Fulham v Everton
Everton’s Capital One Cup campaign for 2013/14 was ended at the third round as Fulham overturned a half-time deficit to seal a 2-1 win.
Inspired by the sparkling Gerard Deulofeu, the Blues deservedly led at the interval after Steven Naismith’s early strike.
The post denied Sylvain Distin from extending the advantage before the Cottagers’ staged their second-half comeback to progress into the last-16 of the competition.
Dimitar Berbatov slotted Fulham back level shortly after the restart and Darren Bent emerged from the bench to win the game on 67 minutes.
Seamus Coleman twice came close to levelling late on but Fulham held firm as Roberto Martinez slipped to his first competitive defeat as manager of Everton.
Martinez hinted at his pre-match press conference that he would make several changes to his team, so it came as no surprise to see just three players who started against West Ham take to the field from the outset at Craven Cottage.
Romelu Lukaku made his first start in Everton colours, as did James McCarthy. There was also a first appearance of the campaign for the fit-again Darron Gibson who had overcome his knee injury.
Martinez had challenged his players to seize their chance and it was evidently clear that they were keen to impress.
Roared forward by over 3,000 travelling Evertonians, it was one-way traffic in the opening quarter of an hour as the Blues raced out of the traps.
With Lukaku the focal point in attack, Fulham goalkeeper Stockdale was forced into three early saves, two of which came from the boot of the lively Naismith who was operating on the left-hand side of a front three.
Even with just 14 minutes played, few could argue against Everton deserving to take the lead as Naismith finished a move that came about from superb build-up play from Deulofeu.
The Spaniard carried the ball from halfway before beating the Cottagers’ offside trap with a splendidly-weighted slide-rule ball. Naismith was on the same wavelength, collecting the pass and beating Stockdale at his near post.
The lead was almost doubled in the next attack when captain for the evening, Distin, headed against the post from a corner.
Having offered very little in the opening exchanges, Fulham then began to play their part in the tie. Elsad Zverotic, John Arne Riise and Adel Taarabt were all off-target with efforts from distance, while Berbatov headed the hosts’ best opportunity of the half over the bar.
Fulham’s pressure created space for Everton on the counter-attack, space Deulofeu absolutely revelled in.
After assisting with the opening goal, the on-loan Barcelona man seemed intent on getting his name on the scoresheet. Every time the 19-year-old collected possession, he left the home side’s defence tangled in knots, with his lightning pace, quick feet and levels of skill proving a devastating combination.
On countless occasions Deulofeu burst through midfield and came close doubling the Toffees advantage, most notably with a shot from a tight angle that flashed through the six-yard box and inches past the post.
Fulham’s wayward finishing had limited Joel Robles’ involvement in the first period – but the former Atletico Madrid stopper was alert to make a fine diving save from Alexander Kacaniklic shortly after the restart.
It was the first of two decent opportunities for Fulham’s Swedish frontman in quick succession, the second of which was skewed horribly wide from a similar position.
Just as Everton’s bright opening had led to the deadlock being broken earlier in the tie, Fulham’s concerted pressure culminated in an equaliser for Berbatov on 55 minutes.
A cross from the left flank wasn’t cleared and the Bulgarian calmly slotted past Robles when unmarked eight yards out. Everton had been pegged back since the interval and there could be few complaints.
Having booed their team off at half-time, Fulham’s fans began to rally behind their team. And they had further cause for cheer when substitute Bent turned the tie on its head three minutes after his introduction in the 67th minute.
After Gibson had tripped Parker outside the box, Fulham executed the perfectly pre-rehearsed free-kick. Giorgos Karagounis, to the surprise of the Blues defence, elected to slide in Bent instead of shooting. The former Sunderland man hit a left-foot effort from a narrow angle which slid through Robles legs and into the net.
Martinez responded by making a double substitution. Gareth Barry and Phil Jagielka replaced John Heitinga and Gibson as the Blues reshuffled to three at the back. Kevin Mirallas was also introduced as Everton pushed for a leveller.
To the Toffees’ credit, their heads didn’t drop despite the second-half disappointment.
The response to the setback was encouraging. Coleman fired a left-foot attempt narrowly wide of the mark, as did Deulofeu from the opposite side of the pitch as the goal his performance merited deserted him.
Lukaku’s late shot almost squirmed under Stockdale but Everton knew it wasn’t to be their night when Coleman raced into the box and the Fulham keeper made another scrambling save with his legs to secure the victory for Martin Jol’s men.