What about that then, eh? What can we say? Taken in isolation, two evenish teams played out an entertainingish game which was ultimately decided by the two centre-forwards: ours missed, theirs didn’t. But there’s so much more to it than that, isn’t there?
Everton scored in the second minute, Royston Drenthe smashing home from ‘downtown’ with a skimming drive that Mark Schwarzer couldn’t get to. He absolutely belted it: funny how many Dutch players can hit the ball very hard, isn’t it? This had been immediately preceded by Danny Murphy losing his way in midfield, the first of several curious mishaps from the skipper.
After that we were even-Steven, Murphy hit the woodwork via Tim Howard, Everton wasted a couple of very good headed chances. Baird was having a good game at centre-back, but otherwise it was hard to see a Fulham player who looked in good shape.
The second half saw more of the same, and we were rapidly entering afternoon nap territory when something rather wonderful happened. Bryan Ruiz, on for Murphy, found space on the left of the area, then clipped an absolutely delicious chip over Tim Howard for a splendid equaliser. Wow. Hello, Bryan Ruiz: now we see.
Fulham, with Sidwell and Dembele a livelier engine room and with Johnson showing surprising spark on the right, suddenly grew into the game and perhaps looked like the more likely winners. Zamora found Ruiz with a nice far post cross, but our new hero’s well met volley couldn’t beat Howard. Another – better – chance came in the last minute when Zamora skipped inside Howard (with impressive skill, it must be said) then blasted the ball over the open goal. Mouths agape: unbelievable miss.
At which, Everton went up the other end and scored, Saha beating Hughes (only on the field for a few moments) then Schwarzer. Oh. Then Jack Rodwell drove home a third, and our afternoon was done.
What to make of that, then? We looked ordinary for long stretches, with the aforementioned Baird the only player to emerge with much credit. Dempsey seemed crowded out by Riise’s adventure, Dembele – still such an important player – flitting but not with conviction (Everton had done their homework on him) and the forwards somehow not featuring. Johnson’s running is supposedly a strength but Everton’s defence seemed happy to let him go, passing him over to whoever’s zone he ran into. Distin, Jagielka and the excellent Baines hardly needed to break sweat. Johnson’s demotion to the right flank following Ruiz’s introduction showed a new side to him and he was at the heart of much of our good approach play, but he still doesn’t look like he’s going to be an important part of the next good Fulham team.
When that team emerges is, of course, the big question. The side looks badly out of sorts and needs a bit of luck, a moment of genius (which we got today, then wasted) if it’s to get through the next few months without more tears. I suspect this was a better performance than it now feels like, but we need something to change soon.