Duncan Ferguson’s second half header saw off Fulham and ensured Everton kept a firm grip on third place in the Premier League.
The talismanic Scottish striker reprised his regular role as Everton’s supersub within six minutes of stepping off the bench, reacting quickest to nod home after Mark Crossley had kept out a Kevin Kilbane header. A single goal was all it took to earn David Moyes’ sixth 1-0 win of the campaign although the Toffees were indebted to Nigel Martyn, who made a splendid save from former Everton forward Tomasz Radzinski, for keeping a clean sheet on his 800th senior appearance.
After a slow start, Everton gradually began to dictate the terms of engagement with Thomas Gravesen to the fore in their midfield. Marcus Bent went close for Moyes’ men in the early stages, having an early shot blocked, before Tim Cahill glanced Leon Osman’s clever cross narrowly over the bar.
Fulham included three former Evertonians in their matchday squad and, in stark contrast to Mark Pembridge and Brian McBride, Tomasz Radzinski was booed throughout after leaving Merseyside on poor terms. The Canadian international nearly had the last laugh when he turned shot fractionally wide of the far corner after being found by Steed Malbranque. Just before the break, Radzinski threatened again but he was denied by a brilliant save from Martyn.
Everton almost found an opener in stoppage time themselves but Crossley was equal to Leon Osman’s header and the hosts had to raise themselves after the restart. From their first attack, Gravesen’s deep cross was met by the onrushing Kilbane, whose header dropped agonisingly wide of the far post. Bent did brilliantly to conjure up a cross from the left that Cahill headed firmly towards goal, only for Crossley to get across to his right with a degree of comfort. The Fulham goalkeeper was busy kept busy as he touched a 20-yarder from Bent over the bar – but he was beaten four minutes after Ferguson replaced Osman.
Gravesen’s corner was perfectly flighted for Kilbane to head for goal and, although Crossley kept out the Irishman’s initial effort, Ferguson was jogging on the spot and had the pressure of mind to stoop low and steer in the rebound with his head. If the breakthrough was meant to relax Everton, nobody told their back four who stood static whilst Cole pursued a long ball. The experienced forward was allowed two attempts to try and steer the ball beyond Martyn, who smothered both efforts, before his defenders arrived to smash the loose ball behind.
A minute from time Radzinski picked up a lose ball in the box and fired in a low drive that flashed inches wide of the far post. It was that close.
Everton Martyn, Hibbert, Stubbs, Weir, Pistone, Osman (Ferguson 62), Gravesen (McFadden 88), Carsley, Cahill, Kilbane, Bent (Watson 83).
Subs Not Used: Wright, Yobo.
Goals: Ferguson 67.
Fulham Crossley, Volz, Knight, Rehman, Bocanegra, Radzinski, Diop (McBride 81), Malbranque, Pembridge, Boa Morte (Legwinski 54), Cole.
Subs Not Used: Van der Sar, Hammond, Pearce.
Booked: Diop (39,f).
Ref: G Poll (Hertfordshire).