A draw that will feel like a defeat took Everton up to fourth place in the Premier League yesterday, but they will know that this was a game they could and should have won.
A goal down early on when Tim Howard fumbled a free kick, David Moyes’s side took a while to muster a serious effort on goal. But the second half belonged almost entirely to the men from Merseyside. Marouane Fellaini was almost unplayable, scoring twice and coming close to a hat-trick on two occasions, but the third goal would not come, and Everton paid the price when Fulham scored another scrappy goal as the clock reached 90 minutes.
“I couldn’t believe we’ve only got a draw out of that,” Moyes said – it was his team’s fourth in succession. “We’ve played really well this season but that one we should have won. We were terrific at times but couldn’t get the goals.
“It’s quite incredible, but give Fulham credit, they kept at it. The keeper made some saves but we were incredibly wasteful in front of goal. We were terrific at times but we just couldn’t get the goals. To win away in the Premier League is really difficult. We made it look as if we would win that one comfortably but we haven’t. That’s disappointing – we just didn’t finish it off.”
Everton started as they meant to go on, Leon Osman twice having shots blocked on the edge of Fulham’s penalty area in the first four minutes, but when he conceded a free kick for a foul on Dimitar Berbatov a similar distance from his own goal after six minutes, his team went behind. Bryan Ruiz’s free kick beat the wall and curled towards the net but Howard, diving to his left, appeared to have it covered. Yet instead of catching the ball or palming it aside, the goalkeeper flapped it against the inside of the post and it rebounded off his shoulder and in.
Fulham looked as though they would try to press home their advantage as Damien Duff tested Howard on the break, but before long Everton were pressing them back. To some extent that worked against the visitors, who were confronted with a white and black wall, but even so, Seamus Coleman wriggled through to draw a save from Mark Schwarzer after 37 minutes, Phil Jagielka hit a low shot that was deflected wide and Nikica Jelavic wasted a good chance when Chris Baird’s ill-judged backpass fell into his path.
“Early in the season Jelavic was fully firing and I think he is just a little off-colour at as far as his goals go at the moment,” Moyes said.
Everton must have thought their luck was still out early in the second half as Fellaini failed to make contact with the ball at the far post when Jagielka flicked on Leighton Baines’s free kick. But it brought the Everton fans behind the goal to life and Fellaini made amends after 55 minutes when Kevin Mirallas, just onside, took Coleman’s pass down the right and laid the ball back for the Belgian to hit home from six yards.
Fulham tried to reply when Berbatov anticipated John Arne Riise’s pass and drew a save from Howard, but it was a brief respite from what was now an Everton onslaught, and Jelavic’s shot from Fellaini’s clever pass was only deflected wide by Sascha Riether’s well-timed tackle.
Moyes’s men were disproving the suggestion made a week ago by the Liverpool captain that Everton were a long-ball team, but their second goal, ironically, was pure route one. Jagielka, 10 yards inside his own half, hoisted the ball to the edge of the Fulham penalty area, where Fellaini, in an unanswerable combination of power and technique, held off Aaron Hughes to chest the ball down and hit a first-time shot on the turn low past Schwarzer’s right hand and into the corner of the net.
The hat-trick beckoned, and it almost came with an angled shot from the left that looped up off Brede Hangeland and rebounded from the post. Steven Naismith, the substitute, smacked the loose ball towards the net but Baird was on hand to kick clear. Then Fellaini hit a volley on the turn that Schwarzer palmed aside at full stretch.
But although Fulham have given away 12 points this season from winning positions, they are also resilient. And instead of celebrating victory, Everton were left to rue their misses as Riether crossed low, Berbatov – of all people – fluffed his shot, and Steve Sidwell appeared at the far post to punish the visitors.
Martin Jol, the Fulham manager, admitted: “It doesn’t mean anything in football if you don’t score the goals. They dominated us and all we could do was try to be positive. They are a very good footballing team. They are a settled team and know exactly what to do.
“Normally we are a good team, but I couldn’t see that today. Although we took the lead I still felt they were stronger.
“Our wingers had to play as fullbacks. Fellaini was more like a striker than a midfield player. But I can’t remember giving away a lead and losing and I was very happy to keep that statistic going. The only positive thing I can say is that we never gave up.”
Fulham (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Riether, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise (Dejagah, 59); Duff, Diarra (Petric, 76), Baird, Kacaniklic (Sidwell, 67); Ruiz; Berbatov.
Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Coleman, Jagielka, Heitinga, Baines; Mirallas (Naismith, 80), Osman, Neville, Pienaar; Fellaini; Jelavic (Distin, 89).
Referee: Neil Swarbrick.
Man of the match: Fellaini (Everton)
Match rating: 7/10