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Everton 4 Fulham 1 - Match Report

Everton moved into the top four with a 4-1 win over Fulham but they were made to work hard for the points by a resilient Cottagers side at Goodison Park.

Paul Thomas

Dimitar Berbatov’s second half penalty had cancelled out Leon Osman’s opener, but late strikes from Seamus Coleman, Gareth Barry and Kevin Mirallas ensured the Toffees successfully built on their displays at Old Trafford and the Emirates last week.

Roberto Martinez made two changes from the side that drew with Arsenal, Osman coming in for the suspended James McCarthy and Gerard Deulofeu starting ahead of Mirallas.

The team began brightly, dominating possession but struggling to create any real openings, Phil Jagielka’s glancing header the first effort towards goal in the opening exchanges.

Things then clicked perfectly for the opener on 18 minutes. Bryan Oviedo feeding Steven Pienaar on the edge of the box, the South African then playing in Osman 18 yards out, who took a touch before curling a lovely left-footed finish beyond Maartenl Steklenberg and into the corner on what was his 300th Premier League appearance.

Buoyed by that strike Everton began to create more openings, Deulofeu driving an effort across goal before Romelu Lukaku’s inadvertent header from Pienaar’s corner drew a smart reaction stop from Steklenberg.

Coleman then saw a low effort pushed away by the increasingly busy Fulham ‘keeper, before Osman sent a fierce volley just wide after Ross Barkley’s shot was blocked.

The only effort from Fulham in the first half was a miss-cued volley from Giorgios Karagounis that went well wide, with Everton going into the break frustrated that they had not added to their lead.

Whatever new Fulham boss Rene Meulensteen said at the break had a galvanising effect on the Cottagers, who came out with much more purpose and could have equalised in the first five minutes of the second half.

First, Scott Parker saw his snap half-volley palmed away by Tim Howard before Alex Kacaniklic blazed over when well-placed after Steve Sidwell’s low shot had been pushed into his path.

Everton were rocking as Fulham showed the kind of spirit that well serve them well in their relegation battle and in sharp contrast to the lifeless display they put out on their last visit to Merseyside a few weeks ago.

Despite their improved display though they had to rely on a spot kick to haul themselves level.

Moments after Oviedo had seen a deflected shot cleared off the line, Gareth Barry went in on Kacaniklic at the other end, referee Anthony Taylor taking his time before pointing to the spot.

First reactions suggested Barry had got a slight touch on the ball but replays prove inconclusive and it was certainly a clumsy attempt to take the ball in that area of the pitch.

Dimitar Berbatov coolly slotted home the penalty to bring Fulham level and send nerves shuddering around Goodison.

To make things worse Deulofeu soon went down and had to be stretchered off with what looked like a bad hamstring injury which will surely rule him out of the busy festive fixtures.

Credit, though, has to go to Everton for dealing with that double blow and re-taking the lead on 73 minutes.

Pienaar and Lukaku exchanged passes on the left side of the area before Pienaar’s driven cross was pushed by Steklenberg into the path of Coleman at the far post, the Irishman making no mistake with the open goal.

That goal appeared to crack Fulham’s resistance, though Everton only really felt sure of the result when they grabbed their third 11 minutes later.

Distin’s header from Pienaar’s corner was deflected towards goal by Lukaku and Steklenberg could only parry the ball up in the air towards Barry, who atoned for his earlier error by nodding home his second goal for Everton from a yard out.

That was well and truly game over, but the scoreline was given a flattering look when sub Mirallas drove at goal before firing in a low shot that squirmed past Steklenberg and into the net in the 90th minute.

After their heroics at Arsenal and Manchester United it was vital the Blues consolidated those displays with three points here.

The game proved every bit as difficult as Martinez had predicted pre-game, but the fact Everton put in an indifferent performance but still won 4-1 is testament to the standards the Spaniard has set his players this season.

The four goals will also do the goal difference no harm, with Everton having to take Liverpool’s lead in not just winning these kinds of games, but doing so convincingly.

The points catapults Everton into the top four and sends expectations even higher. There is a real buzz about the club right now and an expectation we could be on the verge of something special.

Things can still change very quickly and football has a habit of biting back when you least expect it, but there appears to be no reason why the club can’t compete at the very summit of the Premier League this season.

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