Moving up to fourth place after a draw away to Fulham on Saturday should, therefore, have been a cause for rejoicing for Everton manager David Moyes and his players, but the Scot’s mood afterwards was, justifiably, sombre.
Seldom have Fulham been dominated so completely on their home turf as they were by Everton, who recovered impressively from the shock of Bryan Ruiz’s early free-kick finding its way into goal via Tim Howard’s hands, the upright and then Howard’s shoulder. The visitors pressed Fulham back into their own penalty area, and although the home side held out until the interval, they looked destined for a big defeat when Marouane Fellaini scored twice, in the 55th and 72nd minutes.
Fellaini was twice denied a hat-trick, first by Brede Hangeland’s block, which diverted his shot onto a post, and then by Mark Schwarzer’s diving save, while Chris Baird cleared Steven Naismith’s goalbound shot off the line. And having ridden their luck, Fulham broke out late to steal a point when Steve Sidwell poked the ball in from close range.
Two more points would not, in fact, have improved Everton’s league position, but that was no consolation to Moyes. “You need to put the points on the board just now and I thought we missed an opportunity,” he said. “After ten games is a good time to assess your start, and I think we’ve had a good start compared to our usual starts. But we’ve been hard done by in games. Today we did it to ourselves because we didn’t finish as well as we can do and gave away a stupid second goal. I hope we can be in the top four at the end of the season but I don’t know. When you get opportunities to win games you have to take them. I think we are playing well. The players have a lot of confidence. But they are quiet in the dressing room. It feels like a defeat.”
It might have been different had Nikica Jelavic done better with a chance just before the interval, when the ball came to his feet from an interception by Chris Baird. But with the Fulham defenders static and only Schwarzer to beat, the Croatia forward chipped harmlessly over. Last season’s top scorer has four goals so far but has not found the net since October 6 and Moyes does not have the reserve strength to replace him.
“You keep giving him the opportunity to score goals,” Moyes said. “He’ll come back because he’s a really good goalscorer.”
Martin Jol has more goalscoring options than Moyes, with Mladen Petric coming off the bench to replace Ruiz alongside Berbatov, and Hugo Rodallega riding the pine throughout. Jol admitted afterwards that finding the right combination of strikers might mean a change of system, but the argument was largely academic in this case as Everton seldom allowed Fulham to have the ball.
Jol was generous in his praise of Everton, and Moyes for his courage in declaring his aim for a top-four place the Dutchman saluted. “It’s very brave and characteristic of him to say that. I feel that they are a top team, very difficult to play against.”
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer 6; Riether 7, Hughes 5, Hangeland 6, Riise 5 (Dejagah 59, 5) ; Duff 6, Diarra 5 (Petric 76), Baird 6, Kacaniklic 5 (Sidwell 67, 7); Ruiz 6; Berbatov 5.
EVERTON (4-4-1-1): Howard 5; Coleman 7, Jagielka 6, Heitinga 6, Baines 7; Mirallas 6 (Naismith 80), Osman 7, Neville 6, Pienaar 6; Fellaini 9; Jelavic 7 (Distin 89).
Referee: N Swarbrick.