Everton began their Sunday afternoon by the Thames in exhilarating fashion.
They finished it hanging on to claim three points which moved them up to sixth in the Premier League and that backs-to-the wall finish probably wasn't a completely fair reflection of what happened in between.
Everton could have been out of sight by half-time.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored twice and Abdoulaye Doucoure opened his Everton account, with Fulham's lone response coming when Bobby Decordova-Reid cancelled out Calvert-Lewin's first-minute opener.
The home team created little else in the opening 45 minutes. Everton, playing with a three-man defence and wing-backs Alex Iwobi and Lucas Digne excellent, swarmed all over their hosts.
Alphonse Areola saved from James Rodriguez and Richarlison, Everton's Brazilian also failing to make contact in front of goal from a low Digne delivery.
The fact James and Richarlison were both removed late in the game was indicative of how things changed, Carlo Ancelotti responding to a Fulham change which saw Ruben Loftus-Cheek come on and win a penalty - missed by Ivan Cavaleiro - and score with 20 minutes remaining.
Everton defended well enough to prevent Jordan Pickford from needing to make a meaningful save in that closing period and clinch a first win league victory since beating Brighton & Hove Albion on 3 October.
Ancelotti's side move within four points of Tottenham Hotspur at the Premier League's summit.
The pick of Everton’s first-half goals? It’s a tough call on Calvert-Lewin but probably their third.
James' pass to the rampant Digne, crafted with the outside of the Colombian’s boot and sent on a perfect arc for the wing-back, was beautiful.
Digne controlled and with his second touch whipped over a cross begging to be converted.
Doucoure had read events perfectly, striding into the box to comprehensively defeat Areola in Fulham’s goal with a powerful headed finish.
It was Doucoure’s first Everton goal – and moved him within nine of Calvert-Lewin for the campaign.
What a season this is for the 23-year-old centre-forward.
Barely two months have passed since Calvert-Lewin began the campaign by winning a game for Everton at Tottenham Hotspur.
In the period since, he’s added nine Premier League goals and another three in the cup.
From being talked about as an England prospect, Calvert-Lewin has raced to five caps and by common consent is next in line behind Harry Kane for his country’s centre-forward position.
We know the story by now, Calvert-Lewin ordered by Ancelotti to remain between the whites of the posts and finish first time.
Fulham coughed up possession cheaply inside 60 seconds, Everton’s hounding from kick-off leading to confused home minds, not least that of Decordova-Reid, who steered a ball into no-man’s land.
Richarlison entered that territory, alighting on the ball to storm forwards and cross from the byline.
Calvert-Lewin got a decent break with a favourable deflection off Tosin Adarabioyo. But there he was, Everton’s number nine, scoring again.
His second – coming after Decordova-Reid had levelled for Fulham – began with a direct piece of play from Iwobi.
Excelling as a right wing-back, Iwobi injected thrust into an Everton attack with a run infield, which carried him past two challenges.
James collected the pass and switched play to Digne, who didn’t stand on ceremony.
The Frenchman, captaining Everton, guided the ball across goal first time. He knew who was waiting, Calvert-Lewin gleefully tapping in.
The forward’s second goal could have come earlier following one of a host of excellent Iwobi deliveries, this one on 12 minutes.
Calvert-Lewin was crowded out on that occasion – and marginally offside when turning in from Iwobi’s low ball six minutes later.
He was finding ample room outside the box, though, marrying a poacher’s masterclass with an exemplar in how a centre-forward should operate with his back to goal.
Time and again Calvert-Lewin dropped deep, bringing defenders with him and leaving a vast expanse for Everton’s midfielders and attackers.
He was the backboard when Richarlison burst forwards via a one-two but saw his shot tipped round by Areola.
Frenchman Areola, on loan from Paris Saint-Germain, got away with one when he juggled an Iwobi cross over the bar.
But the home keeper was doing a sterling job for his team. Either side of half-time he prevented Everton killing the game, beating out a James effort, then gathering when Richarlison met a Digne free-kick on the volley.
Richarlison had missed his kick all together when Digne squared soon after Doucoure’s goal.
Indeed, going forward, Everton were having an enormous amount of fun, making angles, interchanging and creating space with quick and incisive passing.
Fulham had their share of imagination in attack, too.
Decordova-Reid’s attempt after a rare foray and cross from Antonee Robinson was scruffy and helped behind by Pickford.
