Everton 1-3 Fulham

Slick Fulham too good for below par Blues.

Everton never really got going in this game and Fulham took full advantage with the evergreen Willian, Pereira and Paulinho providing an excellent platform to launch a successful and happy return to Goodison for Marco Silva.

Games remaining are down to single digits with only seven more after this, the must-not-lose-for-heavens-sake-win-will-ya visit of Fulham to the Grand Old Lady. The horse racing worlds greatest event, the Grand National, was going on not too far away, but another full house at Goodison Park had its focus entirely on the Blues and the battle to avoid a drop into the Championship.

Everton were the first team to prevent the Cottagers from scoring at home when the two sides played out a nil-nil draw back in late October, and with the visitors without their suspended leading scorer Mitrovic, Sean Dyche will be hoping that the visitors will continue to struggle in front of goal since the fracas at Old Trafford that saw Mitrovic, Willian and manager Marco Silva all red carded and incur lengthy bans.

Having had a decent run of results ended at OT last weekend, the Blues boss was looking forward to playing at Goodison where the fans have been so influential in creating a formidable atmosphere. Dyche enthused, “We want to build that mentality at home, that fortress created by the fans and the way they go about it. They have been excellent. Home or away, by the way, I couldn’t question them.”

He continued adding, “I think the team have responded at home and some of the away performances. They stepped off a little bit last week, but generally the team have responded and given the fans something to cheer about. You know it is not just a one-way street this – the players have to use their energy but then give the energy to the fans and I think that’s been a good balance so far.”

With Abdoulaye Doucoure missing, serving the final game of his three match ban, the boss had a decision to make on who to potentially replace him with in the midfield and he acknowledged it is a chance for the likes of James Garner or Tom Davies to step up and play an important part… “They are both going well. Jimmy is returning after an injury but he’s had a number of weeks now with us. He is training hard and well. Tom’s been at the Club a longer period and played games so he understands the role. We want flexibility within the squad and it’s needed if you do get injuries. So, yes, we will certainly have a think with Doucs out of the side. Try to change to the best way we can be effective.”

With skipper Seamus Coleman also unavailable due to a hamstring strain and Dominic Calvert-Lewin finally having returned to full scale first team training, Sean Dyche left it as long as possible before finally announcing his starting eleven: Jordan Pickford (c), Ben Godfrey, Michael Keane, James Tarkowski, Vitalii Mykolenko, Alex Iwobi, Idrissa Gana Gueye, James Garner, Dwight McNeil, Demarai Gray and Neal Maupay.

Fulham have enjoyed an excellent season on their return to the top flight, prior to that game at Old Trafford, playing entertaining football and surprising many with their standing in the Premier League table. However, the fallout from that game will see them without manager Marco Silva in the team dugout and with three defeats on the bounce, the visitors were looking to return to their better form at the expense of the Blues.

Silva of course knows Goodison well and upon his return noted, “It will be a good feeling,” he admitted. “Unfortunately, I will not be on the touchline, it’s always much better if you are on the touchline. When you manage a club like Everton it’s always a huge honour to be there and to work in a big club, and that was my feeling all that period that I was there.”

He continued saying, “It will be good, at the same time, to see some familiar faces for me, some people that I really enjoyed working with, some people that welcomed really well myself and my staff in that football club. And that’s it. It will be a football match that Everton wants to win, we want to win as well, in a good environment. You know always at Goodison that the fans are really behind the team, they are going to create the right atmosphere for the home team.”

With a knowing smile he closed adding, “And we have to show the personality and everything that we need to, to match them and to fight for the three points.”

Another returnee could be former Toffees academy graduate Antonee Robinson and he was looking forward to ticking Goodison Park off his grounds played at list when he spoke saying. “I was thinking that at 23-years-old, I haven’t played at Goodison. Hopefully I manage to get in the team and play, and finally appear in a Premier League game at Goodison, which will be nice.”

Whilst confined to the posh seats and unable to prowl the touchline alongside Sean Dyche, Marco Silva nevertheless named his starting line-up: Leno, Tete, Adarabioyo, Ream (c), Robinson, Reed, Pereira, Paulinho, Willian, James and Wilson.

On a warm, sunny afternoon for the Grand National and football, our referee was Anthony Taylor.

An immaculately observed minutes silence in memory of those who lost their lives at Hillsborough 34 years ago preceded the start of the game. The Blues went for the early high press with Fulham looking to spread the ball wide. Garner won a 50-50 to feed Gray and Leno went down at his near post to save the quickly taken shot.

Adarabioyo got back quickly to deny Gray after a nice build up by the Blues with Garner, Iwobi, McNeil and Mykolenko all involved. A loose ball from Iwobi saw Fulham earn the first free kick for a foul by Mykolenko on Wilson but, the visitors failed to make anything of it. With their first effort, Willian saw a long range shot easily gathered by Pickford.

Tete blocked a cross from McNeil who was then fouled by Wilson to give the Blues a free kick wide on the left, that Garner swung towards the near post where it was put behind for the games first corner that was defended and cleared. Quarter of an hour gone and both sides were still feeling each other out, Everton the more imposing trying to establish a pattern of play and dominance.

