Deulofeu can be luscious or a liability
With a poor first half winding down, Gerard Deulofeu tried to take the initiative. He went on another winding run down the right-hand side, always moving towards goal, before popping a ball into the box; the ball was good, in a dangerous area, but nobody made the necessary run towards the near post.
Deulofeu shot a glance of frustration to his team-mates – but it was only the same look he had been given throughout the first half. When he wasn’t troubling the opposition with his excellent dribbling, he was troubling his team-mates with his disregard for defensively responsibility.
This is the sort of player Deulofeu is. He is talented but young; he is exciting but raw. He can be fantastic one moment, infuriating the next – especially when in tandem with Seamus Coleman, who likes to push forward and requires some defensive help from the player in front of him.
It was Deulofeu who made the run that led to the corner, early in the second half, to put the Blues ahead. He finished the game with a 95% pass accuracy and four successful dribbles; on the other hand, he gave the ball away three times – more than any of his team-mates.
That Everton went on to score two more with the solidity of Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas should not serve as a detriment to Deulofeu, but does remind about the important of balance.
Deulofeu is bringing the Blues winning football for now – from the start, at least – but whether he’s deployed against Arsenal, in a game where control is crucial, remains to be seen.
A game of one half for the Blues
Not for the first time in recent months, the first half whistle was met with relief by Everton. They were largely lethargic and there was a distinct lack of cohesion between midfield and attack, while Fulham enjoyed the better chances and consistently pressured the Blues’ back four.
It has become a common theme of 2014. Everton have still only scored four league goals in the opening 45 minutes since the turn of the year – one of those a Leighton Baines penalty against Swansea – but have now notched 14 in the second half.
It isn’t hard to tell the difference between the two Everton sides against Fulham. The substitution of Steven Naismith for Ross Barkley was inspired; Barkley had been quiet, and Naismith had a point to prove.
It gave the Blues more solidity and control in midfield, an extra body to help out Gareth Barry and James McCarthy. The Scotsman ended with a goal – he was unfortunate not to have two – but it was his overall play that impressed. He made 32 passes to Barkley’s 11, took four shots to Barkley’s one, and also won two aerial battles in what was an all-round battling performance.
The introduction of Kevin Mirallas and Aiden McGeady also helped – Mirallas scored from McGeady’s through ball to make it 2-1.
It is the first time two substitutes have scored for the Blues in a Premier League away match – a testament to just how good Martinez is at changing a game.
But it was more than just a tweak of personnel. The general approach to the game was better, the players looked more confident in possession, the swagger was back.
Maybe Martinez sees benefit in retaining energy for the second half and being fresher as the game draws to a close, or maybe it was nerves due to the magnitude of what a win would achieve.
Whatever it is, slow starts and strong finishes are working.
Everton’s Steven Naismith (right) celebrates after scoring against Fulham
The league table lies
Toss aside the abacus and throw the calculator out the window. Forget everything you think you know about this Premier League.
A trip to Fulham, the bottom side in the league, should not have brought too many problems. After watching Newcastle pushed aside with borderline arrogance on Tuesday – a side in the top half, no less – Evertonians would have been forgiven for thinking more of the same at Craven Cottage.
But Fulham scared Everton and pushed them harder than most teams because they knew a defeat would send them even closer to what now looks like inevitable relegation.
Compare that to Newcastle, who had nothing to play for, even with just over a month of the season remaining. Top half is guaranteed, but the passports can remain in the drawer – no European tour for the Toon Army.
With the battle for fourth truly on, there will be efforts to bank three points against the sides lower in the table. But games with Sunderland and Crystal Palace become even more complicated with survival to play for.
The mantra of Martinez is one game at a time. For the sake of Evertonians’ nerves, it could be one worth adhering to.
Everton are in a battle for fourth
There can be no doubt about it now – Champions League qualification is now a distinct possibility.
But how the Blues played as if they knew that, in the first half at least.
No matter. They are now just five points behind Arsenal with a game in hand with next week’s game with Arsenal of the utmost importance.
Win that – and they have already won seven on the bounce at home, 11 throughout the season – and they will be just a point behind Arsenal with a game in hand.
There is a tendency to worry about what will become of this season, but Blues should just enjoy it. Seventeen wins this season and 60 points with seven games to go makes it almost certain they will beat their Premier League points record of 65.
And if Roberto Martinez’s belief of 71 points being enough for fourth is accurate, then it is tantalisingly close.
Everton’s Romelu Lukaku jumps a challenge from Fulham’s Steve Sidwell
Blues will show no remorse
Everton have made plenty of friends this season with their style of football, their exciting young talent and the affable, gentlemanly Roberto Martinez on the touchline.
But none of that mattered as they ruthlessly dispensed of Fulham in the final 10 minutes.
Fulham are another likeable club, a club with tradition and a fanbase who love their football. Their stadium is one of the most-loved in the country, too.
There was no room for sentimentality as the Blues turned the screw once 2-1 up. Though Fulham had a couple of chances – and Tim Howard deserves applause for repelling them – Everton kept looking for a third goal, and eventually sealed it, before hitting the woodwork. It could have been even worse.
And with that, Fulham are all-but-condemned to relegation. Everton keep marching on. Now is not the time to look at who has fallen at their feet – there is the Champions League in sight.
More on EFC:
Barkley ‘can be as good as Bale’, says Blues boss Martinez
Exclusive: Martinez says Deulofeu should stay Blue to become a true star
Top of the stops! Martinez on why Howard is so crucial to Blues challenge
Fulham v Everton: three key questions
Howard Kendall: Distin and Jagielka prving rock solid when it matters most
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