It had been a testing yet positive week for Fulham following their now famous Hamburg road trip and subsequent performance in the Nordbank Arena - a result which put Roy Hodgson’s side in an encouraging position ahead of Thursday’s UEFA Europa League Semi-Final second-leg.
Roy Hodgson made changes, with only Mark Schwarzer and Chris Baird part of the midweek starting line-up on show at Goodison Park.
The trip to Germany had symbolically captured our epic journey in Europe, one that started on July 30th in Lithuania and has seen the team travel three quarters of the way around the globe. Prior to kick-off, Captain Danny Murphy had urged outsiders to adopt an “understanding” stance on the team selection.
Yet there would be little sympathy from the home side who. unbeaten in their last eight league games, started brightly, with Russian midfielder Diniyar Bilyaletdinov striking the post after just three minutes from Tony Hibbert’s deep cross from the right.
A mazy run from Steven Pienaar also threatened to break the early deadlock, with only a last-ditch intervention from Baird breaking the South African international’s stride.
The hosts continued to impress with their pass and move football, and a clever break down the right needed a commanding claim from Schwarzer to deny the head of Yakubu. With Mikel Arteta growing in confidence, further chances looked forthcoming.
And one such opportunity fell to Yakubu again, with 20 minutes gone, with the striker pouncing on a mistake from Chris Smalling before dragging his shot from the right of the box wide.
Fulham replied with their first real spell of possession, with an Erik Nevland strike deflected out for a corner, and Kagisho Dikgacoi blazing over from the subsequent corner.
At the other end Phil Neville’s low cross from the right flashed across the goalmouth, where the returning John Pantsil had to be alert to shoe a timely clearance to safety, and Yakubu lurking once more.
However, for all the hosts’ attacking intent it was Fulham that opened the scoring with nine minutes of the first-half remaining, and it was that man Nevland that proved the difference once more, ghosting on to Leighton Baines’ nonchalant back pass and dinking the ball over Tim Howard.
It was a Fulham goal that had been a long time coming. Prior to kick-off it had been eight hours and 38 minutes of league football since they had last scored a goal on Merseyside (against Everton and Liverpool) – when Carlos Bocanegra scored in a 4-1 defeat at Goodison in April 2007.
And the Whites really should have had a second going into the break, when Okaka’s wonderfully scooped pass fell into the path of Dempsey who had slipped the previously close attentions of Phil Jagielka. But our Juventus goal hero volleyed over from close range.
Everton certainly had their moments, but in a half of graft and zeal, it was Fulham that had ultimately proved the most effective.
However, that lead would be short lived, with Arteta finding space down the left and chipping an enticing pass into the Fulham box. Substitute Victor Anichebe was waiting, and his downwards header bounced beyond a sprawling Schwarzer and into the bottom left corner with five minutes gone.
With the momentum behind them Everton pushed for an immediate second, with Schwarzer doing well to hold Tim Cahill’s header and then diving at the feet of a well-placed Yakubu.
With the Toffees searching for a further breakthrough, the Fulham fans in attendance would have been wary of the introduction of former Cottage favourite Louis Saha on the hour. The talented hitman scored 53 goals in 117 league games for the Whites between 2000 and 2004, but since his departure, has made a habit of scoring against his former club – most recently in Fulham’s visit to Goodison last season.
Anichebe accelerated in from the right and drove at Schwarzer, while a Jagielka intervention denied Okaka a decent opening as both sides tussled for a crucial second. Everton went even closer when Jonathan Greening’s header almost dropped into his own net, with captain for the day Schwarzer making an expert save, tipping Arteta’s resultant in-swinging corner over the ball.
Saha met the following corner, but fortunately for the Whites his glancing header bounced off the unsuspecting head of Dempsey and out to relevant safety.
Dempsey almost converted a chance at the other end moments later racing on to Nevland’s perfectly weighted pass, but the impressive Jagielka proved his equal doing just enough to deny the American’s advancement.
Okaka had an even better opportunity on 76 minutes, with Nevland the architect once more. With free sight on goal the Italian U21 international strode on to Nevland’s pullback, but could only find the arms of Howard when his first-time strike should have perhaps done more.
Inside the final 10 minutes Schwarzer made a fantastic stop to keep out Cahill following a fabulous flowing move, while Pienaar showed his quality at the other end of the pitch, getting his body in the way of Dempsey’s powerful strike.
Dempsey fired a free-kick straight at Howard from 30 yards, while from a bit further in, Arteta arrowed his set piece straight at the grateful Fulham wall.
With three minutes of injury time announced the home crowd pressed their team forward, but their cheers of encouragement turned to gasps of despair when Saha headed wide with the goal at his mercy.
But when Cahill went down in the area moments later, the referee pointed to the spot. In a late twist, the composedArteta stepped up and dispatched a confident finish to the right of Schwarzer to hand Everton's boss a very happy 47th birthday.
It was a disappointing end to a very memorable week for Roy Hodgson however, but with our European dreams firmly intact, his side have the opportunity to bounce back in style come Thursday.