If the Capital One Cup is meant to be about the joys of youthful experimentation, no-one has told Martin Jol. His Fulham team are in the fourth-round draw having been cut apart by the youth of Everton in the first half, before hauling it back in the second half through goals from Dimitar Berbatov and then substitute Darren Bent.
Jol called it a “big relief” at the end, and understandably so. It was only Fulham's second win of the season and their first at home. They were jeered off at half-time and defeat would have made his life very difficult indeed. “It was a long time ago, our last win against Sunderland. We wanted to get back to winning ways.”
But there was certainly something brighter, sharper and younger about Everton from the start. Martinez gave first starts to Romelu Lukaku and James McCarthy, while bringing 19-year-olds John Stone and Gerard Deulofeu back into the team.
This was only Deulofeu's second start for Everton, only his second start in senior club football, but he looked both comfortable and fearless, driving Everton's early attacks cutting in from the right. It took him just 12 minutes to set up the first goal, running through the middle, waiting unchallenged before stabbing the ball forward with his right foot. Naismith ran onto it - having missed a similar chance one minute before - but this time beat David Stockdale.
Deulofeu continued to tease far more experienced players, skipping past challenges from Giorgos Karagounis and Scott Parker - combined age 68 - and getting the latter booked. His corner met Sylvain Distin's head but then Elsad Zverotic on the line. He laid on another chance for Naismith, who shot into the side-netting. He made space for himself to shoot, but for John Arne Riise to deflect it just beyond the post. It was exciting, daring, threatening football and more than one might expect from a typical Capital One Cup third round tie.
“He's a real threat,” said Martinez afterwards. “You can see when he runs with the ball he is electric, he makes things happen, could have won game for us in the first half, with the good opportunities he got. He was really alert, a threat throughout, his quality is exceptional and he has a terrific, terrific future.”
But inexperience often means inefficiency and Everton ought to have made more of their early dominance. “At stages in the first half we had too many chances to put the game to bed, so we are disappointed,” Martinez said. “We could have killed it, but there was a bit of a lack of composure in the final third that cost us.”
Fulham grew into the game, pushing Everton's high line back and making chances of their own. Adel Taarabt and Riise missed good chances late in the first half while Joel Robles had to save well from Alexander Kacanikilic soon after the re-start.
It was little surprise then, nine minutes into the second half, when Fulham equalised. Everton were defending desperately and Coleman had to dive in on Taarabt to stop him from receiving Pajtim Kasami's flick. The ball fell straight to Dimitar Berbatov, 10 yards out, and he knocked it in.
The tie was there to be won and while Everton had a better bench, Fulham changed first, and were rewarded for it. Fernando Amorebieta came on, then Darren Bent, and four minutes later Fulham were ahead. Karagounis rolled a clever free-kick forward to Bent, who smacked the ball left-footed low through Robles' legs and in. An older 'keeper might have done better.
“We have been waiting for goals to win games but we couldn't score,” said Jol, delighted now to have Berbatov and Bent fit. “Now we can score. Now we have players who can put the ball in the net - like Bent did - out of nothing.”
Only then did Martinez add more experience - putting on Gareth Barry and Phil Jagielka, and switching to 3-4-3, but it was too late, despite their flurry of chances.
Coleman, pushed forward, shot wide. Deulofeu, now on the left, cut in and curled just beyond the far post. Stockdale saved Lukaku's effort at a second attempt. Kevin Mirallas - who might have warranted more than 10 minutes - threatened, and his low cross to Coleman set up a great chance which Stockdale saved.
Martinez, always enthusiastic, insisted he did not wait too long to make his changes. “The players that started today deserved to start,” he said, “and from that point on football makes the decisions. But it was important we shared the efforts between the squad.”
“Games like this are vital for players to show what they can do. We did enough to win, so we are even more disappointed that we couldn't get it.”
Man of the match Deulofeu.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).