Kevin Mirallas was declared fit and thankfully started the game playing on the right, with Steven Pienaar back in the side after his one-match suspension. Johnny Heitinga is preferred in defence for Sylvain Distin, who is on the bench, where Duffy was a late replacement for Anichebe, who was unwell.
After a bright start with three Everton shots on goal, Neville fouled Berbatov and Ruiz curled in a good free-kick around the wall that Howard could only push onto the post and in off the back of his head. An early goal given up again!
Everton pressed but looked poor at the back when Fulham broke and Berbatov ended up shooting at Howard. Baines got a good run in but was blocked, as the Blues continued to press the home side but with no real end product.
Everton's first corner was delivered fast but a little low from Baines, and Osman made his third shot from a little too far out. Fulham finally got some meaningful possession after 19 mins, a sign of Everton's dominance in possession, Diara then cut down Osman.
Pienaar playing down the right got a decent cross in but Jelavic was beaten to it by Schwarzer. Pienaar won another corner with at least five Everton players waiting for his cross. But Baines's delivery was again defended away and it was soon Fulham's chance from a corner, also defended away.
Ruiz tried to curl one from the corner of the Everton box that was well wide. Coleman then put in a good cross but Fellaini didn't seem to react, and Baines won another corner, this time from the left but Schwarzer punched it away. Jagielka fired a ball in direct at Jelavic but his first touch on a difficult ball let him down. Everton kept working hard, winning another corner that caused more danger but no goal.
More excellent direct ground play saw Fellaini almost put Jelavic in, and then a great cross from Baines after a glorious one-two with Pienaar but Jelavic chose to head it and botched a good chance very badly. Coleman danced in from the right and fired in low and hard but too close to Schwarzer. Riise was then booked for taking out Coleman.
Another dangerous free-kick given away but Fulham elected to clip it in and the turnover allowed Everton to attack again, Fellaini being denied as he drew back to fire. Jagielka then lashed one in that was almost deflected inside the Fulham goal. Another corner and then another ball in too close to Schwarzer.
Another incredible chance for Jelavic on a lucky backpass that fell in his path and normally he would have gladly chipped home but this time hit it far too hard.
No changes for the second half. Everton resumed the offensive, with Jelavic and Fellaini exchanging passes, out to Mirallas for a good cross and another shot from Osman, blocked. A brilliant free-kick, glanced by Jagielka, and Heitinga bizarrely 1 yard out either allowed it to bounce through and in or totally missed it. Whatever, the best chance of the game, totally squandered!
At he other end, Riise's low cross went past four Everton players but thankfully no Fulham shirts anywhere near it. A dreadful Jelavic midfield reverse giveaway saw Everton in all sorts of trouble at the back.
Finally, the Belgians came together, to put Everton back in the game. A brilliant Mirallas run in and superb textbook cutback from the byeline that Marouane Fellaini side footed neatly into the back of the net. 1 - 1 and all to play for...
Berbatov did very well to get in on Howard who palmed away his shot brilliantly. Riise was then replaced by Dejagah, and Fulham noticeably upped their game in response, making it an absorbing contest that could still go either way, despite Blues dominance. Pienaar fired one in from distance that flew past the near post.
Another brilliant cross from Mirallas should have been converted by Pienaar close in but Schwarzer got a vital fingertip to divert the ball away from him. Maddeningly, good play by Everton saw Jelavic hanging out wide when he should have been waiting on the penalty spot.
Jelavic was given a better chance as Fellaini rolled the ball in to him but he delayed the first-time strike the ball needed, allowing a defender to put him off. Jol then switched K with Sidwell. Mirallas turned well but too long to think about it and blasted wide.
Another glorious move wasted as Mirallas again centered, the ball falling awkwardly to Osman who blasted well wide. And again, the almost identical move saw Mirallas's cross astoundingly evade everyone. But finally, the [pressure paid off down the left channel, off a Jagielka hoofball that Fellaini controlled brilliantly despite pressure, and he fired Everton into the most deserved lead. You gotta love Everton's long-ball game!!!
