Everton missed the opportunity to close the gap on the Premier League’s top-four after struggling to summon the zip and energy against Fulham which proved the difference when Tottenham Hotspur were defeated in midweek.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side hit the post when the game was still goalless but Fulham created the majority of openings.
The away team struck twice inside 17 second-half minutes – Josh Maja the scorer both times – to claim the points.
There was a Goodison Park debut for Joshua King, who ran hard in his 34 minutes on the field.
He had the ball in the net on 78 minutes but had drifted a foot offside when Andre Gomes flashed in a cross from the right.
Everton remain seventh and three points behind fourth.
They have precious little time to lick their wounds with Manchester City due at Goodison Park in 72 hours.
Ancelotti’s team have reacted positively to adversity this season – only once losing successive matches – and they will require a characteristically spirited response against league leaders City.
Everton’s only other two defeats since the turn of the year have been followed by relatively productive sequences: three wins and a draw in the first instance, two wins and a draw second time round.
The home team waited 33 minutes for their first effort at goal on Sunday.
Until that point, Ben Godfrey stealing in at the back post but narrowly failing to connect with a Lucas Digne free-kick was about the sum of it on an attacking front for Ancelotti’s team.
Finally, though, Gomes intelligently found space in front of Fulham’s back four to receive a pass from James Rodriguez.
The attempt bounced once on the way past the post but appeared to embolden Everton, in the short term, at least.
Bobby Decordova-Reid wanted time on Everton’s right 60 seconds later but James wasn’t having it, directing the ball to Seamus Coleman in the act of relieving the Fulham player of possession.
Coleman took off and, seeing an expanse of green open up in front of him, kept going. All the way to the edge of Fulham’s box where the temptation to shoot was irresistible.
It was a decent strike, too, thudding into the base of Alphonse Areola’s left post.
Coleman’s blood was up now, the defender leaving plenty on Ademola Lookman in a meaty challenge.
Lookman, to his credit, sprang to his feet but eventually got the free-kick, nonetheless.
The tackle from Coleman, you sensed, was the captain’s way of trying to strike a match under Everton’s performance.
Mason Holgate did similar – and kept it legal – when flying into Decordova-Reid shortly before half-time.
Fulham were ahead in terms of possession and attempts and Everton, not for want of trying, were unable to gain any form of momentum.
Robin Olsen flashed out his left leg to save from Ruben Loftus-Cheek when the midfielder was sent racing through by Harrison Reed’s ball over the top on six minutes.
The flag went up following Olsen’s stop but the Swedish goalkeeper’s intervention was needed regardless. It was a tight call and we saw Southampton’s Danny Ings awarded a goal after originally seeing his finish wiped out for offside in midweek.
Fulham came closest to a first-half goal in the 10th minute.
Ola Aina had failed to control a previous shot when Olsen punched a Reed free-kick into a scrum of bodies.
The next Fulham set-piece was a corner on the left, swung in by Lookman and met with an audacious flick by Reid.
The ball left the inside of the forward’s boot and arced beyond Olsen to strike the foot of the post.
It ran for Aina, whose blast was blocked by Abdoulaye Doucoure.
The break favoured Fulham again, Joachim Andersen the lucky recipient of the rebound but not capitalising on his good fortune with a skied effort from all of eight yards.
Lookman engineered an opportunity for himself, the former Everton player engaging in a neat interchange with Deocrdova-Reid to progress from the left into the heart of Everton’s penalty box.
He tried to deceive Olsen with a strike pulled back towards the front post but the connection wasn’t clean and the ball bobbled wide.
Another attempt from the same player was sent high and wide on an angle from the left – a near replica of a previous strike from Reed.
Fulham’s ninth shot was their first on target – if Loftus-Cheek’s effort when subsequently flagged offside is discounted – and it put them in front.
Aina advanced from left-back, underlapping to receive a return pass from Lookman.
The former Chelsea defender’s delivery was hard and low and the hitherto subdued Maja slid in to convert into an empty net.
Ancelotti was proactive, allowing only seven minutes when the flow remained unaltered – and Holgate cleared crucially ahead of Maja following another Aina delivery – before making a double change.
King and Michael Keane – previously teammates with both Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers – came on for Coleman and Tom Davies.
The touchline conversation Ancelotti held with Gylfi Sigurdsson at the same time evidently involved instructions for the Icelander to retreat to a deep midfield position.
King joined Richarlison up front and Holgate shuffled across to right-back – with Doucoure the player given most licence to break from Everton’s engine room.
Still, Fulham came again, Loftus-Cheek powering forwards but down in the mouth when Lookman blazed the square pass over the top.
The visitors weren't deterred, however, and gave themselves a valuable cushion with 25 minutes remaining.
Lookman was involved again, carrying the ball down the left before retuning a pass backwards for Reed.
His shot skipped off the turf and was awkward for Olsen, who pushed it onto the post and would have rued his misfortune seeing the ball land at Maja’s feet.
The striker’s task, again, was very straightforward indeed.
Everton penned Fulham back for the closing stages, winning a handful of threatening set-pieces and flooding crosses into the box.
King turned in neatly from Gomes’ delivery but was offside and Fulham were focused and strong in their late rearguard effort.
When Keane did direct a header on target from Holgate’s cross the save for Areola was comfortable.
Everton have developed a habit for finding the right answers when their mettle is tested and will lean on those memories as they try to strike back again.