Everton returned to the tried and trusted 4-5-1 (really 4-1-4-1) with Osman coming back in after being rotated out of the Uefa Cup victory over Zenit. Yobo was back but injuries to Hibbert and Valente meant that Baines started at left back.
Simon Davies was in the team for the visitors, along with one-time persistent Everton transfer target Sean Davis, but no sign of their other ex-Blue Brian McBride, while Tomas Radzinski moved on at the end of last season to Skoda Xanthi in the Greek Super League.
Everton started brightly, moving the ball around well. Plenty of corners in the early exchanges but few real chances of note, Lescott getting a fine touch on an Arteta corner that went straight to Niemi. Kamara was booked after 12 mins for falling to withdraw 10 yards. Fulham pressed forward occasionally, with corners of their own, but the Blues defence was solid.
A good free kick from Mikel Arteta deflected up off the wall and tested Niemi; Cahill got in a diving header that flashed across the area... and that was about it for goalmouth action.
Perhaps the most telling incident for Everton's immediate future was another injury disaster for the beleaguered defence on 22 minutes as Leighton Baines pulled up with a torn hamstring. Jagielka came on at left back. It signaled something of a change in the game too as Everton struggled to adapt, Lescott eventually swapping with Jagielka, but they looked unsettled at the back. The football became more scrappy in the wet conditions as the half wore on.
Everton pressed harder at the start of the second half. There was a Cahill penalty call but really he just lost his footing. Hwowever, it got the crowd roused and on the next attack, Cahill produced a superb volley from nothing that Niemi could only block away; and there was Aiyegbeni Yakubu to stuck out a foot ... the ball dribbled over the line for the vital opening goal and a massive boost to the crowd.
At the other end, Murphy volleyed well, and Howard saved at full stretch... a much better game of football! A great goalmouth mêlée resulted from Niemei palming the ball away, Yakubu lobbing it back in and Fulham blocking away a series of chances for Lescott and Osman. Fulham responded strongly with Dempsey banging in a good pot-shot that Howard could not catch and a follow-up looked on but Lescott shepherded it away brilliantly.
Osman almost scored and Pienaar followed in, colliding with the keeper in a helter skelter of a match. But a brilliant corner from Arteta was put in fast and flat to Jagielka in a difficult position at the near post and his perfect glanced flick across goal was nailed on for Aiyegbeni Yakubu who nodded it home very nicely. 2-0! It led to a nice sequence of "Ole!" midfield passing from the Blues as they looked to patiently open up Fulham again with possession football on the ground under the rather difficult wet and windy conditions.
Yakabu got a great ball through the defence and ran in on goal, one-on-one, but he chose to play in Arteta on the far side and he failed to connect with a glorious chance under pressure from a defender. Sanchez rang the changes for Fulham in an attempt to turn the game but Yakubu had another run in on goal and was crowded out of producing a decent shot.
But the best goal of the game was still to come, started by a great piece of predation in midfield when three Blues players dispossessed a Fulham player. Carsley and Pienaar initiated some great midfield football, the young South African star playing a nice one-two off Yakubu to get the ball out on the left, from where (and with some great vision) he put Yakubu in on goal with a great through ball (good positional play from The Yak too!) and the big fella did not miss to secure an excellent hat-trick.
Johnson and McFadden came on to replace Cahill and Yakubu for the last ten minutes, a nice gesture by Moyes to perhaps give them a chance to remove the lasting impression of their combined failure to do the business up front against Zenit. Some great play between Arteta and Pienaar set up McFadden for an excellent shot Niemi blocked away by the post. McFadden had a good run in on goal near the end but chose to place it rather going for power.
David Healy very nearly surprised Howard with a good shot at the death but nothing would put a damper on this excellent second-half performance that sealed Everton's 8th win in 10 games unbeaten, their 200th Premier League win, and finally pushes the Blues back up the Premier League table a couple of places into 7th position... and just 3 pts off 3rd!
Aiyegbeni Yakubu notched his first hat-trick in the Royal Blue Jersey as Everton rolled to another emphatic home victory and stretched their unbeaten run to 10 games in all competitions.
The Nigerian striker, withdrawn after an hour against Sunderland two weeks ago with two goals already under his belt, was handed the opportunity by David Moyes to complete a memorable feat this time around and didn't disappoint, rounding off a fine victory with a composed finish with 11 minutes left on the clock.
Yakubu was one of a few expected changes to the team that started against Zenit St Petersburg as Moyes reverted back to the successful 4-1-4-1 formation, moving James McFadden and Andy Johnson to the bench and replacing Phil Jagielka with Joseph Yobo.
Jagielka, though, would find himself back in action just 22 minutes in after Leighton Baines pulled up with a hamstring strain as he chased down a loose ball. The former Sheffield United man was initially deployed at right back and Phil Neville replaced Baines on the left but after a few minutes, Joleon Lescott settled into the left-back berth and Jagielka took up his preferred position in central defence.
Perhaps because of the disruption or the worsening conditions, the positive manner in which Everton had started the game dried up almost immediately after that. In the first quarter of the game, they had looked likely to make an early breakthrough, Lescott forcing Antti Niemi to push out a first-time shot from Mikel Arteta's corner, the Spaniard prompting the Finn to push a deflected direct free-kick over the bar, and Tim Cahill glancing a diving header across goal and past the far post.
The remainder of the half, however, was characterised by sloppy passing, poor decisions and too many long balls that didn't find their intended targets. Thankfully, Fulham, without a win away from home since September 2006 and despite plenty of effort at Goodison today, never really looked like capitalising on the Blues' poor spell. Diamancy Kamara's glancing header bounced across goal early on, Dejan Stefanovic mis-kicked a good volley opportunity when well placed from 12 yards, and Leon Osman did brilliantly to block what looked to be a goalbound effort by ex-Blue Simon Davies, but Moyes's side never really looked in too much danger.
