Here comes spoilsport McBride

Fulham 2 - Everton 0
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The Independent Online

Having had their Champions' League credentials questioned by their city rival's continued success in the competition, Everton had them taken apart by a vibrant Fulham. David Moyes' side still hold the advantage in the contest to finish fourth ahead of Liverpool and Bolton but if they play like this they may throw it away.

Having had their Champions' League credentials questioned by their city rival's continued success in the competition, Everton had them taken apart by a vibrant Fulham. David Moyes' side still hold the advantage in the contest to finish fourth ahead of Liverpool and Bolton but if they play like this they may throw it away.

The season's end cannot come soon enough. Work-rate has always been Everton's main asset but they are in danger of clocking off early. Their game in hand is away to Arsenal, while a final day fixture at the Reebok is looking ominous.

Little wonder Moyes appeared pensive throughout, although, afterwards, he attempted to remain sanguine, claiming "we have never said that we will ever stay here" in reference to that fourth place. Which, in such an impressive season, is true but now they are so close, perhaps, there should have been something more rallying. Instead, Moyes added: "We have travelled as a team and a football club a long distance." Which is, again, true, but not that they have done well on their travels of late. This was their third successive away defeat, hammered home with emphatic first-half goals by both Fulham strikers.

The result confirmed the home side's Premiership status as they, for once, played to their potential. Quite why they have not done so more often is one of those mysteries and their manager, Chris Coleman, although celebrating "an incredible team performance", which easily handled the dismissal of Papa Bouba Diop, was again unforgiving. This was, after all, only their second win in 11.

Coleman unceremoniously omitted the midfielder Steed Malbranque, who did not even make the bench, and said: "I knew before I made the decision it would create a stir." It did and will only heighten the anticipation that the Frenchman, who apparently left before kick-off, will leave this summer even if Coleman maintains he has a future at Fulham. Malbranque must have indeed been among the players the manager picked out as having had "long bad spells". "Too many inconsistent performances, inconsistent team performances," he lamented when reflecting on the story of this season.

The story of this match was shaped in the first 15 minutes when Everton had a strike disallowed, correctly, for offside, and lost Tim Cahill to injury before falling behind to a goal from Collins John. The young Dutchman retained his place ahead of the fit-again Andrew Cole and vindicated that decision by driving the ball into the roof of the net after it had rebounded to him 10 yards out when David Weir deflected Tomasz Radzinski's shot to him.

Everton, Moyes said, should have coped with that moment better and they should have also coped with the loss of Cahill, who jarred his back under Diop's challenge. They did neither. "We didn't get to grips," Moyes said. He refused to accept that the debate over that final Champions' League place, which has gathered pace, had been a distraction. Indeed the signs are, both from Uefa and the Football Association, who will ultimately decide, that fourth place will be deemed more important than winning the trophy. "There's no doubt people will use common sense," Moyes argued. Some might argue that common sense would dictate a different verdict.

Everton also had the knowledge, following Tottenham's defeat at Arsenal last Monday, that they had, at the very least, qualified for the Uefa Cup and that's a "marvellous achievement" Moyes said.

But it failed to act as a spur. Instead, Fulham went further ahead on the half-hour even if Luis Boa Morte had appeared to deliver nothing more than a routine cross beyond the penalty spot. However the leap of Brian McBride - once an Everton player - was so prodigious, against the admittedly leaden Alessandro Pistone, that he was able to arc a powerful header beyond Nigel Martyn.

Stunned, Everton had an early shot at salvation just two minutes after the re-start. Duncan Ferguson cleverly headed into the path of Lee Carsley, who volleyed feebly wide though unmarked in the penalty area. Then Marcus Bent, picked out by Mikel Arteta's whipped free-kick, headed over from inside the six-yard area.

The visitors threw on their attacking reserves but the course of the game did not alter, not even when Diop laid an arm across one of those substitutes, James McFadden, as he wriggled away, to earn a second yellow card and his second red of the season. There were a couple of half-hearted free-kicks, with Carsley and James Beattie never really troubling Edwin van der Sar, but nothing else.

Fulham, to their credit, continued to push and Coleman said he hoped they would do so for the season's remainder. "Now we can start thinking about a respectable finish," he said. Moyes, too, is eyeing the finishing tape even if it suddenly looks a little further away.

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