For just about as long as his tenure here, Chris Coleman has balanced precariously on a high wire. The list of managers who according to the bookmakers are most likely destined for imminent dismissal will always feature his name prominently. At half-time, Fulham had been performing so desperately that his team were escorted off by a cacophony of booing.
Yet somehow his team contrive to dash on with a safety net at an appropriate moment. Yesterday was a case in point. Everton could, probably should, have been awarded a penalty in both halves. Andy Johnson, the man involved in both incidents, spurned other opportunities. His team dominated the first half. Even after a second period in which Fulham raised their game, David Moyes' side merited at least a draw, only to be undone by Claus Jensen's fortuitous 66th-minute winner.
Few would bemoan the Dane that fortune. He has suffered a wretched period with injury, missing much of the last two seasons. The former Charlton man is out of contract at the end of the season, but Coleman is not yet promising a new deal. He said: "He has always been a quality player but when he has done that for 15 games then we can talk about next year."
Just after the goal, the Dane was struck by a coin hurled from where Everton supporters were apparently seated. "It's bitterly disappointing this sort of thing," said Coleman. "There is no excuse for that nonsense. It was a coward who decided to throw a coin. Get him out, send him to prison or somewhere away from football. I think he will be identified - I hope he will."
So, remarkably, the Cottagers move into an upmarket area as a result of this victory, on the periphery of the residences of Arsenal, Liverpool, Aston Villa and indeed Everton themselves, though Coleman will not be deluded into believing that his team are any better than mid-table.
This game was the Premiership at just about its nadir. If you could harness so much unproductive energy, you could help in the prevention of climate change. It was dodgem-car football in the first half. Too many bumps and collisions. Not sufficient brain. Matters improved slightly after the interval, but there was still a poverty about too much of the play here.
The expectancy of the crowd did not help, either. There was an incident in the first half when the young defender Liam Rosenior shaped up to take a long free-kick, changed his mind and passed it instead, to the irritation of some of the crowd. He turned and glared at them. You couldn't blame him. And these are spectators seated in the Johnny Haynes Stand.
Everton could almost have predicted their fate. History had decreed that the visitors would return without the points and goalless, too. They had not defeated Fulham here since 1966 and not scored here since 1967.
The referee Martin Atkinson's refusal to award a penalty when Johnson was felled by Ian Pearce confirmed those fears, and one suspects that the England striker's reputation precedes him, although Moyes maintained: "All those who work with him will tell you that he is as honest as the day is long." In the second incident, as Everton sought an equaliser, the England striker appeared to have been pulled back by Pearce before carrying on and forcing the goalkeeper Antti Niemi into a double save.
Moyes insisted: "For the first one, if the centre-half goes to ground in the box he is always asking for it. The second one, there was a definite tug on his arm. If you remember on the opening day of the season, Steven Gerrard was given one against Sheffield United when the referee pulled it back for intent when he didn't score. Today that wasn't the case."
In the first period, Phil Neville was a leader by example, constantly exhorting his men, and then demonstrating what he meant somewhat excessively by lunging in on Goodison old boy Tomasz Radzinski, gaining a caution in the process.
Everton, with their greater class and poise, enjoyed significant possession in the first period, although it yielded precious little. Johnson mistimed a volley on the turn and Niemi made the save rather more spectacular than it needed to be. Then, just before the interval, Cahill floated a tantalising ball across goal. Johnson connected, but volleyed over the bar.
It was 10 minutes into the second half before Fulham tested Howard when Jensen's free-kick was met by Pearce. On that occasion the American responded superbly to it. However, he was left clutching at air when, in the 66th minute, Jensen did well to turn away from Cahill and attempt a shot from range, which rebounded off Lee Carsley's knee, and looped over the helpless goalkeeper.
On an afternoon when both sides were guilty of unnecessary challenges, it ended as a game easily forgotten.Reuse content