Everton really are beyond parody at times. The “Everton, that” phenomenon has been a running joke on social media for years, a product of the relentless mediocrity and fallibility that has plagued the club for the past three decades, and it was made for days like these.
Given that Fulham FC came into this game with their relegation back to the Championship confirmed, without so much as a point from their last nine Premier League matches and with just one clean sheet to their name — earned against the only team worse in the division, Huddersfield — all season, was there anything more nailed on than what played out at Craven Cottage today?
Credit should be given to Scott Parker and his team. Relieved of the pressure of a battle to avoid to the drop that has, realistically, been doomed for weeks, Fulham were energetic, physical and became increasingly confident once it became apparent that the visitors were having a day to forget.
After a first half in which they had given the Blues a couple of scares, the Cottagers really should have been put in their place in the second half after Marco Silva had delivered the kind of half-time team talk that spurred the second-half display against Chelsea last month that ignited what looked to have been a strong charge to finish in seventh place.
Instead, the home side came out of the interval and immediately scored and Everton essentially descended into the kind of irredeemably awful display that you really hoped had been consigned to the history of this frustrating season. It’s hard to pick out anyone in royal blue who emerged from the match with much credit; Bernard was, perhaps, the stand-out performer among the outfield players and apart from some wayward kicking and one near disaster, Jordan Pickford earned his corn but this was, collectively, as bad a game as Silva’s men have had all season.
Indeed, from an attacking perspective, there was almost nothing of note to report from their 100-odd minutes of “action”. It was appalling just how ineffective Everton were going forward; Richarlison was utterly ineffective, Gylfi Sigurdsson lethargic and erratic, Idrissa Gueye and Andre Gomes well off their best.
Against a recognisably awful goalkeeper in Sergio Rico and a defence already breached 76 times before today, Everton managed just one shot on target. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, lauded almost universally for his robust and effective outing against Arsenal last weekend, could have scored twice but his run was a fraction late in the first half as he strained to meet Seamus Coleman’s ball across the face of goal and he clipped a gilt-edged opportunity the wrong side of the post in the second that would have made it 1-1.
Other than that, there was a chance for Gueye to slip Sigurdsson in for a clear run at goal but he elected to shoot instead and, somewhat predictably, ballooned it into the stands while substitute Cenk Tosun was similarly wayward with a first-time effort in the dying minutes of the regulation 90 before eight uneventful minutes of stoppage time.
Instead, it was all about Ryan Babel and Aleksander Mitrovic for Fulham. The Serbian striker, finding all sorts of space and getting all manner of joy against Phil Jagielka — the veteran had kept his place despite Michael Keane’s return to fitness but he couldn’t handle Mitrovic at all — rattled the crossbar and forced a point-blank reaction save from Pickford in the first half as the Toffees’ set-piece vulnerabilities returned.
Babel, meanwhile, came alive in the second period, setting up Tom Cairney to score within 30 seconds of the restart and then galloping away into oceans of space behind Everton’s lead-footed back line to dink the ball over Pickford and make it 2-0 with 21 minutes to go.
There was ample time for Everton to summon some kind of reaction and, against the second-worst team in the Premier League, they could probably have salvaged a point or even won the game if they had been able to muster any of the form that had them coming into this match seeking a fourth successive win.
Their response was almost comically bad, with players seemingly unable to even control a routine pass and even three changes from Silva that saw the ineffective Sigurdsson withdrawn in favour of Ademola Lookman and then Tosun and Theo Walcott introduced for Bernard and Richarlison failed to improve the fare.
Had Gomes been sent off for leaving his studs on Mitrovic’s ankle late on, it really would have set the seal on a horrible afternoon from the Blues’ perspective — his transgression was unseen by referee Lee Probert — but there was enough on show to resurface all of those concerns over the mentality and fortitude of this group of players. Even on a bad day, Everton should have come away with a draw at worst.
With Manchester United coming to Goodison Park next, there is an opportunity for the home crowd to rouse them out of their torpor and ensure that this game was an aberration in Everton’s recent revival since early February (St James’s Park aside). Long-term, however, it seems that the depressingly familiar tendency for Blues teams to descend into maddening disarray lives on regardless of the occupant of the technical area and eradicating it will be one of Silva’s big challenges.
Everton are up against London opposition for the fourth successive game as they travel to Craven Cottage to face Fulham.
The Blues are bidding to make it four wins on the bounce on their latest visit to the Capital where they must travel once more to face Crystal Palace before the final fixture of the campaign at Tottenham's new stadium.
They take on a Fulham side that recently had their relegation back to the Championship confirmed and while Scott Parker has only been installed as caretaker boss, they will already be preparing for a tilt at bouncing straight to the Premier League once more.
The Cottagers' season contrasts starkly with that of Wolves, another promoted club that spent heavily last season but was able to assemble a more cohesive team under a manager who has earned plenty of admirers.
Claudio Ranieri, meanwhile, had to be drafted in to replace Slaviša Jokanović who didn't last until Christmas but the former Leicester manager was dismissed himself in February after results failed to improve.
They come into this weekend with the pressure off but also on the back of a nine-match losing streak. Indeed, since beating Huddersfield at the end of last year Fulham have only one once, a 4-2 win over Brighton at the end of January.
Resigned to their fate, they gave title-chasing Liverpool a stern test four weeks ago and that should indicate to Marco Silva and his men that they won't be able to coast through this one.
In terms of team selection, the Portuguese will have his sights trained on the bid to finish in seventh place which is just a point away, although Wolves have played a game fewer. In that respect, he has been making as few changes as necessary and Phil Jagielka certainly gave him something to think about with his match-winning performance against Arsenal last Sunday.
The club skipper, stepped into the void created by Michael Keane's illness and scored the only goal against the Gunners but Keane is available again and could reclaim his place. Elsewhere in the lineup, few changes are expected.
With five matches to go, Everton's quest to finish as “best of the rest” and, possibly, earn a crack at qualifying for the Europa League is still very much on and a fourth consecutive win for the first time since the early part of the 2016-17 season would keep them very much in the hunt.
“"You grow as a team if you play against the best teams,” Silva said on the subject of European competition in his pre-match press conference. “Playing these type of games, week in and week out, we can grow faster as a squad.
“We have to keep fighting to achieve the best position possible in the table.This is most important for us. Our goal is to improve on the season before and we will keep doing that to the end of the season. Then we will see what it means for us.”
Kick-off: 3pm, Saturday 13 April, 2019
Referee: Lee Probert
Last Time: Fulham 1 - 3 Everton, March 2014
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Zouma, Digne, Gueye, Gomes, Sigurdsson, Bernard, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin