As an hors d'oeuvre to Merseyside's FA Cup weekend, this had the look of a grapefruit with a cherry plonked on top rather than seared scallops in a balsamic dressing. Liverpool against Manchester United this afternoon will be rather more of an occasion but this proved a fascinating contest that managed to keep Everton's season afloat.
On a night swept by the kind of cold, bitter rain his time with Los Angeles Galaxy would not have prepared him for, Landon Donovan swung the match with two superlative crosses that were met by headers equally as good.
The first, from Denis Stracqualursi, levelled matters; the second, from Marouane Fellaini, propelled Everton into the fifth round. The Belgian was closely marked but it seemed a goal the instant he connected with it, sending the ball looping out of David Stockdale's grasp, although moments later the Fulham keeper prevented a trio of Everton headed goals with a spectacular leaping save from Tim Cahill.
Having taken the lead, Fulham never seriously threatened after losing it. Their manager, Martin Jol, thought that, facing a defence lacking Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka, they ought to have done better. "Our target was to take them back to Craven Cottage and maybe more," he said.
Everton may have looked weak on paper but some young footballers dug deeper than those on higher pay-grades have done. The FA Cup should have mattered to both these sides. To have left it at this stage would have been to see the season stripped of its final promise of glory.
This made it all the more surprising that David Moyes should have placed his faith in footballers who were frankly young and raw. However, if he gambled, the Everton manager won, while when Stracqualursi steered Donovan's cross home from 12 yards, he had tears in his eyes. It was his first goal for the club since joining last summer, which since he is a centre-forward and it is nearly February is rather late.
"He has a tremendous work ethic, he will run and run," said the Everton assistant manager, Steve Round. "He has had trouble getting used to the intensity of the Premier League and he doesn't speak the language yet but the lads love him. He stays behind to do extra training and if any player is paying the price of trying to succeed it is him."
Nevertheless Everton only really roused themselves once they had fallen behind when John Arne Riise, having received a beautiful pass from his one-time Liverpool team-mate Danny Murphy, cut to the very edge of the byline and pulled the ball back. As Damien Duff struck it, John Heitinga committed himself, the ball hit his arm and, rather like Micah Richards and Liverpool's penalty on Wednesday, a kick was awarded, this time by Howard Webb. Murphy tucked it coolly away.
Everton: Howard, Neville, Duffy, Heitinga, Baines, Donovan, Gibson, Fellaini, Gueye, Stracqualursi.
Fulham: Stockdale, J Riise, Hangeland, Hughes, Kelly, Duff, Baird, Murphy, Dempsey, Ruiz, Johnson
Substitutes: Everton Drenthe (Gueye, 68), Anichebe (Stracqualursi, 83). Fulham Zamora (Duff, 79), Sidwell (Baird, 82), Trotta (Murphy, 87).
Booked: Everton Heitinga, Gibson, Cahill. Fulham Baird, Dempsey. Man of the match Donovan.
Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Everton 55% Fulham 45%.
Attempts on target: Everton 8 Fulham 5.
Referee H Webb (South Yorkshire).
Attendance 25,300.Reuse content