An afternoon in the glorious Craven Cottage sunshine had all the ingredients of Fulham’s fabulously unorthodox Premier League campaign. There was plenty of disastrous defending, another comically missed penalty and a stirring fightback that saw Scott Parker’s side claw their way back towards salvation but fall frustratingly short. Everton, who looked ominously in control at half-time, were left hanging on to the narrowest of leads but escaped the capital having arrested their own alarming run of reverses.
Parker’s decision to omit Aleksandar Mitrovic and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa from his starting line-up raised a few eyebrows. Without the Serbian up front, Fulham lack a natural goalscorer whilst Anguissa’s tenacity in midfield was sorely missed in a first half that saw Carlo Ancelotti’s men stroll into a comfortable advantage. The hosts were the architects of their own downfall inside the first minute when Toison Adarabioyo attempted an ill-advised switch of play from the edge of his own box. Ola Aina’s header was seized upon by Lucas Digne and Richarlison, restored to the starting line-up after suspension, sped to the by-line before his cut back allowed Dominic Calvert-Lewin the simplest of finishes after a couple of deflections.
Everton’s enterprise – and a switch to a back three – simply overwhelmed Fulham, who were slow to settle and could have gone further behind as Richarlison and Alex Iwobi, who enjoyed an excellent outing as an adventurous right wing-back, roamed with intent. When the Whites did recover some of their poise they exploited space chiefly down their left flank with ex-Everton academy graduate Antonee Robinson to the fore. The American international made a chance that Bobby Decordova-Reid should have done better than to snatch at, but the Jamaican forward took his next opportunity far more impressively, shooting clinically past Jordan Pickford after a lovely one-two with Tom Cairney saw him glide past Yerry Mina.
The visitors still looked ropey at the back, but there were irrepressible going forward. Calvert-Lewin was denied a second by an offside flag but that merely postponed the inevitable. Iwobi injected pace and purpose into the Everton attack, surging past two challengers down the right, and making the space for his opposite wing-back Digne to dart dangerously down the left again. The French defender produced a fabulous first-time cross and Calvert-Lewin gobbled up his tenth league goal of the campaign.
Alphone Areola did his best to keep Fulham in the contest – making a couple of excellent saves from Calvert-Lewin and then pulling off a magnificent stop to keep out Richarlison after the Brazilian had robbed Maria Lemina in midfield and strode into the penalty area – but the game looked beyond the home side after Rodriguez’s gorgeous pass freed Digne down the left again. Another excellent delivery found Abdoulaye Doucoure, criminally unmarked in the middle of the penalty area, who restored Everton’s two-goal cushion with a clinical header.
Parker kept faith with his starting eleven after the break but there was little sign of a revival. Cairney looked the most likely to unlock the Everton defence, having a shot blocked by Godfrey, so it was something of surprise to see him sacrificed as a part of a double change that introduced Mitrovic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The switch had an almost immediate effect when the Chelsea loanee was clumsily felled in the box by Godfrey, only for Cavaleiro to spoon the spot-kick over the bar – slipping as he stepped up to strike it.
That setback would have finished off plenty of struggling sides but Parker’s charges weren’t about it to give it up just yet. A minute later Ademola Lookman burst into the box and fed Loftus-Cheek, whose shot looped into the net off Mina to spark hopes of a Fulham revival. Ancelotti sent on Tom Davies and Gylfi Sigurdsson to try and secure Everton’s slender lead and, even though they retreated deep into their own half for much of the remaining twenty minutes, Fulham failed to fashion a clear-cut chance in a futile search for an equaliser.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola, Aina, Robinson, Andersen, Adarabioyo; Reed, Lemina (Anguissa 69); Cavaleiro, Lookman, Cairney (Mitrovic 58); Decordova-Reid (Loftus-Cheek 58). Subs (not used): Rodak, Ream, Odoi, Bryan.
BOOKED: Decordova-Reid, Robinson.
GOALS: Decordova-Reid (15), Loftus-Cheek (70).
EVERTON (3-4-3): Pickford; Godfrey, Mina, Keane; Digne, Iwobi, Allan, Doucoure; Rodriguez (Davies 74), Richarlison (Sigurdsson 76), Calvert-Lewin. Subs (not used): Olsen, Holgate, Bernard, Gomes, Tosun.
GOALS: Calvert-Lewin (1, 29), Doucoure (35).
REFEREE: Andy Madley (West Yorkshire).