An improved Everton performance was rewarded with a first clean sheet and away point of the season against Fulham but the Toffees still find themselves bottom of the Premier League after West Ham United’s victory across London over Tottenham Hotspur.
With four changes from the side which lost at home to Newcastle United last weekend – Phil Neville, Seamus Coleman, Tim Cahill and Yakubu replacing Tony Hibbert, John Heitinga, Leon Osman and Jermaine Beckford – David Moyes kept faith with the 4-4-1-1 formation but the team played with far more width and endeavour than a week prior. Having been woefully short on ideas against Newcastle, resorting to a series of long balls pumped towards Marouane Fellaini, Everton offered much more creativity against the Cottagers, working the ball into dangerous positions along the ground with Mark Schwarzer the reason the Blues were denied a first away league goal of the campaign to turn the single point into three.
Coleman – nominally a full-back – was selected on the right of midfield, giving him full licence to attack at will and removing him from close proximity to Everton’s own penalty area, a smart move after the youngster conceded a penalty in midweek against Brentford, having been extremely fortunate not to do likewise against the Magpies. The youngster’s exuberance is often the reason for his defensive slips – he is so eager to retain possession he clumsily brings down an opponent – but it is that same enthusiasm that makes him one of the more potent weapons at Moyes’ disposal. Coleman’s raids down the right flank were replicated by Leighton Baines on the left as Steven Pienaar floated between linking with Baines on the touchline and cutting inside to support Cahill and Yakubu more centrally.
After looking heavy-legged and laboured against Newcastle, Everton’s play at Craven Cottage was of the more instinctive kind, perhaps through a combination of the different approach of the opposition but also Everton’s players playing in more familiar or suitable positions. Fellaini was restored to a deeper midfield role, Cahill returned from injury to support a Yakubu looking more dangerous than for much of the time since he returned from a serious injury suffered almost two years ago, while Neville’s presence at right-back gave the struggling side some of the leadership and reliability it has lacked through recent disappointments. The football was again direct but in a much more palatable way – running at defenders, movement off the ball – it took Everton three or four ground passes to reach a dangerous position but the final ball, or a Schwarzer save, denied a goal.
Bottom of the league they may be but Everton have finally shown signs of arresting the slide and curing some of the problems that have left them in such a poor state. It is a long way back for Everton from 20th in the Premier League and but for Frederic Piquionne’s goal at Upton Park, the foot of the table would be as it was before kick-off. This was not a bottom of the league performance and contained plenty for Everton fans – finally – to be positive about.
18 Neville – 6 Jagielka – 15 Distin – 3 Baines
23 Coleman – 10 Arteta – 25 Fellaini – 20 Pienaar
62 – 21 Osman on for 17 Cahill
88 – 7 Bilyaletdinov on for 23 Coleman