David Moyes, in his programme notes, returned to the question that always crops up at Goodison at this time of year. Why can Everton not start seasons the way they finish them? "Every pre-season I try to come up with the answers," mused Moyes before his team's sixth win in seven home League matches kept them in seventh, and on course to finish above Liverpool for only the second time in 25 years.
One simple answer lies in the events of 31 January when Moyes was finally allowed to sign a striker, Nikica Jelavic and boost his side's creativity with the return of Steven Pienaar on loan from Tottenham. Jelavic, Moyes' first significant cash signing since the summer of 2009, has proved another inspired acquisition at what seems already a £5m bargain fee. His movement and finishing have helped the Merseysiders acquire an impressive momentum and the Croatian was at it again yesterday, following up his double in last Sunday's 4-4 Old Trafford draw with another two to take his tally to 10 in Everton blue.
Pienaar has also played a pivotal part, his importance spelt out by Everton's disappointing display in his absence from the Cup semi-final loss to Liverpool. He buzzed about with typical purpose and imagination here and provided three assists to underline why Evertonians have already begun clamouring for his return on a permanent basis. "I don't think anything will be talked about it until the end of the season," said Moyes, yet he was happy to reflect on his side's strong second half to the campaign. "Niki has given us the goals and Pienaar has given us the creativity," he added.
Whether it has restored Moyes' own belief that he can achieve more with Everton is another question the home supporters will take into the summer. As for Fulham's small travelling contingent, they might simply ask themselves why they bothered. Their team have never won a League fixture on Merseyside and last earned a point at Goodison in 1959. After this, it will be interesting to see how many bother returning to Liverpool for Tuesday's fixture at Anfield.
It took just six minutes for Fulham's familiar sinking feeling to return as Pavel Pogrebnyak raised an elbow in a Fulham defensive wall stationed inside his own box and handled Jelavic's free-kick. Phil Dowd pointed to the spot and Jelavic beat Mark Schwarzer.
Though enjoying a let-off when Jelavic hit a post, Fulham did not help themselves with their defending. Philippe Senderos's failure to track Marouane Fellaini left the Belgian clear to head the second goal from Pienaar's corner, the ball beating Damien Duff's feeble attempt to clear on the line. The same went for Jelavic's second after 40 minutes when the Croatian, marginally offside according to TV replays, broke clear on to Pienaar's through ball. When Schwarzer forced him wide, it looked like Jelavic would cross but instead he shot and the ball went through the goalkeeper's legs and past Aaron Hughes on the line.
"The goals were really poor," said Fulham coach Billy McKinlay, deputising for manager, Martin Jol, who was absent with a chest infection. When Fulham did threaten, Tim Howard was equal to it, denying Kerim Frei and Clint Dempsey.
At the other end, Schwarzer was beaten a fourth time on the hour. Tim Cahill fed Pienaar and when the South African scooped the ball over the Fulham defence, the Australian met iton the stretch to steer it past Schwarzer. With that Everton scored four goals for the third League game running – a sequence they last managed in 1964. Quite what they might have achieved had Moyes been able to do his business last summer, rather than the last day of January, we will never know.
Everton (4-2-3-1) Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Heitinga, Distin; Neville, Gibson (Cahill, 46); Osman, Fellaini (Barkley, 75), Pienaar (Gueye 84); Jelavic.
Fulham (4-4-1-1) Schwarzer; Hughes, Senderos (Baird, 46), Hangeland, Riise; Duff, Diarra (Etuhu, 82), Dembélé, Frei; Dempsey; Pogrebnyak (Murphy, 66).
Referee Phil Dowd.
Man of the match Pienaar (Everton).
Match rating 7/10.Reuse content