Moyes shakes loose relegation shackles

Everton 2 Fulham 1
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A rousing welcome, a rampaging start and a desperate 10-man victory. Welcome to survival country, David Moyes. The bare facts of the matter are that Everton's first win for two and a half months brings the new manager some precious breathing space at the foot of the Premiership. But all the foibles of this once great club, the ones that drove Walter Smith to distraction and then to the door, were on full show in a fractious match here yesterday. Nothing comes easy to the Blues.

After a spectacular opening, with a goal by David Unsworth, of all people, after 27 seconds, management in the Premiership must have seemed straightforward enough to the Scot. By the final whistle, with his side hanging on for dear life after the sending-off of Thomas Gravesen midway through the first half, Moyes must have wondered if he had strayed into a scene from The Trench, the BBC's documentary of the First World War. Tin hats and full army fatigues were barely adequate accessories as Everton survived a bombardment in a second half which, at times, was almost comically one-sided. "I've only been here two days," said Moyes, "but it feels like six weeks."

If Everton's rearguard action was predictable enough, Fulham's attempts to break down the barricades were bewilderingly inept. What has happened to the side which passed their way so elegantly out of the Nationwide League, which seemed to harness all the best aspects of Gallic football? When the rapier was required, they resorted to the cudgel and for all Jean Tigana's refusal to compromise his sweet footballing philosophy, the preponderance of long balls into the penalty area suggested that his players have thrown away the manual. Five successive defeats have brought Fulham to the brink of relegation.

To compound his growing problems, the Frenchman was warned by the referee, Graham Barber, in the second half for protesting too loudly about the use of an elbow by an Everton player. At times, tempers, still hot after the ugly brawl earlier in the season which resulted in total fines of £55,000 for the clubs, threatened to boil over once again. Besides Gravesen's red card, deservedly incurred for two wreckless assaults on Luis Boa Morte, there were four further bookings and an unhealthy air of menace in the air.

"He wanted to send me off, which has never happened to me in my life before," said the Fulham manager of his warning. "But I need to understand why. I am sad we lost, but I am not going to ask my side to start kicking because I have too much respect for the game. It's possible we get into relegation trouble, but that's my philosophy and we will stick with it."

Moyes praised his side's wholehearted commitment, even down to giving Gravesen the benefit of the doubt. "I have seen the second foul and he didn't make contact with the guy," Moyes said. "But he had to be careful after being booked and I'll be having a word with him because we put ourselves under a lot of pressure. I hope we can play better football than that, but you have to play with passion and commitment as well."

Having failed to score twice at home since Southampton's visit in early December, Everton mocked Smith's departure by scoring twice in the first 13 minutes. The first, a neat layback by Thomas Radzinski which Unsworth thundered home on the volley, came inside 28 seconds. No wonder Moyes was hailed before kick-off as the architect of an Everton revolution. There was an urgency to Everton's play which suggested that not everyone had been committed to the cause in recent weeks, most notably in the abject defeat by Middlesbrough in the Cup which sealed Smith's fate.

If the opening goal was well worked and clinically executed, the second was a gift by Edwin van der Sar, the error-prone Fulham goalkeeper, who woefully miskicked a clearance and allowed Duncan Ferguson, captain for the day, to sidefoot home for his first Premiership goal of the season from open play. Gravesen's red card midway through the half momentarily dented Everton's spirit and Fulham, stirred into action by some biting tackles, began to exert some pressure on the Everton defence. Steed Malbranque, in particular, was a muscular presence in midfield, surging forward midway through the half and forcing Steve Simonsen to turn away a right-foot shot. Fit or unfit, Ferguson would have gobbled up the chance, but neither Steve Marlet nor Louis Saha were on hand to capitalise on the loose ball.

The arrival of Barry Hayles, Fulham's leading scorer, brought a steelier edge to the visitors' attack. Within seven minutes, Hayles had bludgeoned his way to the byline and pulled back a neat cross for Malbranque to prod home from six yards. Everton retreated into siege mentality; Fulham tried to maintain their composure before a thin blue line of defenders, but too often resorted to the long cross instead of working their way in. Marlet is an £11m misfit, Saha, though twisting in athletic fashion to head against the bar in the closing moments, was mostly ineffective.

At the final whistle, Moyes hugged Andy Holden, the reserve-team manager who had picked the side, and patted each one of his exhausted troops on the back. Paul Gascoigne is off to Burnley in the morning, David Ginola has been consigned to oblivion, but Moyes' problems have only just begun. "I don't think I'll be offered a bigger job than Everton," he said. You can say that again.