If you’d read the script beforehand, then this Fulham defeat might almost have appeared made to order. The Whites have never won in the league at Goodison Park – losing their last 23 league games at Everton in a row – and the Londoners haven’t kept a top flight clean sheet in any of their last 22 away games, a miserable stat this is a Premier League record. It was all so depressingly predictable, but for at least 45 minutes Slavisa Jokanovic’s hinted at being able to rewrite the record books.
It is clear that the Serbian’s side remain very much a work in progress at this level. If the opening day defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace proved a lesson in the need to take your chances in the top flight, then this could have doubled as a timely refresher. Fulham produced a composed and patient display of possession football in a first half they gradually began to control, but had nothing to show for their endeavour having squandered the two best chances. A player of Andre Schurrle’s quality should have done better than to laconically sidefoot over the bar from the edge of the box after Ryan Sessegnon and Joe Bryan had unlocked the Everton defence down the left, before the teenage left winger rattled the frame of the goal from closer range having latched onto Jean-Michael Seri’s gloriously weighted through pass.
Jokanovic admitted his side had paid ‘an expensive price’ for failing to hit the target – the visitors didn’t manage to test Jordan Pickford at all – but their inability to match Everton’s energetic start after the half-time break will have been particularly disconcerting. They failed to heed the warning when Gylfi Siggurdson smacked the crossbar with a spot-kick, awarded after Dominic Calvert-Lewin took a tumble after a challenge from Denis Odoi, and eventually capitulated rather meekly as Seri and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa faded from their starring first half roles.
Sigurdsson stroked home a gorgeous first goal from the edge of the box, arriving to curl a low effort into the bottom corner after Odoi had half-cleared Jonjoe Kenny’s cross, although Icelandic international was only belatedly pressed by Luciano Vietto. The home side remained on the offensive – galvanised by taking a lead that appeared likely to restore order to this fixture – but it was Vietto’s failure to profit from a swift Fulham break that left you with the feeling it just wasn’t going to be their day. The Argentinian galloped onto a clever reverse ball from Schurrle, but his heavy touch as he bore down on goal allowed Pickford to pluck the ball from his toes. The England goalkeeper celebrated with a clenched first – and Fulham never truly threatened again.
Instead, Everton made their winning margin much more comfortable. Cenk Tosun headed home his first Everton goal since April from close range after drifting away from Odoi to nod home Theo Walcott’s lofted cross to double the Toffees’ lead. With time ticking down, substitute Bernard made an immediate impact – dribbling into the box down the left flank, and pulling the ball break for Sigurdsson, left all alone on the edge of box again, to pick his spot in the last minute of normal time. Everton’s first win since August was just the tonic for Marco Silva, whose delight on the touchline by the end stood in sharp contrast to frustration when Fulham had began so promisingly.
By the end, the visitors had been reduced to ten men as Joe Bryan headed straight down the tunnel having tweaked his hamstring after Jokanovic had already made his three substitutions. The first of those had seen Timothy Fosu-Mensah stretched off with a serious shoulder injury – and further defensive reorganisation, a consistent part of Fulham’s season so far, will be required before the Whites’ face Arsenal at Craven Cottage on Saturday. This defeat might count as a surprise, but it was particularly deflating.
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Kenny, Digne, Keane, Zouma; Gueve, Davies; Richarlison (Bernard 88), Walcott, G. Sigurdsson (Schneiderlin 90+1); Calvert-Lewin (Tosun 55). Subs (not used): Stekelenburg, Holgate, Baines, Lookman.
GOALS: G. Sigurdsson (56, 89), Tosun (66).
FULHAM (4-5-1): Bettinelli; Fosu-Mensah (Christie 8), Bryan, Odoi, Ream; Anguissa, Seri (Ayite 81), Vietto (Cairney 64), R. Sessegnon, Schurrle; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rico, Le Marchand, McDonald, Johansen.
BOOKED: Fosu-Mensah, Christie, Odoi, Mitrovic.
REFEREE: Roger East (Wiltshire).