It seems very churlish to quibble with Fulham’s fine start to the Premier League season but, after an evening where the Whites ended up utterly dominating Everton, the frustration that Marco Silva’s side couldn’t find a goal to turn their fluent football into three points was real. Marco Silva couldn’t believe that the side he has transformed from a cautious, cagey outfit into a team confident enough to attack the top flight weren’t able to deliver a win in his first meeting with his former employers since he was sacked at Goodison Park in 2019. Frankly, Fulham did everything but score.
Uncharacteristically, given that he is in the form of his life, the chief culprit was Aleksandar Mitrovic. The Serbian has scored nine goals in twelve games having been written off as a Premier League finisher before the start of the season, but he drew a blank this evening. It wasn’t for the want of trying. Mitrovic fought a running battle with Connor Coady and James Tarkowski and, after being fortunate to escape with only a yellow card for what appeared to be a stamp on Idryssa Gueye, Fulham’s number grew ever angrier as he failed to find the target. He continually brought the ball down brilliantly in the box but it never sat sweetly enough for a succession of volleys: you knew Fulham’s luck was out when he drove over from Kenny Tete’s cross in stoppage time, having fired fractionally off target with a brace of good chances in quick succession earlier in the second half.
Everton, enterprising in the first half, seemed to settle for the point around the hour mark. They are much more miserly these days after being horribly open at the back earlier in the campaign. The visitors more than played their part in an enthralling first half where two teams who prefer to play possession-based football went toe-to-toe with one another. Willian glanced a header wide from Andreas Pereira’s cross in the fifth round, but the Toffees went straight down the other end and almost opened the scoring themselves, the talented Anthony Gordon only denied by a superb saving tackle from Antonee Robinson.
Bernd Leno reacted superbly to push a Demarai Grai effort – that looked destined for the net – over the crossbar before England’s number one, Jordan Pickford, produced a stunning save at the other end. Willian turned terrifically in the area and shot towards the top corner but the Everton goalkeeper employed incredible agility to palm the Brazilian’s drive over the bar for a corner. From the ensuing set play, Pickford pedalled across his goal line to tip over a looping Mitrovic header. Barely twenty seconds later, Harrison Reed lined up another effort from just outside the area and Pickford kept that out as well.
After their goalkeeper had kept the contest level, the Toffees almost scored a classical counter-attacking goal. Everton attacked with pace and purpose, Gray breezed past Bobby Decordova-Reid and the winger’s low cross looked like it was going to be touched home by Dominic Calvert-Lewin but the England forward couldn’t connect despite lunging towards the near post. The forward’s despairing dive also managed to distract Gordon from what seemed a certain tap-in at the far post as the ball flashed across Leno’s goal. The first half finished at breakneck speed with Coady nearly turning a cross into his own net, Perreira placing one wide and Tim Ream, having stayed up from a set play, glancing a header off target. Everton still threatened themselves with Tarkowksi sending a free header from a corner straight into Leno’s grateful arms.
The second half delivered more of the same. Fulham on the front foot from the restart, with the home fans furious that referee John Brooks – and subsequently the video review – didn’t award a penalty when Willian was clearly caught by Gueye. Mitrovic then headed agonisingly over from a Pereira cross before Willian, now the Brazilian with the highest number of Premier League appearances, belied his 34 years by darting into the penalty area and seeing a fierce drive beaten away by the peerless Pickford.
Mitrovic then snatched at a couple of volleys in quick succession but Fulham’s evening was summed by the fact that the clearest chance in the six-yard box, after Willian had breezed along the by-line, fell to Issa Diop. The centre back is far from a natural finisher, which showed, as he stabbed awkwardly towards goal and Everton were able to clear. Fulham’s more reliable goalscorers couldn’t force a late winner either. Tom Cairney was denied by another excellent Pickford stop, before teeing up Willian, who shot tamely at the goalkeeper.
The Whites peppered the Everton goal with 24 shots – but ended up having to settle for a share of the spoils. The air of disappointment around Craven Cottage shows just how far Silva’s side have come as a Premier League force in a few short months. That they quietly kept another clean sheet suggests Fulham are well placed not to endure another battle against the drop – and that is significant progress.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Leno; Decordova-Reid (Tete 76), A. Robinson, Diop, Ream; Palhinha, Reed; Kebano (Wilson 67), Willian, Pereira (Cairney 76); Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Duffy, Adarabioyo, Harris, James, Vinicius.
BOOKED: Mitrovic, Decordova-Reid.
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Coleman (Patterson 64), Mykolenko, Coady, Tarkowski; Gueye (Garner 65), Onana; Gordon (Maupay 86), Gray (McNeil 76), Iwobi; Calvert-Lewin. Subs (not used): Begovic, Keane, Holgate, Doucouré, Davies.
REFEREE: John Brooks (Leicestershire).