The Blues disappointingly dropped into the relegation places as results elsewhere went against them and whilst Fulham had more of the chances, two great chances in added-on time fell to Beto and Ben Godfrey and they were unable to secure what would have been three priceless points.
Some Blues have suggested that with elimination from the FA Cup last Saturday, this away game at Fulham marked the ‘real’ start of the season, a 17-game season for Everton to gain enough points to ensure that next season, the final full season at Goodison Park, will be played in the top flight… irrespective of unjustly imposed points deductions by the Premier League and their kangaroo court.
With only survival in the Premier League now to play for, Blues boss Sean Dyche suggested the quick return to playing after Saturday’s loss was what the team needed when he said, “It’s good in the sense that you are back on it, the mindset changes quickly. We had a roll call on Sunday, then it’s a case of moving forward and getting the team prepped again. We want the team to be ready and raring to go – they know the fixture list. The challenge is when you have got so many injuries, that obviously challenges it with recovery time, fitness and availability. But I believe in all these players, regardless of injuries.”
Having expressed his belief and faith in his squad, despite the injuries being carried, he named his strongest available starting eleven: Jordan Pickford, Ashley Young, Ben Godfrey, James Tarkowski (c), Jarrad Branthwaite, Vitalii Mykolenko, Jack Harrison, James Garner, Arnaut Danjuma, Dwight McNeil and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Fulham too, exited the FA Cup last weekend, bowing out to Newcastle at Craven Cottage strong side and former Blues boss Marco Silva was keen that his players were fully focussed on the game ahead of them when he commented, “All the respect to Everton, away from home they have been one of the strongest sides so far this season. They have been achieving a really, really good number of points away from home. The position they are in is not important for us, we look for ourselves, focus on ourselves. There are three points there to fight for and we are going to do our maximum to get the three points, knowing that they are a dangerous side.”
And with Fulham looking to complete a first ever league double for the Cottagers over the Toffees, and with three players still away at the African Cup of Nations and Adama Traore unavailable with a thigh strain, Silva named his starting line-up thus: Leno, Castagne, Tosin, Diop, Robinson, Palhinho, Cairney (c), De Cordova-Reid, Pereira, Willian and Jimenez.
On a cool evening on the banks of the Thames, our referee was Tom Bramall.
An early chance almost straight from the kick off saw Jimenez fire over the target from the edge of the Everton penalty area and the Blues responded with Godfrey crossing for DCL who was adjudged to be offside as he laid the ball off for Harrison to bend a shot just wide. A cross from Mykolenko was partially cleared as far as Harrison who fed McNeil for a shot deflected our for the games first corner. The set piece was cleared and a poor ball from Young back towards Pickford gifted the home side their first corner that resulted in Pereira firing over the target.
Robinson saw a deflected shot turned behind by Pickford and again, the corner failed to produce and when the Blues got forward again, Danjuma had the option to find Young but took the shot on and Leno saved easily. Danjuma then conceded a free kick for hand ball that saw Pereira find the head of Palhinha only for his header to clear the crossbar too.
Ashley Young was fouled on the edge of the Fulham area by Robinson and the set piece saw a goalmouth scramble ensue as Young saw his free kick effort parried by Leno and Tarkowski scuffed his effort against Diop up onto the bar and Everton appealed for a handball against Robinson for a penalty, that VAR took a very quick look at and decided against the appeals.
Passing the midway point of the first half and another free kick to the Blues just outside the Fulham area saw Palhinha booked and the shot from Harrison hit the wall and Willian went down to gain a free kick. When play resumed, Willian got forward to outpace Godfrey who pulled him back and he too picked up a yellow card in conceding the free kick. Branthwaite headed the free kick clear and when it came back again, Mykolenko found Young to hump the ball clear to midfield.
Fulham got forward in numbers and a superb block from Mykolenko denied De Cordova-Reid and the Blues countered at speed through Danjuma down the left to cut inside, gain the Fulham area and then make a right town halls of his shot that failed to trouble Leno in shooting over the bar.
The next Fulham attack saw Branthwaite block a shot from Willian and the ball cannoned out for a goal kick off Jimenez and another quick break by the Blues from the goal kick broke down before and when the home side countered, Pickford was alert and quick off his line to deny Castagne and inside the final ten minutes of the half, Fulham got forward again through Robinson to win a corner off Young that was played short and resulted in Pereira firing in a shot from distance that again Jordan Pickford was able to watch clear the crossbar and sail into the crowd.
A long ball from Pickford found DCL and his layoff found Harrison who shot straight at Leno. Fulham attacked with Cairney finding Robinson and his cross eventually fell to Jimenez via De Cordova-Reid and thankfully he wasted a glorious opportunity to open the scoring. Jarrad Branthwaite was somewhat harshly yellow carded for a foul on Jimenez three minutes before the break, the Spaniard making the most of the contact. Castagne blocked a ball from Danjuma, found by Harrison, out for a corner and as just one minute of added-on time was signalled, the Blues couldn’t make anything of the set piece and a half that had seen plenty of attacking from both sides with a lack of quality in both the finishing departments ended scoreless.
