The lack of a genuine goalscoring striker proved costly on the opening day of the season as a hatful of chances went begging and Fulham made the most of theirs to steal the points. As my missus succinctly put it, “we couldn’t score in a brothel.”
Welcome back to GrandOldTeam.com and our coverage of Everton in the Premier League where, after another summer of delays and uncertainty, the Blues began their campaign with the visit of Fulham.
Since the victory over Bournemouth that secured that this season’s football would again be in the Premier League, Evertonians everywhere have been desperately awaiting news on a number fronts ranging from new players, players leaving, possible new investment, possible sale of the club, and a change of Chairman after the departure of three of the previous Board of Directors.
We’ll leave the financials and politics to others and do our best in these match reports to bring a flavour of the on-field proceedings… and hopefully considerably more victories than we ‘enjoyed’ last season.
Close season transfer activity majored on departures with Asmir Begovic, Ellis Simms, Niels Nkounkou, Yerry Mina, Tom Davies, Ruben Vinagre, Conor Coady and Andros Townsend all moving on to pastures new.
Returning to and joining the Blues prior to the last 48 hours were Jarrad Branthwaite following a successful loan period in Holland with PSV Eindhoven, Ashley Young having been released by Aston Villa after playing major part in their revival last season and Arnaut Danjuma, who finally joined Everton having moved to Tottenham back in January, largely to shine the pine of the Spurs bench.
The summer has seen a whole raft of Mickey Mouse rumours together with the odd credible one now and then, and one that did finally come to fruition was the signing from Sporting Lisbon of 19-year old striker Youssef Chermiti. Whether there will be further transfer activity, in both the departure and arrival lounges, remains to be seen as there continues to be doubts about the clubs ability to fund more arrivals without departures to balance the books.
With many of the media pundits and indeed fans of many clubs envisaging another tough season for Everton, there are equally as many who think that in Sean Dyche, we have a pragmatic manager equipped with the nous and wherewithal to take on the challenge of a full season and to hopefully steer the club to a better state than when he took over the managerial reins.
Speaking in his pre-match press gathering, he clearly stated the initial aim when he said, “Our aim is to be better this season than the last, well, the last couple of seasons. In my time here we have done enough good work to make sure we stayed in the division.”
He added, “From there, can we take some of the stuff we have learnt from that forward and improve. I have confidence we can do that. The truth of the work we’ve done will be when the whistle blows but so far during close season, it’s been pretty solid with some good performances and good energy and belied in what we’re doing.”
Heading into the opening game of the season, Dyche was boosted by James Tarkowski having recovered from a knock sustained late in the victory over Sporting Lisbon. In other squad news though he advised, “We’ll make a decision on Dominic (Calvert-Lewin) as late as we can, he needs game time and is fit and well. Dwight McNeil is likely to be out for weeks not days and neither Seamus Coleman nor Dele Alli will be available for Fulham.”
Knowing that an opening day win would give the whole club a massive boost for the season ahead, the manager eventually named his first starting eleven for Season 23/24 thus: Pickford, Patterson, Keane, Tarkowski (c), Young, Garner, Gana Gueye, Onana, Doucoure, Iwobi and Maupay.
Fulham under former Blues boss Marco Silva made an impressive return to the Premier League last season and will be looking to solidify their status in the top flight. In similar fashion to their hosts, the Cottagers transfer activity during the summer has hardly been headline grabbing with just two arrivals so far in the form of defender Calvin Bassey from Ajax Amsterdam and experienced striker Raul Jimenez from Wolves.
The major transfer activity for the London outfit are the on-off situations surrounding the future of striker Aleksandar Mitrovic and the veteran but classy Willian. Both these key performers for Fulham last season have expressed a desire to leave the club and with contract offers from clubs in Saudi Arabia allegedly having been made, whether either player will face Everton wasn’t known until the 2pm team news deadline when Willian was included while Mitrovic was named in the Fulham substitutes.
In squad news for their opening game, Marco Silva advised, “Joao Palhinha is out with his shoulder injury. He’s been doing individual work but, not full work with the team. We have to assess some of the other players too. There are some doubts like Andreas Pereira and Tom Cairney. There’s nothing serious, we have another training session tomorrow (Friday) after which we’ll assess them and make decisions for the game.”
Keen to repeat their stunning victory at Goodison back in April, Marco Silva named his starting line-up: Leno, Tete, Ream, Diop, Robinson, Reed, Cairney (c), Lukic, Willian, Wilson and Jimenez.
On a pleasant, sunny afternoon at the usual sold-out Goodison Park, our referee was Stuart Attwell.