Baird got yellow for a foul on Pienaar. Petric on for Diarra. Osman tried a stooping header from Baines's free-kick and was not too far away. Hangealand got an almost free header that he put over. Would Everton try to shut up shop or work for that third goal? Naismith replacing Mirallas suggested that the offensive pressure would continue into the final 10 mins.
Fellaini almost got it, clipping one off the post, Naismith unable to divert the rebound away from Baird who was left with a simple goal line clearance. Osman then fouled someone for a yellow card.
Naismith laid in a brilliant cross that fellaini volleyed first-time into the top corner for his hat-trick but somehow Schwarzer had it covered and clawed it away. Berbatov tried to again get behind the Everton defence but it was defended away.
Naismith was presented with a glorious chance but his ground shot was far too easily saved by Schwarzer. Jelavic finally went off in the 89th minute, replaced by Distin, and what we have we hope to hold...
But immediately, inside 30 seconds, the newly strengthened defencive line failed miserably as Fulham tied it up, Sidwell in behind Coleman (who ran into a wall of Fulham players in midfield and lost possession to startt the move) at the far post as the Blues squandered another two points in yet another draw, but it was enough to put them back above Spurs in fourth.
They've been beaten just once in the Premier League since March. They've created more chances so far this season than anyone else, not just in England but across the top leagues in Europe, scored 19 goals, are playing some wonderful football at times and currently lie 4th in the Premier League after 10 games.
Ingredients, you'd think, for an ecstatic fanbase. And yet, most Evertonians will be absolutely pig sick tonight after Fulham grabbed an entirely undeserved draw from as lopsided an encounter as the Blues have experienced at Craven Cottage in living memory. Steve Sidwell's last-minute equaliser represented the eighth point that David Moyes's side have dropped in their last four games, and the level of frustration that pervades the thinking of many Blues looking at the table with a quarter of the season gone is a mark of just how far this team has come in 2012.
With better luck, competent officiating and, certainly, better defending and finishing, Everton might well be right up amongst the Premier League leaders instead of seven points off the pace. The scandalous refereeing decisions that robbed them of three points against Newcastle, Wigan and QPR; the abysmal defending that gifted Liverpool a two-goal head start last Sunday; and the profligacy in front of goal this afternoon that should have seen the Blues wrap up three points all stick in the craw. Perm two or three victories from any of those five games and Moyes's boys would be fourth by a clear margin and breathing down the necks of the top three with three favourable fixtures still to come in November.
All "what ifs", of course, but that is how close this Everton team is to being a real force. And if this run of four games without a win — but, equally, it's a run without defeat — is as poor a run as the Blues experience between now and May then this is going to be an exciting season.
Key injuries and what, at present, is a frustratingly porous defence by Moyes's standards, still threaten to ruin the Champions League dream, though. For the fifth game in succession — six if you count the debacle at Elland Road in the League Cup — Everton ceded the first goal to the opposition and, by logical extension, they've had to chase the game in all six, often from early on in the proceedings.
On this occasion, the opposition scored with their first kick of the match after just six minutes. Everton had completely controlled the opening exchanges and already had three shots blocked before they could trouble Mark Schwarzer before Steven Pienaar's ill-advised pass left Leon Osman stranded and Phil Neville clumsily felled Dimitar Berbatov in a dangerous area just outside the penalty area.
Bryan Ruiz whipped an excellent direct free kick that was creeping inside the post before Tim Howard got a half-hearted hand to it to guide it onto the post. Unfortunately, the ball cannoned off the woodwork, hit the American and ricocheted into the net. Whether he felt for a split second it was going wide or that he might collide with the post if he continued to dive full-length, Howard seemed to pull out of the save and he didn't get the full purchase on the ball that replays would show he might have.
Set back but undeterred, the Blues resumed their near total control of the game for the remainder of the first half. Their hosts would have two more efforts on goal in the next 39 minutes but though the rest of the first half story was all about Moyes's Everton, they couldn't find a way through Fulham before the break.
