This Fulham side could be used as a personality test. Did this shockingly straightforward 2-0 win at Everton extend their current run of decent form to just three Premier League defeats in 12 matches, or did it end a shocking run of 12 matches without a Premier League win?
Obviously it did both, but you already knew that. It’s a fascinating run of form, though, and whatever it is it’s certainly a vast improvement on where Fulham were in the early weeks of the season and, frankly, where anyone expected them to get to. Since losing 3-2 in the reverse fixture against Everton in November, at which point Fulham had lost seven of nine games on their return to the top flight, the Cottagers have lost only to Manchester City, Manchester United, Leicester and Chelsea. Four of the current top five, in other words.
Across the season as a whole, they have now lost the same number of games as people’s heroes Leeds. And today they recorded a win of such calm and assured dominance that you really couldn’t quite believe this was a side that started the season being slapped silly by Arsenal, Leeds and Villa against one with genuine top-four aspirations.
It’s a remarkable turnaround. And if the vast number of draws on the ledger means survival is still the longest of long shots, Fulham have at the very least put up a decent fight and, on this evidence, should give supporters plenty more to cheer come what may before the season is out. In a variation on the old “Play like this every week and they’ll be fine” punditry staple, if Fulham play like this every week they’ll be… much better than they were in the first two months of the season and much more entertaining than they’ve been ever since.
This was not just a seriously good performance from a side still facing near-certain relegation. It needed no such caveat; this was just a very good Premier League performance. Champions League-chasing Everton were second best in all departments, with the second of Josh Maja’s goals on his full debut for Fulham driving that point home. He was one of two Fulham players following in Harrison Reid’s shot when it came back off the post; there was no Everton defender in sight.
There was some mitigation for Everton. The absence of Dominic Calvert-Lewin was keenly felt, his now Harry Kane-like importance to this side highlighted here not just in the way his own direct contributions were missed but in the reduced effectiveness those who usually play off him. Gylfi Sigurdsson, so good in the FA Cup against Spurs in midweek, was barely involved, James Rodriguez even less so and Richarlison an often forlorn and isolated figure attempting to replicate Calvert-Lewin’s central role and proving a thoroughly inadequate understudy.
The 120 minutes of that rollercoaster FA Cup clash with Spurs may also explain a certain amount of the lethargy in Everton’s performance here.
Yet to dwell on these factors, significant as they may be, would be to overlook the sheer scale of Fulham’s superiority on the day. They were immaculate across the pitch, with Ademola Lookman thoroughly enjoying his return to Goodison and Maja, incongruously, climbing to joint fourth on the Cottagers’ leading scorers’ list in a single afternoon.
It all raises the issue of just how impressive can things be in a season that ends in relegation? Fulham are still not remotely on course for survival – it’s still only 11 points from the last 12 games for all the improvement – but it’s not hard now to see that points-per-game record ticking upwards if the solidity remains and Maja can build on this performance. Scott Parker looks certain now to end the season with reputation enhanced, and if certain other teams don’t pull their finger out quite soon it could even end in what would surely be the greatest of all Premier League escapes.
It’s not out of the question. They will encounter few teams as hospitable as Everton were, but they don’t necessarily need to on this evidence. This was not a scoreline that flattered Fulham in the slightest.
Burnley, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace are up next for Parker’s side. Respectable and understandable failure remains by far the likeliest ultimate outcome, but the possibility of something extraordinary persists.
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