Fulham’s barren run on the blue half of Merseyside has been the subject of some mockery for much of the past half century. The Londoners had never won a league fixture at Goodison Park before this evening but Scott Parker’s side rediscovered the winning habit – after a twelve-match winless run – just in time to breathe new life into their survival hopes. Just as encouragingly, the missing predatory instinct was supplied by new signing Josh Maja, whose brace accurately reflected Fulham’s complete dominance over a below-par Everton.
Maja’s second spell at Fulham, for whom he enjoyed a brief period of goalscoring as a teenage member of the Motspur Park academy, began with an encouraging cameo off the bench against West Ham last weekend. Borrowed from Bordeaux for the remainder of the season, the powerful striker was handed a first senior start for the club after Aleksandar Mitrovic tested positive for coronavirus and he added pace and power up front from the outset. Fulham bossed the first half with a combination of pretty passing and incisive attacking, but Maja provided the ruthlessness in the final third that the visitors have been lacking all season.
The Lewisham-born striker slid at the far post to finish off a flowing move down the left flank and nudge the Whites ahead three minutes after the interval. Ex-Everton winger Ademola Lookman, lively on his return to Goodison Park, swapped smart passes with Ola Aina and the full back’s low cross was turned in on the stretch by Maja inside the six-yard box. With Fulham’s fragility at the back – and the fact that Parker’s side had lost eleven points from winning positions – you felt a second goal was necessary to secure an elusive win. It arrived when Harrison Reed, who had roamed across the field imperiously all evening, rattled the near post with a low drive from 20 yards and Maja, anticipating a rebound, followed up to finish from close range.
The three points were no less than Fulham deserved. They had attacked with purpose from the off, pressing an Everton side, who might have been feeling the after effects of the midweek Cup epic against Tottenham and sorely missed the injured Dominic Calvert-Lewin up front. Parker’s men pressed high from the outset but there was a verve and intensity about their passing and a desire to inflict some serious blows on Carlo Ancelotti’s high-fliers. Reed’s lovely floated ball released Ruben Loftus-Cheek, whose rather casual shot was too close to Robin Olsen, and a contentious offside flag might have been reversed.
The away side also showed a threat from set plays. Maja spooned over the bar at the far post having been surprised when Olsen flapped at a corner and Bobby Decordova-Reid’s improvised flick came back off the far post before Aina had a volley blocked. Loftus-Cheek’s low centre flashed across goal before Decordova-Reid fed Reed and the energetic midfielder drove fractionally wide of the far post with an instinctive drive from the edge of the box. Decordova-Reid and Lookman then somehow outfoxed three Everton defenders in the box before the latter’s miscued drive dribbled the wrong side of the near post.
Ancelotti had lined up with an abundance of artists in his starting line-up but the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Richarlison and James Rodriguez didn’t get the ball in areas where they could hurt Fulham. Indeed, Everton’s only opening of the first half arrived courtesy of the energy of Seamus Coleman, who robbed Reed of possession on the half way and drove to the edge of the box before an optimistic left-footed strike from just outside the box glanced off the outside of the near post.
You sensed that the home side couldn’t possibly be as toothless in the second period, but Maja’s pair of poacher’s goal rendered any hopes of a home revival pretty redundant. Fulham could have had further goals – Lookman lofted high and over bar after a clever interchange with Loftus-Cheek and another devilish cross from Aina narrowly eluded Loftus-Cheek at the back post after Maja had cleverly dummied it.
The visitors held on their lead with a relish that Parker would have appreciated. The impish intelligence of Reed and Mario Lemina dominated the midfield with a real reassurance and held onto possession with composure and confidence, whilst Joachim Andersen and Tosin Adarabioyo headed high balls away all night long. Alphonse Areola was a virtual spectator until he fielded Sigurdsson’s speculative shot from outside the area after 76 minutes and when he was beaten by substitute Josh King late on, the offside flag came to Fulham’s rescue.
Parker spoke persuasively after the final whistle about the belief and character within his side. He has always insisted that Fulham were not dead and buried at the foot of the table and, with key clashes against Burnley, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace to come in the next couple of weeks, they have a real chance to prove everybody wrong and conjure up another great escape.
EVERTON (4-3-3): Olsen; Digne, Coleman (Keane 56), Holgate, Godfrey; Doucoure, Davies (King 56), Gomes; Rodriguez (Bernard 68), Sigurdsson, Richarlison. Subs (not used): Virgínia, Allan, Mina, Nkonkou, Onyango, Iwobi.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola; Tete, Andersen, Adarabioyo, Aina; Reed, Lemina (Onomah 91); Decordova-Reid, Lookman (Anguissa 83), Loftus-Cheek, Maja (Cavaleiro 73). Subs (not used): Rodak, Hector, Ream, Odoi, Kongolo, Robinson.
GOALS: Maja (48, 65).
REFEREE: Andrew Madley (West Yorkshire).
VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).