Steven Pienaar’s early goal was enough for Everton to eke out a 1-0 Premier League win at home to Fulham.
The South African finished a fine team move just after the quarter-hour mark of a first half the home side dominated, although they seemed to tire in a closer second period.
The Toffees stepped up their game in the closing stages, almost grabbed a second but were enied by some good goalkeeping and poor finishing, including a dreadful miss from Marouane Fellaini.
It mattered not in the end as, shorn of Dimitar Berbatov after an injury in the first half, Fulham offered little in the final third. Everton held on for a win that cements their hold on sixth place and puts them three points shy of fourth.
Fulham, meanwhile, stay 11th as Southampton and Norwich City were both beaten.
Martin Jol’s side arrived with a terrible historic record at Goodison – having lost the previous 19 league matches there – and they showed no sign of breaking the habit as Everton dominated from kick-off.
Fellaini should have opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a free header placed straight at Mark Schwarzer, but the hosts went ahead on the quarter-hour mark after a fantastic team goal.
David Moyes’s side were attacking with pace and verve, both full-backs overlapping at will as Leighton Baines and Pienaar gave Stanislav Manolev a torrid time at right-back.
And it was Pienaar who broke the deadlock, rolling the ball past Schwarzer after a lovely passing move that culminated in Seamus Coleman’s cut-back to the unmarked South African.
It seemed Everton would run riot as Nikica Jelavic missed a couple of half-chances, while Pienaar put wide and Fellaini had a rasping finish blocked by his own team-mate Victor Anichebe.
Fulham, who lost Berbatov to injury on the half-hour, did have a couple of half-chances later in the half as replacement Mladen Petric was inches away from converting Kieran Richardson’s cross-shot, while Alexander Kacaniklic saw his finish tipped behind by Tim Howard after an uncharacteristic error by Phil Jagielka.
Having controlled the first half, Everton seemed to ease off in the second, as chances were few and far between for both sides.
Fulham gained confidence, coming forward more and occasionally showing extended spells of possession, with Urby Emanuelson hitting wide nine minutes in.
Everton, meanwhile, were toiling, Phil Jagielka’s header wide from a Baines free-kick as good as it got before the latter stages.
They improved in the final 20 minutes, testing Fulham with a range of set-pieces while Kevin Mirallas had a penalty appeal rejected after a collision with Manolev.
Schwarzer made an excellent stop from a classy Mirallas volley while Anichebe headed just over as Everton moved closer to a second.
That second goal really should have come when a Baines cross completely bypassed Schwarzer and his defence to find Fellaini unmarked at the far post with the goal at his mercy – yet somehow the Belgian put it over the bar.
There was another chance for the hosts to confirm victory as substitute Ross Barkley was denied by another good Schwarzer save, and after winding down the final seconds in the corner Everton claimed victory to push them closer to a Europa League spot.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Mark Schwarzer (Fulham) – The veteran Australian keeper rolled back the years with some fantastic reflex saves to keep the Whites in the game.
Everton: Howard 6, Baines 7, Jagielka 6, Distin 6, Coleman 7, Osman 6, Fellaini 6, Mirallas 7, Pienaar 8, Anichebe 6, Jelavic 5; Subs: Barkley 6
Fulham: Schwarzer 8, Manolev 5, Senderos 7, Hangeland 6, Richardson 6, Emanuelson 6, Karagounis 6, Enoh 6, Kacaniklic 6, Ruiz 6, Berbatov N/A; Subs: Duff 6, Petric 6, Rodallega N/A
- Sports & Recreation
- Steven Pienaar
- Mark Schwarzer
- Marouane Fellaini
- Dimitar Berbatov
- Leighton Baines