As ‘wake up calls’ go, a 4-1 win that takes you up into fourth place is far from the worst sort.
Despite Roberto Martinez’s warnings about taking Fulham lightly though, Everton did struggle through the middle of this match before eventually blowing the visitors away during the last 20 minutes.
The Blues have set sky high standards for themselves, especially in the past couple of weeks, and so it was inevitable they were going to experience a dip at some point. The players definitely looked guilty of thinking that they only had to turn up to win, and in fairness history has shown that’s usually the case, and the ‘nice arrogance’ that Martinez highlighted among the club’s young players strayed into complacency as Fulham, resplendent in their Phil Stamp era Middlesbrough kit, weren’t always pressured in the way we have come to expect.
Not that the slow pace seemed to be so much of an issue when, after a flat opening, Everton scored a belter. Leon Osman, starting in place of the suspended James McCarthy, took a neat pass from Steven Pienaar, side-stepped two defenders and stroked home a left-foot curler from the edge of the box.
It was the quite frankly cool-as-fuck Everton-through-and-through midfielder marking 300 Premier League appearances with the definitive Leon Osman goal.
Him and Pienaar are great – we talked about McCarthy learning from Gareth Barry but the rest of the young Everton attackers should really study how these two play the game. Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu all have distinct physical advantages over the two little veterans but hopefully with experience they will develop the same sort of intelligence, timing and commitment to getting the basics right as those two have. Unless they leave Everton of course, in which case they can carry on overdoing the flash stuff and the lazy passing as long as they want.
Lukaku should have been ragging the back out of the Philipe Senderos – given that the Swiss centre-half is all kinds of last – but the Belgian actually spent the afternoon looking slightly frustrated, doing his woolly jazz hand thing and calling for through-balls that were never going to come. Still, he almost scored an odd goal when a corner hit him in the stomach and nearly beat Maarten Stekelenburg at the near post.
Osman then ‘flashed’ a dipping volley just wide after Barkley’s initial shot was blocked at the end of a good move.
Everton were certainly the better side during the first half, and Fulham barely troubled Tim Howard, but there was just an uneasy feeling during the interval because they had shown that they were at least competitive while the Blues’ play lacked the rhythm or, to use a good pundits’ word, ‘cohesion’, that has become their trademark.
Rene Meulensteen – who, by the way, is a ruddy great chap – seemed to feel that his new side were still capable of getting something out of the game, other than twatted, and sent them out to push up on Everton in the second half. That always represents a risk, as these Toffees are particularly adept on the counter-attack, but it initially paid dividends as Fulham started winning possession in dangerous areas and Everton struggled to really get going.
Then there were three horrible minutes in which it felt like the season was taking a sinister detour from the path of sunshine and lollipops it had been cruising merrily along.
First, on 64 minutes, Deulofeu went down holding his leg. There was a whole pantomime as the stretcher bearers stopped for a smoke halfway across the pitch, but eventually the young Spaniard was carried off and afterwards Martinez spoke about him ‘preparing himself for the final third of the season’. That’s a blow – he wasn’t enjoying his best game here, despite starting ahead of Kevin Mirallas, but he’s a brilliant option to bring off the bench, as demonstrated emphatically at Arsenal last weekend.
With Deulofeu possibly out for months a move for Aiden McGeady in January looks even more likely. Now, the mere mention of the ex-Celtic winger usually draws groans but Martinez appears to know his stuff and the internet has been wrong about enough players already that you have to think that it’s probably wise to hang fire and give any new signing the benefit of the doubt. Unless he doesn’t sign for us like, in which case he is just a wartime urchin-looking headless chicken.
It’s that simple.
Anyway, with Deulofeu barely down the tunnel Fulham equalised.
A rank touch by Lukaku on the halfway line allowed them to break and Barry’s attempt to poke the ball away from between Alexander Kaciniklic’s legs saw the Swede tumble and, after a long pause, the referee stunned everyone by pointing to the spot. It looked like an outrageous decision at the time but after seeing it on Match of the Day it probably comes under ‘seen them given’. That said, it’s easy to be philosophical when you end up scoring a load of goals and making the penalty irrelevant.
Dimitar Berbatov missing it was not an option.
‘Here we fucking go’.
Except we never.
Went, that is.
It really could have turned ugly after the equaliser – we’ve seen it plenty of times before – but instead of freezing this confident Everton rallied, put together the best move of the game and retook the lead after only six minutes.
Pienaar dummied Bryan Oviedo’s pass and made a run into the box, Lukaku did brilliantly to hold off the defender and push the ball into the South African’s path and in what is almost a signature move now, his low cross appeared to evade everyone only for the fullback, in this case the superb Seamus Coleman, to arrive late at the far post and clip the ball home.
There was a degree of relief then, but with around 20 minutes of the game remaining and Fulham still looking competent the potential remained for another demoralising equaliser. Goodison remained edgy then until the 84th minute when Barry nodded home from on the goalline after Sylvain Distin and then Lukaku headed Mirallas’s corner goalwards.
In injury time Osman picked out Mirallas’s run, he cut inside and his rather selfish shot should have been pretty comfortable for Stekelenburg but, well, it wasn’t, and ended up in the back of the Gwladys Street net.
To reiterate then, 4-1. Without playing anything like your best. Against a team whose attitude was typified by the excellent Steve Sidwell.
It’s not to be sniffed at.
Bring me sunshine indeed.