For periods, the conundrum seemed to surround the left flank, where Pienaar returned after serving a one-game suspension to resume his partnership with Leighton Baines. After his star turn in the first 45 minutes in the derby last weekend, though, it seemed as though Kevin Mirallas was more comfortable on the left than the right as well and Moyes again tinkered with the formation this afternoon, switching the two wide men as early as the quarter-hour mark with mixed results.
The result was constant pressure from Everton but little further by way of clear threat to the Fulham goal in the first half hour apart from a low Marouane Fellaini shot that Mark Schwarzer saved in the 11th minute and another effort by the Belgian that was deflected behind for a corner.
10 minutes before the break, though, Nikica Jelavic was presented with a terrific chance to shake off his recent malaise when Baines picked him out with a cross from the left but the Croatian made a mess of the downward header and it bounced wide and high of the far post.
Seamus Coleman then tested the 'keeper with a left-foot shot after cutting in from the right flank but Schwarzer again made a comfortable stop and Jagielka then saw a rasping drive deflected inches past the upright three minutes before the interval.
Perhaps the Blues' best chance of the first 45 minutes came on the stroke of half time, though, when an error by Chris Baird presented him with a loose ball with just Schwarzer to beat but he clipped his shot over the bar from a difficult angle.
The second half brought no change to the pattern of the game; Everton just started creating more chances and it owed much to more scintillating form from Mirallas who suddenly clicked back into his role on the right flank and started terrorising Fulham's defence on a regular basis.
The equaliser would come early in the second period but it really should have arrived sooner after Sascha Riether had handled under pressure from Fellaini on the left side. Baines swung in the free kick that Jagielka glanced on dangerously right across the face of goal but somehow neither John Heitinga nor Fellaini made contact in front of the open net.
The big forward would make no mistake eight minutes later, though, when Coleman fed Mirallas down the right flank and the tricky Belgian drove into the box before cutting the ball back to Fellaini who side-footed emphatically home from eight yards out.
Howard ensured that the Blues didn't fall behind almost immediately with a brilliant one-handed stop at the other end after Berbatov had beat the offside trap and tried to smash the ball into the top corner, and Everton resumed their grip on the game.
Pienaar rippled the side-netting with an arrowed drive from the corner of the penalty box, Mirallas came within inches of teeing up Pienaar but his low cross was too close to the 'keeper, and Riether possibly prevented Everton from going ahead in the 65th minute when he forced Jelavic into sliding the ball wide after nice hold-up play by Fellaini.
Two more threatening balls across then face of goal from Mirallas went begging before his compatriot, Fellaini, put the visitors in front with 18 minutes left on the clock. The Belgian chested down a long ball forward by Jagielka in typical fashion, bamboozled his way past Baird and despatched a low shot inside Schwarzer's post to send the visiting fans into delirium.
Though Mirallas had been tearing the Londoners to shreds, Moyes elected to substitute him in the 80th minute, perhaps as a precaution following his ankle injury, but his withdrawal didn't seem to blunt Everton's attacking machine. Some of the post-match dissection of the game surrounded that decision to remove the chief attacking threat; the rest revolved around the addition of Sylvain Distin to the defence with a minute to go. Fulham scored the killer equaliser just 30 seconds later but while the bulk of the blame probably falls on Coleman anyway, the game should have been put to bed in the preceding 10 minutes.
Indeed, Fulham three times escaped falling further behind in the closing stages. First, Fellaini's attempted cross bounced off a defender and onto the post; then Schwarzer was forced into an excellent save from Fellaini's equally impressive volley from Steven Naismith's cross; and Naismith himself should have put the game beyond doubt with two minutes left with the whole goal to aim at, the Scot shot too close to the 'keeper and his effort was saved.
There had been little over 89 minutes to suggest that the home side would get anything from this game but when Coleman was caught dribbling forward in his own half when a ball forward might have been more advisable, Fulham worked the ball out to their right side. Riether drove the ball hard and low across the face of Howard's goal, Berbatov missed it but substitute Steve Sidwell stole in at the back post where Coleman was caught unawares and converted from close range.