Half Time: 0-0
Fulham replaced Jimenez with Muniz for the start of the second half while Everton went with the same eleven that started the game.
An early raid by the Blues saw Mykolenko burst forward and feed Jack Harrison and he went down in the area with half-hearted penalty appeals waved away by the referee. Fulham countered through Willian and Tarkowski got back to make a good interception and clearance. A Fulham corner was cleared initially by Tarkowski and completed by Mykolenko, and the bright start to the half by the home side saw Godfrey put a cross behind for a short corner that saw Tarkowski headed out as far as Palhinha who saw his shot easily saved by Pickford.
A mistake by McNeil gave the ball away to Muniz and his blushes were saved as the offside flag prevented any serious damage to the Blues cause. Pickford sent a free kick long and when the knockdown header from Tarkowski found Godfrey, he hit a half volley that was turned behind for a corner that saw DCL climb to see a header hit the crossbar. The Blues came again with a decent cross from Young seeing DCL stoop to head a ball that ended going just over onto the roof of the net.
Vitalii Mykolenko went down just before the hour mark holding his knee and thankfully was able to carry on. Fulham wasted another great chance on another Everton turnover by McNeil as De Cordova-Reid and Willian looked certain to score before a terrific challenge by Ben Godfrey denied the latter after Tarkowski had slowed the former and the Blues cleared. Danjuma tried to take on Robinson for pace and lost out to the former Everton player.
An hour gone and as we’ve said so many times this season, the game was taking on the mantle of either moment or genius or a defensive error being the turning point. Fulham though were looking the more likely, winning too many of the 50-50 challenges and finding width from which to send in crosses to pressure the Blues defence.
An error by Branthwaite and it needed another last ditch tackle from Mykolenko as Pereira and Muniz broke in to concede a corner that saw a header from Castagne come back off the crossbar for Garner to hook clear. Mykolenko stalled the taking of a free kick long enough to allow Danjuma time to re-tie his boot laces and the ball ended up with Leno.
The travelling Blues support was doing its utmost to urge the players on for the last twenty minutes and the players responded with a decent attack involving Young and DCL before this ludicrous offside rule saw the play called back. Fulham won another corner as Robinson again got forward at pace, Willian playing it long and Harrison clearing initially, and Godfrey eventually putting the ball out for a throw-in. Fulham prepared to make a second change with Ream stripped off awaiting a stoppage as Godfrey again defended well as the home side came again to win a corner as a shot from Pereira was deflected into the side netting off Branthwaite.
Ream came on to replace Diop before the corner was taken and another cross from Pereira was turned behind, a succession of Fulham corners and this one led to a header from Tosin that saw an excellent save by Pickford to his right at the expense of another corner that Mykolenko cleared away. Fulham were pouring it on and it was looking only a matter of time before the Blues resistance was breeched.
Inside the final quarter of an hour and Beto prepared to come on as Branthwaite went down needing a little treatment with Nathan Patterson also stripping off for a cameo appearance.
As expected, Nathan Patterson and Beto made their way onto the pitch to replace Ashley Young and DCL respectively with a little under ten minutes pus any added-on time to play.
Cairney latched onto a loose ball to force another opening that Danjuma did well to get back and foil and when the home side came again, Ream found Robinson for a cross that De Cordova-Reid headed wide. A clumsy challenge by Beto on Palhinha saw a free kick headed behind by Tarkowski for yet another Fulham corner wasted by De Cordova-Reid with a wild shot that flew well wide of the target.
Could Everton find something to force a late winner as news came in that Nottingham Forest had lost at home to Arsenal, Palace had beaten Sheffield United and Luton had spanked Brighton – results that unless we could force a winner would see the Blues drop into the bottom three.
Into the final five minutes, Everton forced a corner that Garner took and the referee blew for a foul by Tarkowski. Danjuma went down twice in quick succession and was withdrawn with Lewis Dobbin replacing him.
A minimum of six added minutes were signalled with Fulham in possession and when Willian found De Cordova-Reid, his cross saw Muniz put a poor header straight at Pickford. Harrison latched onto a mistake from Muniz and looking to find Beto, Everton won a corner on the right. McNeil sent it long to the back post and incredibly, from the Tarkowski header across the six yard area, Beto put it wide from about eight feet. Everton forced another late, late corner this time from the left, and this time it was Godfrey, who missed from short range, his effort coming back off Beto and with Fulham looking to break, Mykolenko got back to keep them out.
We have to hope that those two late, late chances won’t come back to haunt us in the end of season analysis.