An intercepted header by James Garner reached Neal Maupay and he gained the Fulham area and was unlucky to see his quick shot beat both Leno and the far post with less than thirty seconds played. Fulham countered quickly and Ashley Young got back to concede the games first corner that saw Cairney volley high and wide. A lovely move started by Onana and involving Iwobi saw Onana send Doucoure into space down the middle and Leno did well to foul him at the expense of a corner that failed to produce… and the opening five minutes had flown by.
The next five minutes by comparison we’re relatively sedate as both teams probed and looked to settle into some form of rhythm and passing the quarter hour mark, Everton won their second corner as Doucoure again forced his way into the Fulham area. The corner was defended and Fulham countered with Willian getting around Patterson and Keane getting back to thwart the attack. Onana launched another raid that saw a shot from Iwobi deflected behind for a third Everton corner, that came to nothing.
A passage of scruffy play from both sides ended with Maupay winning a 50-50 to release Alex Iwobi to cut in from the left flank and his eventual shot went wide of the near post. Fulham were enjoying more of the ball but, not really hurting Everton who in turn seemed happy to play on the counter with Doucoure eager to get forward and support Maupay.
Willian was booked just before the half hour for a clumsy challenge on James Garner, Ashley Young sending the free kick long for Tarkowski to get on the end of, Leno easily gathering his ball into the six yard area. Everton began to press harder and Leno somehow denied Maupay as he got to a knockdown header from Doucoure. Everton were denied the opening goal after Michael Keane swept home a loose ball, James Tarkowski penalised for backing into Leno when he came for a cross.
A surging left wing run by Alex Iwobi saw him pass cross field and Leno produced a smart save to deny Doucoure. The next Everton attack again saw Leno stymie Neal Maupay at close range. Everton came again with Gana Gueye feeding Patterson who curled his shot high and wide.
Garner sent Doucoure down the right wing and his cross found Maupay, his shot going straight at Leno, before one added minute was announced, and the teams went to the dressing rooms tied at nil-nil with Leno in the Fulham goal the busier of the two keepers by a country mile.
Half Time: 0-0
A change for the start of the second half by Fulham as Decordova-Reid replaced Saudi-bound Willian in the visitors midfield.
Paterson conceded a soft corner five minutes into the second half, Maupay and Young defending it at the expense of another that failed to trouble the Everton defence. Wilson ran into Onana and was awarded a free kick that was defended before Tarkowski fouled Tete wide right and Fulham wasted another opportunity to put the Everton rearguard under some pressure by over elaborating.
Fulham though we’re unlucky not to take the lead on 56 minutes as a cross from Wilson found Jimenez and his shot came back off the post. Fulham made a double change with Mitrovic and Pereira replacing Jimenez and Cairney respectively.
Passing the hour mark, Fulham defended a teasing cross from Young, and the next foray forward saw Garner win a corner on the right, that saw Gana Gueye win another from the left, that saw Mitrovic go down and need treatment before play could resume.
Alex Iwobi showed some fancy footwork before firing in a shot that Leno could only palm out as far as Patterson whose instant shot came back off the crossbar when it looked easier to score. When Fulham tried to respond, Wilson fired a shot over the crossbar.
Twenty minutes left and Everton were looking the more likely… if only the side had a true goalscoring threat – Neal Maupay works hard but can’t buy a goal and was replaced on 72 minutes by Arnaut Danjuma.
And Fulham struck to take the lead inside thirty seconds as Wilson got free on the right and his balk into the box found Decordova-Reid for a simple tap-in.
And the same combination of Wilson to Decordova-Reid nearly produced a second goal less than five minutes later as Goodison fell quiet apart from the visitors section of the Bullens Road.
Garner won a free kick wide right that came to nothing and a quick counter by Fulham saw Gana Gueye get back to concede a corner that he then cleared. A last roll of the dice by Sean Dyche saw Lewis Dobbin replace James Garner on 83 minutes.
A cross from Young saw the ball find Iwobi via Danjuma, Leno shovelling the ball away for a corner that was easily defended. Leno then confidently held a low cross from the left from Danjuma. Tete was booked for time wasting at a free kick before his deep cross found Mitrovic for a quick shot that Pickford gathered comfortably.
Fulham had loud penalty appeals for a hand ball turned down and the Everton counter saw Dobbin win a corner from the left that Leno punched out to Gana Gueye, his volley deflected behind for a corner from the right that eventually led to a deep cross from Iwobi find Tarkowski and his header beat Leno and the far post.
Six added minutes were announced, could Everton find an equaliser?
A yellow card was shown to one of the Everton staff as they complained about more time wasting by Fulham. Arnaut Danjuma failed to make the most of a glorious opportunity as a ball from Doucoure split the Fulham defence to find him and he bent his shot around Leno and the post.
A final long free kick by Pickford found Michael Keane but his header lacked the power and direction to beat Leno, and the visitors celebrated what, in the end, was an effective smash and grab victory on the road.