But the forward got everything right when he equalised on 16 minutes.
The approach play from Fulham was neat, Decordova-Reid and Harrison Reed involved at the beginning.
Tom Cairney entered at the business end of the move, feeding a return pass for Decordova-Reid, who cushioned the pass to evade Yerry Mina before swatting his finish across Pickford.
Cairney drilled a shot into Mina’s legs as Fulham sought a way back after the restart – immediately before Scott Parker took off the midfielder and Reid, bringing on Aleksandar Mitrovic and Loftus-Cheek for what felt like a last throw of the dice, even with more than 30 minutes remaining.
Parker’s move was first validated when Loftus-Cheek ran onto a return pass was tripped in the box by Ben Godfrey.
Cavaleiro’s penalty was horrible. The Portuguese slipped in his approach and was already halfway to the floor when he made contact, sending the ball spinning and looping over the bar.
Loftus-Cheek’s solution was to take it on himself to bring Fulham back from the brink.
The Englishman got slightly lucky with a deflection off Mina when he turned Ademola Lookman’s cross on target but his goal was reward for a positive run into the box.
Allan and Doucoure both crucially intervened to stop Fulham gaining momentum and Tom Davies’ introduction in place of James was designed to tighten up the away side.
Gylfi Sigurdsson replaced Richarlison, too, and the two South Americans, instrumental as their side opened up an eventually decisive advantage, watched intently as Everton closed out the game.
Carlo Ancelotti sprung a surprise with his three-man defence and the system worked how the manager would have envisaged when concocting the plan.
After being hauled back to 1-1, Everton opened up clear daylight thanks to two splendid deliveries from left wing-back Lucas Digne.
Alex Iwobi at right wing-back wasn’t an obvious call but the former Arsenal player was terrific, too.
Iwobi relished the width and space down Fulham’s left, pinning back Antonee Robinson and serving up a succession of inviting crosses.
This was a rare opportunity for Iwobi, only the second time he’s started in the Premier League this season.
He responded with a bustling performance, full of purpose and intent. Iwobi ‘s first thought in possession was to look for Dominic Calvert-Lewin, either with balls rapped into the striker’s feet from deep or crosses hung into the middle from higher up the pitch.
Equally, Iwobi ran at Fulham – and to telling effect on 29 minutes. Marauding infield, Iwobi ghosted past two challenges before locating James Rodriguez, who sprung Digne to tee-up Calvert-Lewin for Everton’s second goal.
One passage of play in first-half stoppage time when Iwobi made his way inside via a sequence of one-twos, before thudding a pass for Digne, spoke to a player brimming with confidence.
Late in the game, with Everton holding onto their slim advantage, Iwobi raced 50 yards with the ball at his feet to relieve pressure.
For Digne this was a new assignment, too. Operating as a wing-back and receiving possession high up the field is a different beast from advancing onto the ball from a deeper full-back position.
The last time Everton started with a three-man backline – at Wolverhampton Wanderers late last season – Digne played as one of the centre-backs.
His versatility is a strength and he savoured the freedom granted by additional protection behind him.
Digne's two assists were the least he deserved in terms of tangible numbers and the former Barcelona player increased his tally of goals created this season to four.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin reached double figures for the Premier League season in only his ninth game.
For that feat, Everton’s centre-forward will attract a lot of well-merited headlines.
Calvert-Lewin’s goals looked simple but they were the result of intelligent movement and an acute understanding of what is being asked from him as the focal point of Caro Ancelotti’s Everton team.
This, though, was a complete centre-forward’s display from Calvert-Lewin.
He was always available for a pass to feet when Lucas Digne or Alex Iwobi had possession in deep areas.
Receiving passes fired into him, Calvert-Lewin invariably chose the right option.
He would bounce the ball back to an advancing runner, or nudge it forwards for one of his overlapping wing-backs.
If neither of those options was on, Calvert-Lewin resisted challenges to hold up play and relieve the pressure on his team.
Harry Kane, the man Calvert-Lewin is shadowing as England centre-forward, has been rightly lauded for his selfless link-up play with Tottenham Hotspur this season.
Kane’s trick is to come deep and leave space for partner Son Heung-min, before utilising his excellent distribution to release the South Korean.
Calvert-Lewin’s demonstration of the forward’s art at Craven Cottage certainly did not suffer by comparison with his international colleague.
