The ease of Fulham’s victory over Everton, secured by a brace of goals either side of half time by the ever-improving Barry Hayles, will be overshadowed by the ugliness of a brawl that involved most players from both teams and saw Luis Boa Morte and David Weir sent off. Disciplinary action will follow after the report of referee Phil Dowd and Hayles might well find himself in hot water, having initially escaped punishment despite appearing to stamp on Weir in the middle of all the madness. Trouble continued with a bottle hurled from the visiting supporters in the direction of Steed Malbranque in the second half – and these unsavoury scenes detracted from the serene nature of Fulham’s supremacy, which is the discussion we should all be having.

Boa Morte received his second dismissal of the season – a concern for Jean Tigana as the Portuguese winger, although fiery, adds something distinctly different to Fulham’s attack – after squaring up to Weir having fallen over the Scottish defender and believing he had been fouled whilst trying to make progress with the ball. Referee Dowd disagreed, awarding the free-kick to Everton before sending both players off for their rather petty attempts at handbags that sparked a mass confrontation between most of the players on the field. Dowd could easily have sent off several more members of each side and both benches were disappointed afterwards the expulsion of their players.

The football, once it broke out again, was rather one-sided. Fulham were fluent with the ball and ruthless in front of goal. Hayles, derided as a journeyman as he progressed upwards at each level of the English professional pyramid, already has eight goals this season and ran a creaking Everton defence ragged alongside Louis Saha all afternoon. By contrast, Walter Smith’s side didn’t muster a single shot on target all afternoon. There was some mitigating circumstances in that Everton were without Kevin Campbell and Duncan Ferguson, but Smith’s decision to play Steve Watson, a full back, as a forward ahead of American international Joe Max Moore was as mystifying as the deployment of Thomas Gravesen, a defensive midfielder, on the right wing.

Where the visitors looked disjointed, Fulham were pretty in possession and always looking to move the ball forward. Malbranque, whose diminutive stature can’t disguise his impact since arriving at Craven Cottage, was always busy popping off passes and dropping into spaces where Everton’s defenders found it difficult to pick him up. It was something of a surprise that Smith’s frail defence kept their clean sheet intact until nine minutes before half time. Saha spurned a glorious early opportunity, nodding agonisingly wide from a fine Steve Finnan cross. Though the opening goal came from a set play after Weir had brought down Saha, there was an element of invention about this. Malbranque swept the free kick out to left back Rufus Brevett, whose inviting cross was headed emphatically home by Hayles.

The pattern of play continued after the interval. Fulham were on the front foot immediately and were denied a fantastic goal five minutes in the second period by a superb save from Steve Simonsen. The Everton goalkeeper pulled off a stunning stop to claw away an effort from Saha that seemed destined for the far corner after fabulous combination play between Malbranque and Boa Morte. But Everton’s relief was merely temporary. A Malbranque corner caused chaos in the penalty area and Hayles were left unattended to stab home his second of the afternoon from three yards out.

After all the fighting, Fulham had emerged with a comfortable victory that served as a suitable reminder that Jean Tigana’s side simply aren’t back in the Premiership to make up the numbers.

FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Finnan, Brevett, Melville, Goma; Collins, Legwinski, Boa Morte, Malbranque; Saha (Davis 79), Hayles. Subs (not used): Taylor, Ouaddoh, Clark, Stolcers.

BOOKED: Melville, Legwinski, Hayles.

SENT OFF: Boa Morte.

GOALS: Hayes (38, 51).

EVERTON (4-4-2): Simonsen; Pistone, Naysmith, Stubbs, Weir; Gascoigne (Alexandersson 58), Gemmill, Gravesen (Moore 73), Pembridge; Radzinski, Watson. Subs (not used): Gerrard, Unsworth, Tal.

BOOKED: Weir, Pistone, Stubbs, Simonsen.


REFEREE: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).