Fulham look doomed as Everton keep up Top Four chase
Published 30/03/2014 | 15:46
Everton won the battle of the substitutes to keep the pressure on Arsenal for a Champions League place and send Fulham closer to relegation.
Both managers saw their changes pay dividends, but it was Everton substitutes Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas who netted the goals that moved their side four points behind fourth-placed Arsenal with a game in hand.
Half-time substitute Naismith had forced an unfortunate own-goal from Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale, before Ashkan Dejagah had stepped off the bench to smash an equaliser past Tim Howard.
But Mirallas made no mistake after being put through by Aiden McGeady and Naismith netted Everton’s third goal from close range, much to the delight of manager Roberto Martinez.
Bottom-of-the-table Fulham are now five points off safety with just six games remaining, which looks impossible to make up.
Manager Felix Magath handed a first start to 17-year-old striker Moussa Dembele and gave Lewis Holtby the licence to push forwards to support the teenager.
The plan worked well in the first half, as both Holtby and Dembele caused problems for the visitors’s defence.
Holtby shot over the bar after just three minutes and then tried to find Dembele with a high cross into the box. Fulham appealed that Sylvain Distin had handled the ball in his own area, before James McCarthy managed to clear.
From the resulting corner, Holtby picked out Brede Hangeland and the defender should have done better than head wide.
Dembele produced a fantastic touch to give Kieran Richardson a great chance 10 yards out, but the midfielder’s shot was saved by the feet of Tim Howard.
Howard was called into action again in the 28th minute, as he tipped a Holtby header over the bar after the German had been found by John Arne Riise.
Holtby once more turned creator on the stroke of half-time, but Dembele sent his header straight at Howard at the back post.
Everton only forced Stockdale into one meaningful save during the first period, as he stopped Gerard Deulofeu scoring on the counter-attack.
England manager Roy Hodgson was in the Craven Cottage stands to cast an eye over, among others, Ross Barkley. But the midfielder was replaced by Naismith at the break due to a suspected calf injury.
Six minutes into the second half, Naismith celebrated the goal that broke the deadlock and gave Everton the lead. But it was Stockdale who had put the ball into his own net.
Naismith produced a powerful volley from a Richardson headed clearance and the ball took a deflection off William Kvist and Gareth Barry, before bouncing into the net off Stockdale.
It was a cruel goal for Fulham and Stockdale to concede, and Everton should have extended their lead shortly afterwards when Leighton Baines just failed to give Romelu Lukaku an easy tap in.
Stockdale then saved well from Lukaku after Magath had sent on Dejagah and Cauley Woodrow to rescue something from the game for Fulham.
If Naismith’s immediate impact for Everton had been impressive, Dejagah’s was simply spectacular as he scored a stunning equaliser only seven minutes after stepping off the bench.
Having cut in from the left, Dejagah unleashed an unstoppable right-foot shot that gave Howard no chance. The 27-year-old celebrated by running straight to a member of staff in the Fulham dug-out.
Howard twice denied Fulham the lead in the space of two minutes, first saving from former Everton defender John Heitinga, who was found unmarked by Holtby, and then stopping a Pajtim Kasami effort.
Those saves proved to be vital, as Everton went ahead again with 11 minutes remaining and it was another substitute, Mirallas, who made a telling contribution.
McGeady, who had been sent on in place of Leon Osman, was given far too much space to pick his pass and the midfielder sent Mirallas through on goal to score past Stockdale.
Naismith put the result beyond doubt by prodding in a cross from Leighton Baines after more good work from Mirallas.