Rooney's happy return leaves Fulham grasping thin air

Everton 3 Fulham 1
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The Independent Football

Wayne Rooney inspired Everton's goal blitz at home to Fulham but it should have been much easier than it eventually transpired to be.

Three goals in a 28–minute first–half spell should have been the start of a goals bonanza but in the end Everton were more than happy to hear the final whistle.

Just how much Steve Marlet's likely departure influenced Fulham's awful first–half display is open to debate but they never recovered from a spell of embarrassing Everton domination in which Rooney's skills and pace were influential as Gary Naysmith, David Unsworth and Steve Watson put the hosts in total control.

But the second period was nowhere near as one–sided and Fulham scored through substitute Barry Hayles, created a hatful of chances and but for Everton goalkeeper Richard Wright they could even have nicked a point.

Rooney was back for his first start of the season, and his influence was immediate.

Fulham left out Marlet, who is almost certainly on his way out of the club with Marseille the expected destination.

Before the goals deluge, Everton full–back Unsworth almost conceded a dreadful own goal as he passed back to Wright without looking to see the goalkeeper was stood just behind him. The pair watched the ball roll wide of a post.

Everton struck instantly from that moment of embarrassment as Watson won possession and fed Rooney. When the ball came back to Naysmith just outside the box, he rifled a low drive inside Edwin van der Sar's left–hand post.

Fulham's reply came from a Junichi Inamoto drive which cannoned away off Alan Stubbs and a Steed Malbranque shot then struck Unsworth on the six–yard line.

The ease with which Everton were able to run at and expose Fulham's back line was emphasised when Rooney surged from halfway and found Naysmith charging up in support with a fierce drive which flashed over the crossbar.

A minute later Everton cut Fulham to pieces again. Rooney's cross–field ball was flicked to Watson by Naysmith, and ended up being fed into the path of Unsworth galloping into the box on the left. The big defender unleashed a low drive inside the far post for the second.

Fulham responded with a Malbranque cross which Louis Saha fell over, unmarked, on the six–yard line. That just about summed them up.

Everton were clearly in the mood now and from a well–worked free–kick 25 yards out, Stubbs' rising drive hit the top of the post before bouncing to safety.

But on 35 minutes, Fulham's defence was caught out again as the hosts grabbed their third. Naysmith headed down a free kick, Rooney forced Alain Goma into an error before trying to screw the ball in from almost on the byline. Watson was there anyway to blast the ball home from a couple of feet.

Fulham replaced Sylvain Legwinski with Hayles at the break, and the striker's first involvement was a a tackle and a booking on Naysmith.

Whatever rookie boss Chris Coleman said at the break, Fulham at least emerged for the second half prepared to run and tackle.

And Wright was finally being tested. He saved full length from Malbranque and then turned away substitute Malik Buari's header.

Rooney almost got himself on the scoresheet when Watson's fierce midfield challenge on Goma sent the ball straight into the young striker's path. He raced down the left and tried to chip van der Sar but the Dutchman was able to pull the ball down to safety.

Wright had to save twice more from Malbranque and Hayles before Fulham scored.

It came on 69 minutes when Hayles turned in the box to fire home Malbranque's right–wing corner.

The tiring Rooney was taken off in the 74th minute as Nick Chadwick came on, but still Fulham dominated play to the increasing distress of the home support.

Naysmith missed a sitter but the chances were mainly coming Fulham's way, Saha heading wide on 77 minutes and then Boa Morte's clever chip on 82 minutes had to be clawed out from under the crossbar by Wright.

Everton 3
Naysmith 7, Unsworth 20, Watson 35

Fulham 1
Hayles 69

Half-time 3-0 Attendance: 37,604

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