Everton v Fulham
Everton climbed to eighth place in the league table as their complete and utter domination of Fulham at Goodison Park continued.
The visitors had never registered a league win, never gained a Premier League point and arrived to face the Blues on a run of 17 straight league defeats at their Merseyside HQ.
But unbeaten in five, and their travel sickness of recent seasons seemingly cured, Mark Hughes’ side must have felt they had every chance of banishing their Everton hoodoo.
That, however, failed to materialise – despite a nervy finale for David Moyes and his players.
Goals either side of the break from first Seamus Coleman and then Louis Saha appeared to have the three points sewn up.
But Clint Dempsey’s retort set nerves jangling and for a spell the hosts were afflicted by a bad case of the jitters.
Yet in a week where Moyes celebrated his ninth anniversary as Everton boss – a reign that started with a 2-1 win over Fulham – symmetry prevailed and his side ran out victors by that very same scoreline.
Goodison Park came together before kick-off to impeccably observe a minute’s silence following events in Japan, and there was also a warm reception for former Blue Andrew Johnson.
That welcome did not extend on to the pitch, however, with returning Blues captain Phil Neville chopping down his former teammate with a typically robust challenge on 15 minutes.
By that point, aside from a rasping half-volley from Leighton Baines that arrowed into the Gwladys, there had been little in the way of goal-mouth action.
Fulham were happy to sit and keep their shape and, despite plenty of effort from the hosts, they struggled to break down their well-drilled guests.
So often this season Baines has been the man to provide that moment of quality when his side needed inspiration.
And it was no surprise to see the England man involved when the hosts finally cracked the Fulham code.
While most wide players are happy to play the percentages when a yard of space is worked, Baines is more intelligent.
So when the Blues defender found himself wide on the left and deep in opposition territory, he used all his craft to pick out Leon Osman in a pocket of space on the edge of the box.
Osman bamboozled Damien Duff with a drop of the shoulder and foundColeman for a free header at the back stick.
The Irishman had half the goal to aim at but the difficulty in the chance was generating the power. That he did though as he flexed his neck muscles to send the ball looping beyond the grasp of the stricken Mark Schwarzer.
It was a lead Everton’s greater enterprise just about merited and five minutes after the break Saha’s sledgehammer free-kick seemingly put them in the comfort zone.
Phil Jagielka made a nuisance of himself in the wall and the French striker rammed a brutal strike through the gap and beyond Schwarzer in a flash.
Hughes’ response was to summon Bobby Zamora from the bench and the striker had an immediate impact.
Duff’s cross reached him on the edge of the box and his instantaneous lay-off found Dempsey drifting inside off his perch to coolly slot past his compatriot in the Everton goal.
For 10 minutes after that the Blues just couldn’t keep the ball and, as their angst grew, so did the likelihood of a leveller.
But despite Fulham’s best efforts the Blues held on and Jagielka almost soothed ragged nerves but his firm header was cleared off the line by the alert Carlos Salcido.