Roy Hodgson wasn’t a happy man after Mikel Arteta’s injury-time penalty meant Fulham’s pointless Premier League run at Goodison Park extended to nine matches. A much-changed Whites side were equal to all Everton could through at them, even having the audacity to take a first half lead, but were eventually beaten by a debatable spot-kick and an even more controversial decision to award the throw-in that led to the penalty to the home side despite the ball clearly coming off Louis Saha last.
A seething Hodgson could at least draw some solace from the fact that his side, which contained nine alterations from the team that had held Hamburg on Thursday, were more than a match for Everton. Only Mark Schwarzer and Chris Baird survived following the epic journey to Germany and back and the Northern Ireland defender was switched from right back to partner young Chris Smalling in central defence.
Early on it appeared as if the normal script covering a Fulham trip to Goodison would be followed. David Moyes still has his sights trained on a late run towards a Europa League spot and Everton were quicker to settle in the Sunday sunshine. Yakubu, preferred to Saha to start with as the lone striker, immediately posed problems for the Fulham defence in the air and the dangerous Tim Cahill burst onto the loose ball, driving a shot at Schwarzer inside the opening minute.
A horrible misjudgement from the returning John Pantsil, who allowed Tony Hibbert’s cross to reach Dinayar Bilyaletdinov, nearly cost Fulham a goal only for the Russian’s well-struck shot to come back off the post. The home side continued to apply constant pressure to the Fulham goal and it was something of a surprise to see Cahill, normally so reliable in the air, head a glorious chance wide from a fine Arteta cross. Both Schwarzer and Baird dallied on the ball in dangerous positions and a fine one-two between Phil Neville and Stephen Pienaar almost fashioned the opening goal, only for Pantsil to gleefully punt the ball clear from inside his own six-yard box.
Fulham’s attacks had been sporadic and their efforts on goal limited to speculative shots from long-range but, against the run of play, and thanks to a dreadful misjudgement from Leighton Baines, Hodgson’s side took the lead ten minutes before the break. With a glaring mistake that surely will have caught the attention of Fabio Capello, Baines criminally underhit a backpass allowing Erik Nevland to scamper onto the loose ball and lift a clever finish over the stranded Tim Howard. It should have been worse for the Toffees after Stefano Okaka’s lovely lofted pass found Clint Dempsey but the American lashed over on the stretch from six yards out.
Such prolifigacy would soon haunt Fulham. Moyes reacted swiftly at half-time, throwing on Victor Anichebe for Bilyaletdinov at half-time. Three minutes after the break, Everton were level. A sweeping move saw Arteta’s cross find the Nigerian in the penalty area. Smalling attempted to block his header but the ball spun off the Manchester United-bound defender and left Schwarzer completely wrong-footed. The Australian goalkeeper did well to deny Cahill shortly afterwards but the momentum had swung decisively Everton’s way.
The home side launched wave after wave of attacks on the Fulham goal. Anichebe chose to blunt one of their sharpest moves, electing to try and play in a team-mate when he had a clear sight of goal, and Smalling was fortunate to survive a strong penalty claim for tugging back the substitute. Then Jonathan Greening’s defensive header flashed just wide of his own goal and Clint Dempsey managed to block a goalbounded header from Saha – the former Fulham forward having been replaced Neville to add a greater threat up front.
It was the visitors who looked to have squandered the best chance to settle the match in the closing stages. A rare foray forward saw Nevland send Okaka through behind the Everton defence but the on-loan Roma forward would have been disappointed to only strike a tame shot straight at Howard. Saha might have thought he had missed a similarly good chance with a late far-post header, but the home side secured victory from the spot in added time. Baird’s clumsy challenge felled Cahill and Arteta, showing considerable bravery having had seven stitches in a first half head wound, stepped up to send Schwarzer the wrong way.
EVERTON (4-5-1): Howard; Hibbert, Baines, Jagielka, Distin; Neville (Saha 60), Arteta, Cahill, Pienaar, Bilyaletdinov (Anichebe 45); Yakubu (Baxeter 87). Subs (not used): Turner, Yobo, Senderos, Wallace.
GOALS: Smalling (og 49), Arteta (pen 90).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Shorey, Baird, Smalling; Dikgacoi, Greening, Riise, Dempsey; Okaka (Stoor 89), Nevland (Elm 78). Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Kelly, Briggs, Buchtmann, Andranik.
GOAL: Nevland (35).
REFEREE: Lee Mason (Bolton).