A bore draw was perhaps predictable given these two sides current woes. Everton, bundled out of the Carling Cup on penalties at Brentford, sunk to the bottom of the league with this point in a tepid affair at Craven Cottage. Fulham, who started the game without a recognised striker after terrible tackles robbed them of Bobby Zamora and Moussa Dembele, looked woefully short of the firepower necessary to deepen David Moyes’ misery on an afternoon of mass frustration at Craven Cottage.
Moyes will actually be best placed to accentuate the positives from this contest. Everton looked the sharper, more vibrant side and dominated both possession and what few clear-cut opportunities there were in the first period. Fulham had little answer to the guile of Mikel Arteta and the unmistakable presence of Marouane Fellaini in the Toffees midfield, with Danny Murphy looking distinctly off-colour. The visitors certainly had more width about them than Fulham, with Moyes being rewarded for his bravery in offering Seamus Coleman a spot on the right side of a five-man midfield.
On the opposite flank, Steven Pienaar posed plenty of problems for a disjointed Fulham side who struggled initially to cope with Everton’s movement. The South African drew a smart stop from Mark Schwarzer when he drilled a lay-off from Tim Cahill towards goal and only a determined block from Aaron Hughes prevented Leighton Baines from ending his mazy dribble with the opening goal. Arteta thought he’d broken the deadlock just before the break with a swerving right-footed shot that was superbly tipped behind by a diving Schwarzer. On balance, the Toffees should have led at half-time.
Not for the first time this season, Mark Hughes had to have stern words with his troops during the interval. Fulham looked lethargic in the first period, with speculative shots from Simon Davies and Zoltan Gera, the sum of their efforts until Dickson Etuhu headed a fine Carlos Salcido cross straight at Tim Howard. Even that was disappointing, given the manner in which the Nigerian surged into space at the near post and failed to direct his header past the American goalkeeper. The hosts’ performance levels soared after the break, but they failed to carve out a better chance than the one Etuhu spurned.
Murphy orchestrated Fulham’s more frequent attacks from an advanced position, but both Gera and Salcido’s efforts from distance didn’t require Howard to make a save. The Everton goalkeeper was eventually extended by his compatriot Clint Dempsey, who turned and fired a powerful shot goalwards, with the rebound narrowly eluding the onrushing Damien Duff, who had a quiet afternoon on his return to the side from injury. Another effort from Dempsey, which crept just past the post after taking a hefty deflection, raised the home fans’ spirits but it was Everton who finished the strongest.
Their best chances fell to Yakubu, whose mobility was still restricted by a succession of injuries. First, he failed to profit from another maurauding run from the outstanding Coleman, shooting wide after the youngster had delivered the perfect cut-back. Ten minutes later, he spun past Brede Hangeland and shot goalwards. The danger hadn’t abated when Schwarzer got a glove to the ball as it still headed goalwards, with Chris Baird recovering to hook the ball clear from underneath his own crossbar. Perhaps the best chance arrived in injury time, when Fellaini slipped a pass through the Fulham defence and sent the Nigerian through ten yards out, but Yakubu could only stab a shot at Schwarzer, who claimed the ball gratefully.
By the end, Fulham looked happy enough to settle for a point. Hughes had thrust on Eddie Johnson and a fit-again Diomansy Kamara, but the closest either attacker got to a sight of goal were half-hearted penalty appeals. It was far from absorbing and Hughes was honest enough to admit that his side were largely outplayed for most of the contest afterwards. He was particularly indebted to Schwarzer, a man who apparently wants away, for preserving Fulham’s unbeaten league record.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Kelly (Baird 28), Salcido, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy, Duff, Davies (Kamara 71); Dempsey, Gera (E. Johnson 55). Subs (not used): Etheridge, Halliche, Greening, Riise.
BOOKED: Salcido, Duff.
EVERTON (4-5-1): Howard; P. Neville, Baines, Jagielka, Distin; Arteta, Cahill (Osman 62), Fellaini, Pienaar, Coleman (Bilyaletdinov 88); Yakubu. Subs (not used): Mucha, Heitinga, Barkley, Beckford, Gueye.
REFEREE: Howard Webb (Yorkshire).