Cometh the hour, cometh the returning hero. Brian McBride headed his first Fulham goal in seven months to beat old side Everton and hand Roy Hodgson’s men a huge win in their relegation battle. It was a header worthy of a McBride trademark, too, and gave his compatriot Tim Howard no chance after Joseph Yobo had inadvertently helped Simon Davies’ cross into the striker’s path.

Fulham fully merited this win – only their fourth all season – and the smiles on their faces at the final whistle told you they knew just how vital it was. With games against Newcastle, Derby, Sunderland, Reading and Birmingham, the Cottagers sit three points from safety and can contemplate the chance of survival. Hodgson’s side will take serious belief from this result as well as the way in which they outplayed Everton, with the intensity of a hungry midfield including Danny Murphy and Jimmy Bullard proving too much for David Moyes’ men to match.

McBride might have put Fulham ahead earlier but, perhaps betraying signs of a lack of match sharpness after his long injury lay-off, sent an angled volley wide after being found by former Everton winger Davies. The visitors were forced into an early adjustment, switching to 4-5-1 after Andy Johnson tweaked his hamstring, and never really tested Kasey Keller. The American goalkeeper did make a save from Yakubu in the closing minutes of the first half but Everton’s penalty appeals either side of half-time felt more threatening.

Fulham continued to carry the greater threat after the break. Eddie Johnson’s pace worried the Everton back line but his finishing could have been better – ballooning a header way over from a corner. But that lack of composure wasn’t too costly. Fulham’s two former Everton men combined to conjure up the goal that dealt a serious blow to Moyes’ Champions’ League aspirations. Davies swung in a dangerous cross from the left and, taking advantage of Yobo’s failure to clear, McBride guided a downward header into the far corner.

Yobo did have an opportunity to quickly atone for his error but he couldn’t match McBride’s aerial ability – heading horribly wide when left unattended at a corner. The Nigerian defender was having a day to forget and it might have got worse had Johnson exploited a mistimed clearance instead of shooting wide. The Craven Cottage faithful could have been forgiven for dreading stoppage time, given the number of goals their side shipped late on under Lawrie Sanchez, but the hosts looked the more likely to add to their tally with Davies fluffing his lines after being wonderfully found by Bullard.

FULHAM (4-4-2): Keller; Stalteri, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Andreasen, Bullard (Volz 85), Murphy (Bocanegra 74), Davies; Johnson, McBride (Dempsey 88). Subs (not used): Batista, Healy.

BOOKED: Murphy.

GOAL: McBride (67).

EVERTON (4-4-2): Howard; P. Neville, Lescott, Jagielka, Yobo; Carsley, Osman, Arteta, Pienaar (Baines 64); Johnson (Hibbert 14), Yakubu. Subs (not used): Wessels, Valente, Rodwell.

REFEREE: Steve Bennett (Kent).