In a week that Carlo Ancelotti had talked up Richarlison as a potential future contender for the Ballon d’Or, two more goals for Dominic Calvert-Lewin in a sparkling attacking display from his team ended Everton’s wait for victory. But only just.
A stirring late Fulham fightback in which Ruben Loftus-Cheek pulled one back after Ivan Cavaleiro’s penalty miss was further confirmation that the Italian’s side still have plenty of room for improvement. Ancelotti had demanded a reaction from his players after three successive defeats in the Premier League and they duly obliged here, although Scott Parker’s battling team could feel slightly hard done by despite falling behind inside the opening minute.
“We need to perform like we did in the second half because we fell short at the start,” was the Fulham manager’s fair assessment.
With Seamus Coleman again sidelined following a recurrence of his hamstring injury, this time Ancelotti turned to Alex Iwobi to fill Everton’s troublesome right flank as a wing-back. It was an intriguing move that looked designed as much to maximise the threat of Richarlison and James Rodríguez in free roles behind Calvert-Lewin as to provide more solidity to his fragile defence due to the presence of Michael Keane, Yerry Mina and Ben Godfrey as a back three.
Everton had conceded seven goals in their three defeats to Southampton, Newcastle and Manchester United after a brilliant start to the campaign when they set the early pace at the top of the table. It was no coincidence that run of defeats also coincided with Richarlison’s absence after his red card against Liverpool in the Merseyside derby and the Brazilian seemed eager to make up for lost time.
Barely 40 seconds had elapsed when Cavaleiro’s header back to Harrison Reed was misplaced and Richarlison seized on his opportunity, gliding into the box before squaring for Calvert-Lewin to bundle home via a couple of deflections.
To their credit, however, Fulham – who selected former Everton players Antonee Robinson and Ademola Lookman in their starting lineup – did not let their heads drop and were level within 14 minutes. Bobby Decordova-Reid had scuffed his previous effort from inside the penalty area but made no mistake after linking up well with Tom Cairney.
But while Everton continued to look shaky at the back, there was no stopping them in attack. Calvert-Lewin was denied his second by the offside flag after touching home Iwobi’s cross although he did not have to wait long for another opportunity. A brilliant run infield from Iwobi created space for Lucas Digne on the opposite flank to deliver an inch-perfect cross that Calvert-Lewin gobbled up expertly to move clear as the Premier League’s top goalscorer with 10 so far this season.
Perhaps feeling left out of all the fun, Rodríguez’s sumptuous pass with the outside of his left boot allowed Digne to pick out Abdoulaye Doucouré’s head to create a third goal that left Fulham with a mountain to climb with over an hour of the match still to play.
Lookman made fewer than 50 appearances for Everton before being sold to RB Leipzig last summer. His return to the Premier League on a season-long loan has given Fulham supporters some hope of avoiding relegation this time – even if his fluffed Panenka penalty in injury-time of their last match against West Ham cost Parker’s side a precious point.
In theory, he should have been able to profit from Iwobi’s inexperience in a defensive role but such was the threat of Digne on the other flank that the former England Under-21 forward was switched to the right for the second half. Parker threw on Loftus-Cheek and Aleksandar Mitrovic with half an hour to play in an attempt to put pressure on Everton’s defence and it was the Chelsea loanee who won a penalty after being brought down by Godfrey.
This time, instead of Lookman, it was Cavaleiro who was entrusted with the spot-kick but the Portuguese forward slipped as he made contact and his effort ballooned embarrassingly over the bar.
Fulham still ensured there would be a frantic finale after Lookman supplied Loftus-Cheek within 60 seconds of the penalty miss, but – much to Ancelotti’s relief – Everton stood firm. “We lost energy in the second half and we had difficulties,” he admitted. Better teams will not be quite so generous.