The second half brought a welcome increase in tempo and purpose from Everton and they were rewarded in slightly fortuitous circumstances five minutes after the restart. Cahill was perhaps half a yard offside when he latched onto a chipped ball over the Fulham defence but his volley as the ball dropped over his shoulder was superb and Niemi did well to block the shot with his leg. Unfortunately for him it fell straight to Yakubu who instinctively stuck out a leg and diverted the ball into the empty net.
The Cottagers, sensing another miserable away day, responded with some pressure of their own and Danny Murphy brought the best out of Tim Howard with a low volley that would have crept inside the post had the American not dived to his right and palmed it wide. Three minutes later, he was equal to Clint Dempsey's stinging drive, parrying well despite noticeable swerve on the shot.
At the other end, though, Everton doubled their advantage just past the hour. After Osman's volley had been stopped by Niemi and the ball hacked clear before Steven Pienaar could follow up, the Blues won a corner on their left in front of the Gwladys Street crowd. Arteta swung it in to the near post, Jagielka got the all-import flick and Yakubu was on hand to nod the ball into the top corner. 2-0, game over... damn, we're a good team right now!
From then on it really felt like everyone was waiting for Yakubu to be substituted or for him to get the hat-trick he so richly deserved. Moyes obliged and left his top scorer on the field and after two opportunities — the first he unselfishly laid off to Arteta but the Spaniard was flagged for offside, the second was deflected into the side-netting after he had muscled his way onto a long clearance — got number three.
He had some sterling work from Pienaar to thank. The South African had been a model of industry, skill and vision all game and what he brings to this Everton side was perhaps encapsulated in one move. Tracking back deep into his own half, he dispossessed Ki-Hyeon, exchanged passes with Carsley that took him halfway inside the opposition half, checked, looked up and delivered a perfect through-ball to Yakubu. The striker took the ball in stride, cut it back past his marker and onto his right foot and calmly fired it past Niemi into the far corner.
That was the manager's cue to give both he and Cahill a rest and he threw on Andy Johnson and James McFadden for the final 8 minutes. While AJ didn't really get a sight on goal — story of so much of his Everton life, poor lad — McFadden had two opportunities to make it four.
His first, the result of a delightful move down the right involving Pienaar and Arteta as the Blues seemed to be toying with their hapless opponents, was a first time shot that Niemi pushed behind at the near post. The second came as he took advantage of the space that opened up in front him and barrelled into the Fulham area but his shot was tame and Niemi smothered it.
All in all, not the greatest of performances but with injuries disrupting the defence and the match against St Petersburg in midweek no doubt exacting some toll on the players you could forgive them, particularly given the emphatic nature of the victory.
Indeed, the result served to underline just how strong this Everton side now is and credit must go to Moyes for what he has built. After a number of false starts and plenty to criticise at times, he has moulded the players he has signed into a very strong unit. When you're as hard to beat as the Blues currently are — thanks in large part to the unsung Lee Carsley and the world-class duo of Yobo and Lescott — you really only have to worry about getting it done in attack... and with the talent that exists in the likes of Pienaar, Cahill, Arteta, Osman, Yakubu, Anichebe, Vaughan and Johnson, that hasn't often been a problem of late.
Of course, it shouldn't be forgotten that there is a bit of fragility to that midfield unit — it's no coincidence that this terrific run of form started with the return of Cahill and that without Arteta we're clearly not the same side — so January will be key to our hopes of really pushing on and making a first trophy in 12 years or repeat qualification for Europe a real chance. But for now it's a fantastic time to be a Blue.
With Uefa Cup football already guaranteed for the New Year following Wednesday's narrow victory over Zenit St Petersburg, Everton return to the bread and butter of the Premier League this weekend with the visit of Fulham.
And more changes are likely to be in store as David Moyes juggles his playing staff to cope with four fixtures in 10 days. Joseph Yobo missed the midweek win with an ankle injury and must, therefore, be considered a doubt for Saturday as well but Alan Stubbs is definitely ruled out with a calf strain.
The manager will more than likely revert to the 4-5-1 formation that has been so successful in the league since the return of Tim Cahill and that could either mean another start for Andy Johnson up front, a return for Yakubu who was a spectator against Zenit, or even a first start of the campaign for James Vaughan.
A switch back to a five-man midfield will likely mean a recall for Leon Osman, with the other midfielders unchanged, and, depending on Yobo's fitness, the back line might also go unaltered as well.
Despite leading the top flight's "half-time table" until last weekend (i.e. if matches ended after 45 minutes, they would have been top of the table), Fulham have made their worst ever start to a Premier League season, picking up just 13 points from 15 games so far.
Their seemingly entrenched propensity for throwing away points in the second half, often in the final quarter of an hour, won't stand them in good stead against Everton who are currently one of the most lethal teams in the closing stages. Indeed, the Portsmouth game aside, Moyes's side have scored late goals in each of their last five outings.
Given that Lawrie Sanchez's men have yet to win and have scored just four goals away from home this season, this match offers Everton a great opportunity to notch their third successive home league win, extend their unbeaten run to 10 games, and secure their 200th victory since the inception of the Premier League.
May appear here later
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2007-08 Reports Index|
|When Skies Are Grey||Report|
|Everton fans' reports|
|Other media reports|
|4 the Game||Report|
|Baines (22' Jagielka)|
|Cahill (82' Johnson)|
|Yakubu (82' McFadden)|
|Subs not used|
|Murphy (74' Ki-Hyeon)|
|Dempsey (64' Healy)|
|Subs not used|
|Premier League Scores|
|Saturday 8 December 2007|
|Sunday 9 December 2007|
|Premier League Table|
|After 9 Dec 2007|