Everton 1 Fulham 0 match report: Everton stay in running for Euro place after neat work by Steven Pienaar
Sunday 28 April 2013
With those garish orange boots reflecting off the sun's rays, Dimitar Berbatov clutched at his calf and exited the game. No real point in seeing this one out. And with that, on the 30th minute, Fulham's chances of getting anything at their most dreaded of away grounds vanished.
The subplots that define success and failure in football – the title surge, the quest for a place inside the top four, the tussle to avoid relegation; well none of them were to be found here at Goodison Park.
Everton have had a good season without ending their search for a first trophy under David Moyes. Fulham, meanwhile, had already hit the 40-point mark and seemingly safe from the drop, there was no motivation to perform with any amount of intensity.
The preconditions suggested that this was going to be no match of the day. And it showed. Fulham had not won a league fixture in their entire history at Everton. With nothing seriously at stake, that dubious statistic was unlikely to change from the moment Steven Pienaar swept the host's into a 16th minute lead following some rapid and intricate five-a-side football down Everton's right side.
Perhaps the most significant revelation from the day lay deep in Moyes's programme notes. Four paragraphs in, he references the future – seemingly one spent with Everton.
"The goal now for myself and the club is to continue to build on what we've already achieved and to keep moving the team forward," he wrote enthusiastically.
Moyes did not commit himself. But he is clearly thinking about what happens next at a club he has managed across 12 seasons.
Afterwards, Moyes joked about celebrating his 50th birthday party in style. "It will be a wild rave," he commented, somewhat uncharacteristically.
Moyes was more serious, though, about reaching a conclusion on his future at the end of the campaign. "When you've been [somewhere] 11 years, you'd hope that you'll be given the respect and the time to make a decision."
An indication of Moyes's current thinking is displayed in his team selections. Since it was announced this season would be Phil Neville's last at Everton, he has not appeared in a blue shirt and Phil Jagielka has already been installed as his replacement as club captain.
Neville was not even in the squad against Fulham. Several of Moyes's most trusted players are similarly over the age of 30 and Moyes appreciates that gradually, his squad will need reshaping. Maybe this is the start of that course.
Moyes also still believes there is at least a remote chance of European qualification. "We'll keep going and see what happens," he said. "We'll probably need to win every game but we've beaten last year's total with the points today and hopefully that shows a sign of progress. If we do get in Europe, we'll certainly have earned it because the sides above us [currently] are all really good sides."
Regardless, for the second campaign in succession, it is likely that Everton will finish it above Liverpool. Moyes will not mark is own team's achievements by the performance of their Merseyside rivals. As much as Everton have improved in recent years, Liverpool have degenerated.
Most importantly for Moyes, he feels that this Everton team is the most competitive he has had since marking his arrival at Goodison Park with a victory, which ironically came against Fulham on a sunny spring afternoon more than a decade ago.
Everton did not have to show any amount of consistent enterprise to secure the points in this fixture. Yet it always felt comfortable. Fulham's defenders could not deal with the pace and movement of Kevin Mirallas, Leon Osman and Seamus Coleman for the opener. "It was a terrific footballing goal," Moyes said. "It was deserved because we created enough similar opportunities."
Those opportunities fell to Mirallas and substitute Ross Barkley, who could have secured the result earlier only for Mark Schwarzer to palm away on both occasions.
Martin Jol, the Fulham manager, later refuted suggestions that he is planning to replace the Australian goalkeeper in the summer by recruiting Roma's Martin Stekelenburg. "As long as Mark is fit, we'd like to keep him," Jol said.
Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Mirallas, Fellaini, Osman, Pienaar; Jelavic (Barkley 67), Anichebe.
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Manolev, Senderos, Hangeland, Richardson (Duff 56); Emanuelson, Enoh, Karagounis (Rodallega 77), Kacaniklic; Berbatov (Petric 30), Ruiz.
Referee: J Moss
Man of the match: Pienaar (Everton)
Match rating: 5/10
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