A quick Fulham counter begun by Willian with a deft feed to the overlapping Robinson saw his low cross only partially cleared by Tarkowski and Wilson didn’t make the most of a shot that Pickford gathered comfortably. Fulham were growing in confidence and a low cross by Pereira was put behind by Tarkowski, the corner leading to a shot from Pereira going wide of the target.

The 22nd minute saw the visitors ahead as a shot from Pereira from just outside the box came back off the far post and Reed reacted quickest to control and send a low shot beyond the diving Pickford into the bottom corner… it had been coming as Fulham had been the better side in the moments beforehand.

Another Fulham raid saw a ball swept out to Willian who saw his instant volley charged down and a foul by Gueye on Pereira saw him need treatment while the Blues brought everyone back to defend the free kick successfully. Approaching the half hour mark and Everton still were not firing on all cylinders, too many aimless high balls being pumped forward for Maupay or Gray who were never going to out jump any of the three significantly taller central defenders.

A free kick was sent into the box and Maupay brought a good save out of Leno, the loose ball disappointingly blasted over the bar by Tarkowski. Iwobi and McNeil switch flanks and Tete defended well against Mykolenko fed by Iwobi. Everton drew level in the 35th minute as a long ball from Tarkowski wasn’t dealt with and after Gana Gueye won a 50-50, Dwight McNeil took a short ball from Garner to take a couple of paces forward and drill a low shot past Leno and into the bottom right corner.

The goal brought about an immediate response from the home crowd who had been getting a bit edgy and we’re on their feet as Maupay burst into the Fulham to get beyond Leno but go down, Ream hoofing the ball to safety. McNeil won a corner on the Blues right off Robinson but, it came to nothing. McNeil was becoming much more of an influence from the right and he found Garner for a teasing cross that was just too high for Gray and too far beyond Maupay.

Two added minutes were announced and some patient build-up ended with Gray firing a long range effort high and wide of the target. Honours even at the interval but, Sean Dyche will look for a marked improvement in the second half to gain full control of a well balanced game.

Half Time: 1-1

No changes by either manager for the start of the second half with the visitors markedly slower to return to the pitch, Everton out a full two minutes earlier, hopefully a sign that the manager had them hungry to get the job done.

Mykolenko won a quick corner that then saw Leno impeded and on their first raid, Willian curled a speculative shot high and wide for Fulham. McNeil jinked his way past Willian and Robinson and his cross hit the outside of the post. But it was Fulham who struck first again as a ball from the right found Willian in space and he calmly tee’d up Wilson to crash home from twelve yards.

Fulham were warned about time wasting at a throw-in and the home crowd again began to get tetchy as Gray was penalised. Tete won a corner off Mykolenko as the visitors sensed Everton and the home crowd were nervous and Willian picked out Pereira for a shot that Pickford was pleased to turn over the bar, the follow-up corner not causing any problems.

Nathan Patterson was sent out to warm up as Ben Godfrey received some treatment and the switch was made on 57 minutes after an idiotic delay while the electronic indicator was amended.

An hour gone and the signs were not looking good as Fulham were now looking comfortable on the ball and knocking it around confidently before Willian saw a shot blocked and Paulinho saw a shot headed away by Garner. Pereira saw a short range shot deflected over the bar off Garner, Mykolenko heading the resulting corner clear.

Another quick raid by Fulham led by the ever impressive Willian saw Gana Gueye concede another corner that was defended. Goodison was distinctly unhappy at what was happening before its eyes and frustration was creeping as Tarkowski clattered into Wilson and from the free kick, Fulham doubled their lead as James collected the lofted set piece to turn inside Tarkowski and Keane and coolly slot the third on 68 minutes.

Tom Davies replaced Idrissa Gana Gueye for the restart with Everton now needing a minor miracle to get anything from the game. Gray saw a yellow card for a foul on Tete as Fulham got forward again, on 73 minutes, Ellis Simms replaced the luckless and terribly ineffective Maupay,

McNeil saw a shot blocked after being fed by Patterson, Leno easily saving a second effort from Garner, and Fulham went down the Park End to win a corner thar ended with James sending a low shot wide of the far post.

Cairney and De-Cordova Reid replaced Pereira and Willian on 78 minutes before Mykolenko was booked for a crude challenge on Wilson. Adarabioyo was booked for time wasting at the free kick and we entered the final ten minutes with some Evertonians heading for the early exit.

It pains me to say it but, the game had long gone and the final minutes were largely played out just to meet the statutory requirement of there being ninety minutes. Simms did well on the end of a long ball to eventually found Iwobi who set up Garner for a powerful shot that whistled wide of the target.

An incredible six added minutes were announced and Fulham worked the ball down their right to win another corner that was wasted but, they kept the ball to eat up some time… that couldn’t be eaten up quickly enough!!

The final whistle came as something of a merciful relief at the end of a game that in all seriousness, Everton were always second best and produced a score line that did not flatter Fulham.

Full Time: 1-3

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