Fulham were defeated by two goals to one by Everton at Goodison Park.
Mark Hughes retained the same starting eleven to play Everton on Saturday that beat Blackburn Rovers by three goals to two in Fulham’s last Barclays Premier League encounter two weeks ago.
The man that earned Hughes’ side all three points against Rovers, Bobby Zamora, took his place amongst Fulham’s substitutes as he neared a return to full match fitness. Zamora was joined by Simon Davies, Jonathan Greening, Gael Kakuta, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Stephen Kelly and goalkeeper David Stockdale on the bench.
Fulham resided just two points behind ninth placed Everton prior to Saturday’s 5:30pm kick-off. The home side were without two of their most influential players, Mikel Arteta and Marouane Fellaini due to long term injuries, but with the likes of Jack Rodwell, Tim Cahill and former Fulham striker Louis Saha, Everton’s attacking threat remained potent.
With seven Premier League results confirmed ahead of Fulham’s evening kick-off, Hughes’ Team kicked-off knowing that a rare victory at Goodison Park would project Fulham into eighth place.
After a perfectly observed minute’s silence for the victims of the recent natural disaster in Japan, the game got underway on an early spring evening on Merseyside. It was a quiet start on and off the pitch, with captains Murphy and Neville livening things up with a full-blooded challenge after five minutes in the middle of the park. Osman then fired in the first shot of the match three minutes later, but his left footed strike from the edge of the area flew harmlessly wide of Schwarzer’s goal.
With Johnson and Dembele leading Fulham’s line, there was no shortage of pace in the final third, and there were a few positive signs early on that space could be exploited behind Jagielka and Distin. Danny Murphy was looking to pull the strings from a deep midfield position and his partner in the middle of the park, Dickson Etuhu, appeared fully fit after a recent hamstring injury.
After 20 minutes of play Everton were arguably showing greater attacking intent, but Fulham had restricted the home side to two speculative shots from distance and a half-chance from an early corner. Mark Hughes' side had certainly silenced the crowd, which was strangely subdued.
Former Fulham favourite Louis Saha woke the home crowd up after 25 minutes with a shot from inside the area that was blocked by Chris Baird. Saha’s effort marked the start of a sustained spell of pressure from the home side. Carlos Salcido was forced to clear off the line just after the half hour mark had passed as Everton consistently targeted Fulham’s right flank.
The home side's pressure down their left hand side eventually proved telling with ten minutes of the first-half remaining. Another probing move down Everton's left resulted in a cross to the far post by Osman. Colemanwas left unmarked at the far post to head across goal and into the corner of the net.
Fulham took the attacking initiative as the first half drew to a close with Clint Dempsey firing just wide of Howard's goal with barely a minute left. It was Fulham's first clear strike on goal of the game and during injury time Dempsey tried again with a sublime piece of skill on the edge of the area, but was denied by Coleman, who blocked the American's path to goal.
Both sides remained unchanged for the second-half and within five minutes of the restart Everton had doubled their lead through former Fulham striker Louis Saha. The home side earned an indirect free-kick 25 yards from goal after Etuhu had fouled Rodwell as he charged towards Fulham’s 18-yard line. Saha stepped up and fired a low drive that arrowed into the bottom corner of the net. The precision and power of Saha’s strike left Schwarzer with no chance.
Damien Duff attempted to pull a goal back for Fulham 10 minutes later with a drive from the edge of the area but Howard collected with ease. Just a few moments later Schwarzer was forced to produce a diving save to deny Coleman’s long range effort. The game had certainly opened up following Everton’s second as Fulham looked to recover lost ground.
Mark Hughes made the first change of the game with 30 minutes remaining, introducing Bobby Zamora for Dickson Etuhu. Clint Dempsey moved into central midfield alongside Danny Murphy with Mousa Dembele switching to the left flank. Zamora partnered Andrew Johnson in attack.
Zamora's introduction had an immediate impact, with Fulham reducing the deficit barely a minute later throughClint Dempsey. A cross from the right wing by Duff fell to Zamora on the 18 yard line and the striker's lay-off found Dempsey, who fired home his 10th goal of the season from the edge of the area.
Fulham were attacking in waves following Dempsey's goal with Zamora unsettling Everton's defence from the moment he entered the fray. David Moyes made his first change of the game with 20 minutes remaining, introducing John Heitinga for Tim Cahill.
Bobby Zamora looked on a one-man mission to turn the game on it's head. His pure physical presence and desire to upset Everton's back line was unsettling the home crowd who could sense the danger Zamora constantly posed.
With 15 minutes remaining Mark Hughes freshened up his attack with the introduction of Gael Kakuta for Damien Duff. Kakuta took his place on the left wing with Dembele switching to the right hand side. Fulham continued to press and ask serious questions of Everton's backline. The only break in Fulham's drive for an equaliser was when Salcido headed the ball clear off his own line with seven minutes remaining.
Hughes made his final change of the game with six minutes left on the clock. Andrew Johnson was replaced by Eidur Gudjohnsen, who lined up next to Zamora in attack. Moments later there was concern for Louis Saha who was stretchered from the field of play after challenging for a header in the middle of the park. David Moyes was forced to replace Saha with Jermaine Beckford.
Time was against Fulham as they continued to search for an equaliser. Just before the Fourth Official indicated five minutes of added time, Clint Dempsey struck a right footed attempt from the edge of the area that seared over Howard's bar.
During added time Fulham pinned Everton back and delivered wave after wave of attack but the home side's defence stood firm and David Moyes' side took all three points from Saturday's contest at Goodison Park.