He barely conceded possession and gave Tosin Adarabioyo and Joachim Andersen a torrid afternoon.
The Fulham centre-halves really did not know whether to stick or twist, Should they follow Calvert-Lewin or stand their ground and hope to deal with him close to goal?
There was a pleasing old-fashioned element about Calvert-Lewin’s display, too, slipping passes wide then dashing for the box to meet the delivery.
The Early Birds
Everton’s opening goal was the product of a lightening start.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin led the charge from kick-off, closing down defenders and bellowing for Richarlison to follow suit on Everton’s left flank.
Carlo Ancelotti’s three-man defence, meanwhile, enabled wing-backs Lucas Digne and Alex Iwobi to push Fulham’s full-backs towards their own goal.
Everton’s rush to action, you suspect, was with a mind to asserting themselves on the contest, to sounding a statement of intent following a slip prior to this month’s international break.
Fulham appeared taken aback by their visitors’ pace and intensity.
Certainly, Bobby Decordova-Reid was hurried when he aimed a header back towards his own goal.
Richarlison pounced, sprinting into the box to steer a cross towards Calvert-Lewin.
Then a deflection off Tosin Adarabioyo, the centre-back unable to order his feet in time to deal with the low delivery.
Fortune favours the brave and the ball ran for Calvert-Lewin to turn home his ninth Premier League goal this season.
Everton’s wide players were to the fore again when Calvert-Lewin restored his team’s advantage.
Iwobi skipped infield evading challenges, passing to James Rodriguez, who duly transferred the ball to Digne.
Two touches later – the first a crisp pass along the ground from Digne, the second from Calvert-Lewin between the posts – and Everton were back in front.
The irrepressible Digne again soon after, this time gathering James’s pass to hang up a cross for Abdoulaye Doucoure to power home.
Everton came to Craven Cottage seeking, to use the words of Carlo Ancelotti, the right reaction to a barren three-match spell before this month’s international break.
Ancelotti’s team sat seventh ahead of kick-off regardless, their handy position the product of that flying start when 13 points were claimed from five matches.
If it was too soon to start making black-and-white judgments on Everton in the Premier League’s opening months, then trying to read anything conclusive into this embryonic campaign is the definition of a fool’s errand.
What to make of a season when Aston Villa have scored 11 goals and conceded two in beating Liverpool, Arsenal and Leicester City – but let in nine and scored four in losing to Leeds United, Southampton and Brighton & Hove Albion?
The same Leicester undone by Villa clobbered Manchester City away 5-2 and won 4-1 at Leeds but were beaten 3-0 at home by West Ham United.
Manchester United inflicted the third of Everton’s three straight defeats prior to this fixture and were quite impressive at Goodison Park.
On Saturday, however, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team required a slice of fortune to squeeze past West Bromwich Albion, who shipped five in losing at Everton.
In short, then, logic is in short supply this term.
There was plenty in Everton’s opening five games to indicate Ancelotti’s side was moving in the right direction nevertheless.
When losing game number six at Southampton, Everton surrendered the Premier League’s final unbeaten record.
Injuries and suspensions for Richarlison and Lucas Digne didn’t help, as one loss became two, then three.
Ancelotti didn’t hide behind circumstances, however. Everton needed to be better defensively, insisted the manager.
A lot of this improvement had to occur between the ears, reckoned Ancelotti, who saw all but four of his 18-man squad for the United match disappear with their countries for most of the past fortnight.
Everton were facing a Fulham team whose confidence was climbing, too, following a win at home against West Brom last time here and a performance at West Ham which deserved more than a 1-0 defeat.
Ancelotti makes a point of not overly concerning himself with what his opponents are up to, though.
The objective here was to deliver a convincing response to the first difficult period experienced by the Italian’s reshaped Everton.
They had the carrot, too, of knowing victory would ease them above Aston Villa into sixth and within four points of Tottenham Hotspur at the Premier League summit.
By delivering a compelling answer to their boss’ questions, Everton returned to an upwards direction of travel.
Another sign of the advances being made under Italian Ancelotti: before winning at Spurs on the season’s opening day, Everton had won twice on their previous 26 visits to London.
Following victory against Crystal Palace and this success by the Thames, that is three from three in the capital.
It remains too early for categorical statements – the season isn’t 25 per cent done and, for now, there is no such thing as an unexpected result – but Everton are in a good place nonetheless.