If Fulham fans thought Pavel Pogrebnyak was the steal of the January transfer window, they might have come away from Goodison Park yesterday reassessing their opinion after Nikita Jelavic extended his superb scoring run to ten goals in thirteen appearances since joining Everton from Rangers in the New Year. The Croatian striker followed up a controversial early penalty with an instinctive finish after effortlessly rounding Mark Schwarzer and his energetic leading of the line ensured that Fulham’s Merseyside misery – they’ve not won at Everton since the Second World War – continued.
Without Martin Jol, who didn’t travel due to a chest infection, it was somewhat surprising that skipper Danny Murphy started on the bench. The ex-Liverpool midfielder’s belated arrival as a second half substitute was somewhat academic with his side facing an irreversible deficit but it wasn’t so much the veteran’s passing ability that Fulham missed more his leadership. The writing was on the wall as early as the seventh minute when referee Phil Dowd pointed to the penalty spot, adjudging that Pogrebnyak, who endured a listless afternoon as the anonymous leader of Fulham’s line, had handled a Jelavic free-kick, even though it was arguable the Russian was stationed outside the area as part of the defensive wall. Jelavic sent Mark Schwarzer the wrong way from the spot – and Fulham never recovered.
Their defence was all at sea as illustrated by the carnage caused by a routine long ball from Phil Jagielka. Neither Philippe Senderos nor Brede Hangeland committed fully to clearing it, allowing Jelavic to sprint away from Hangeland and run in on Schwarzer. The visitors were fortunate to escape as Jelavic thundered his finish against the near post, but any relief was merely temporary. More poor marking afforded Marouane Fellaini far too much room at a corner and the Belgian burst between Hughes and Hangeland to head a second as Damien Duff’s attempt at a goal-line clearance proving futile.
Fulham’s response was fitful. Only Kerim Frei had shown the adventure necessary to trouble the Everton back-line and Tim Howard did brilliantly to turn over the Swiss teenager’s shot off his weaker left foot. The American was nervously looking over his shoulder when his compatriot Clint Dempsey found half a yard inside the box after a bit of pinball, but the deflected shot went over with the aid of the crossbar and Howard’s fingertips. That was as close as Fulham would come to a bright moment all afternoon.
The contest was effectively over five minutes before the break when a floated pass from Steven Pienaar sent Jelavic clear of a horribly square Fulham defence. Schwarzer dashed from his line to narrow the angle, but Jelavic skipper around the Australian and somehow squeezed his shot between Aaron Hughes and the near post. More misery was to follow in the second half as substitute Tim Cahill smashed home a clinical volley after a lofted Pienaar pass, although the travelling Fulham support – almost expecting another defeat at Goodison – spent the final twenty minutes cheerfully conducting a conga around the empty seats in the away section. Only two superb Schwarzer saves from a fierce Jelavic free-kick and a potent Pieenar drive prevented the scoreline from being any more embarrassing.
EVERTON (4-5-1): Howard; Hibbert, Distin, Jagielka, Heitinga; P. Neville, Gibson (Cahill 45), Fellaini (Barkley 74), Pienaar (Gueye 83), Osman; Jelavic. Subs (not used): Mucha, McFadden, Stracqualursi, Anichebe.
GOALS: Jelavic (pen 7, 40), Fellaini (16), Cahill (60).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Hughes, J.A. Riise, Hangeland, Senderos (Baird 45); Diarra (Etuhu 81), Dembele; Duff, Dempsey, Frei; Pogrebnyak (Murphy 65). Subs (not used): Stockdale, Kasami, Kacaniklic, Sa.
REFEREE: Phil Dowd (Stoke-on-Trent).