear ‘Shush, everything’s going to be fine’, like when the vet put down the family Labrador.

He does though, doesn’t he. That’s exactly what he always makes you think of when you see him on Match of the Day.

Away from raping shoplifters, Jol is a jolly decent football manager and his recent comments, about how his present Fulham team deserve as much credit as Everton for the way they have started the season, seem pretty valid, especially when you consider that they lost Clint Dempsey, Moussa Dembélé and Pavel Pogrebnyak over the summer.

If any of those players left during the transfer window before, please don’t bother correcting us in the comments, as it was only when looking at Wikipedia just then that we learned that Kieran Richardson is at Fulham now as well as the quite cool little Greek midfielder Giorgos Karagounis. Ex-Blue and head of the Baker Street Irregulars, Simon Davies, is apparently still on their books as well.

Their most notable business of the summer though was obviously the £5 million signing of Dimitar Berbatov, a player who not that long ago was almost commanding ‘Andy Carroll money’ when moving from Tottenham to Manchester United.

There is a bit of an obsession with Berbatov throughout football, essentially because he is the archetype of the moody but boss foreigner who many of us remember from our childhood. The sort of fella that your dad would single out and say, ‘Watch him, son.’

In the modern game, nearly all players regardless of their nationality seem to originate from the same heart-monitored island with protein powder beaches where they do nothing but get Japanese tattoos and do sit-ups all day. Berbatov though, with his loping ‘I’ll be your dog’ bird-off-the-Kia-Ora-advert run, is the player that every talented but ultimately lazy get who had trials when he was young and was ‘well better than that Richard Edghill’ thinks he might have been if the coaches were not so stuck in their ways and only interested in ‘signing all the biggest kids’.

It really is one of football’s great contradictions that we constantly berate players for not running until they melt while at the same time the ones we wax lyrical about are very often right bone idle twats.

Anyway Everton, for their part, should be more or less at full strength for this game given that Steven Pienaar has served his suspension and Kevin Mirallas has recovered from the injury he sustained during the derby. After three successive draws it is time for the Blues to start winning, and although Fulham are excellent at home and lie a mere point behind in the table, there comes a point where you have to go to these places and demonstrate that you are indeed a serious team. After all, you can look at more or less every game in the Premier League, especially away from home, and declare it at the very least ‘tricky’.

The prize we are all eyeing is a Champions League place, the achievability of which for anyone outside of the usual candidates essentially boils down to one question: exactly how shit are Arsenal this year?

And every season the Gunners are expected to struggle, but then surprise everyone at the start so that journalists begin making them their dark horses for the title, until that is they go through quite a long patch of rough form where some of their fans start demanding Arsene Wenger’s head, before they finally get their act back together and end up finishing fourth with a little bit to spare.

There’s no real reason to think that it’s going to be any different this time around, leaving Everton, Tottenham, Fulham and the rest fighting for a place the Europa League – essentially the last cup of piss on a drifting lifeboat.

In the morning, Martin is up first and actually wakes you by smacking you on the side of the head with a rolled up Daily Express. ‘Hey sleepy head,’ he says, grinning. ‘It’s a beautiful day. Here, I got you a cup of tea and some toast.’

The sun is actually streaming in between the bars and you can’t help but notice that he has carefully arranged some freshly cut flowers in a jam jar up on the window sill. And for a fleeting moment you think ‘that’s a nice touch’.