A sickener for Everton who had dominated this game in startling fashion. Fulham began the day in seventh and could have leapfrogged the Blues in the table with a victory but Moyes's men completely played them off their own park. This should have been three very valuable points in the quest to finish in the top four but a silly free kick early on, erratic finishing, and poor defending at te death cost them another two points.
Certainly, central midfield remains a concern, where Neville continues to be mostly adequate but costly with clumsy challenges in key areas in front of the back foor. Without a clean sheet since the win at Swansea, the defence has shipped seven goals in the last four games. And though refereeing incompetence has robbed the Blues of victory on more than one occasion this season, missed chances up front have been just as important as factors in this annoying run of four consecutive draws.
On the positive side, home games against bottom-half Sunderland and Norwich and an away date at struggling Reading offer the ideal opportunity to start getting victories on the board again. Jelavic's iffy patch won't last forever, particularly if Mirallas is going to be such a dangerous weapon from the flanks, and while Fellaini is fit and in the kind of mood he was today, particularly in the second half, the team will continue to score goals.
Moyes still has work to do to solve these problems and tighten up his first-choice line-up and as annoying as the recent dropped points have been, there is no question that fourth place is a better platform to be working from than the 16th-place berth that Everton occupied at this time last year.
Without a win in three games now — although still on a really impressive run of just one Premier League defeat since March — Everton are back in the Capital with a visit to Craven Cottage to face a Fulham side who lie just two points behind the Blues.
Controversial draws against Wigan, QPR and Liverpool have seen David Moyes's side slip away from the three leading clubs but a run of four fixtures against teams lower in the table offers an opportunity to get back to winning ways.
Having gone decades without winning on Fulham's home turf, the Blues under Moyes have won twice there in their last four visits, the second of which came last season in a 3-1 victory... albeit one secured with goals by three players who are no longer with the club.
Of course, Royston Drenthe and Louis Saha have been amply replaced by Kevin Mirallas and Nikica Jelavic respectively, but central midfield has been a problematic area for Everton this season since Darron GIbson succumbed to a thigh tendon injury that has kept him sidelined for two months now.
The pace of the Irishman's recovery has been painfully slow and it's unlikely he will be ready to face the Cottagers this weekend, leaving Moyes with familiar options in the middle. Phil Neville and Leon Osman have been hit and miss together in the interim, with extra pressure seemingly put on the defence when the makeshift pairing hasn't been functioning as hoped.
Going forward, though, the Blues are still scoring goals, having only been blanked on one occasion so far this season and averaging two goals a game in their last four outings. Mirallas is a doubt, however, for this weekend after suffering heavy bruising to his foot when Luis Suarez's unpunished stamp took him out of the derby at the half-way stage last Sunday. The Belgian was electric in the first half against Liverpool but he has only a chance of playing at Fulham according to David Moyes.
Steven Pienaar is back, however, after missing the derby through suspension, and that would likely mean a like-for-like swap with Mirallas on the left flank and Steven Naismith keeping his place on the right.
Elsewhere in the side, Tony Hibbert is fit again, but it remains to be seen whether he will be preferred to Seamus Coleman who has been settling back into his original right back role in the veteran's absence.
This is never an easy game for Everton who never really look comfortable in the smaller confines of the more compact grounds like Craven Cottage and Loftus Road. Fulham certainly have their tails up under Martin Jol and will be buouyed by the fact that danger man Dimitar Berbatov has been passed fit.
Jol's side would leapfrog the Blues in the table with victory but a win for Everton would get their hopes of a Champions League-qualifying finish on track.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2012-13 Reports Index|
|Everton fans' reports|
|Riise:38' (59' Dejagah)|
|Diarra:61' (76' Petric)|
|Kacaniklic (68' Sidwell)|
|Subs not used|
|5||West Bromwich Albion||17|
|9||West Ham United||15|
|19||Queens Park Rangers||4|