Blues took the lead by two second half Fulham goals settles tie
Different manager, same old story. No matter who occupies the Goodison hotseat, the League Cup continues to prove a problem for Everton.
Roberto Martinez saw his unbeaten start to his reign brought to a shuddering halt by Capital One Cup defeat at Fulham last night.
Steven Naismith, matchwinner against Chelsea 10 days earlier, continued his purple patch with the opening goal on 12 minutes.
But a much-changed Everton surrendered the lead nine minutes after the interval as Dimitar Berbatov pounced before Darren Bent notched the winner on 68 minutes with his first touch since emerging from the bench.
This was a genuine game of two halves for Martinez’s men. Brimming with confidence during an opening stanza in which the on-loan Gerard Deulofeu shone brightest, Everton merited more than their one-goal advantage.
Yet an inability to further capitalise on such dominance – a shortcoming that has nagged during recent weeks – finally proved costly as the Londoners slowly eked their way back into the match before landing the two telling blows.
So ends one road to Wembley, this the first setback of the fledgling Martinez era against a Fulham side that had lost five of their previous six home games.
And the away supporters who trudged out of Craven Cottage were left to wonder what might have been had Martinez not chosen to rotate his resources, his second-string ultimately fluffing their lines on audition.
The Spaniard making eight changes from the side that earned a 3-2 win at West Ham United at the weekend.
It meant first full debuts for deadline day signings James McCarthy and Romelu Lukaku, the latter having emerged from the bench to score a brave winner at Upton Park.
And there was a welcome return for Darron Gibson after the Republic of Ireland international had been sidelined since suffering a niggling knee injury in pre-season against Real Betis six weeks ago.
Gibson was pinpointed as a key cog in the machine by Martinez over the summer, only to see Ross Barkley, Leon Osman and then new arrivals McCarthy and Gareth Barry stake their claims in a competitive central midfield.
But he and the rest of the Everton team made hay during an opening quarter in which they were brighter, bolder and better than their opponents.
The first real opportunity came in the 12th minute when Lukaku held up the ball before playing Naismith in behind the defence only for the Scot to shoot too close to Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale.
Practice, though, made perfect. And less than 60 seconds later a similar move, with this time Deulofeu given the freedom of Craven Cottage to play his pass, fed Naismith who made no mistake having been played onside by the dozing John Arne Riise.
With Deulofeu’s quick footwork and lightning turn of pace tormenting the panicky Fulham backline, Everton were dominant.
Sylvain Distin met a corner from the on-loan Spaniard with a header that Elsad Zverotic, standing on the goalline, unwisely elected to leave, the Fulham defender then relieved when the ball bounced off him and struck the outside of the post.
From the resulting corner, a stretching John Heitinga then almost converted from close range.
Naismith, a busy threat down the left, took too long before getting a shot off that was blocked by Brede Hangeland, and later drove an ambitious effort into the side-netting.
Deulofeu was close to the goal his first-half play deserved seven minutes before the break but, having lost Riise for the umpteenth time, saw his fierce cross-shot turned behind by the fingertips of Stockdale.
Everton were rarely troubled in defence, despite Berbatov signalling with one early sprint – yes, you read that right – he was on his game.
And it was the Bulgarian who came nearest for the hosts before the interval but Everton were grateful his header from a Giorgos Karagounis corner was too high.
Fulham were significantly closer four minutes after the restart. A jinking run from former Liverpool youngster Alex Kacaniklic fashioned an opening down the inside right channel and the winger’s drive was beaten out by Everton goalkeeper Joel Robles.
And the Cottagers lively start to the second half was rewarded with a goal on 54 minutes.
With Everton failing to clear their lines properly, Seamus Coleman beat Adel Taarabt to Pajtim Kasami’s probing pass but the Irishman’s challenge broke kindly for Berbatov who, 10 yards out, swept the ball beyond Robles.
Suddenly the dynamic of the game had changed. Whereas Deulofeu was in the first half running Fulham ragged, now he was being ushered down dead ends.
And with Gibson understandably starting to struggle after such a lengthy absence, the Everton midfield had ceded control to Scott Parker and Karagounis.
Indeed, it was a foul by Gibson that prompted Fulham’s winner. With the visitors anticipating a floated delivery, Karagounis instead played a clever low pass to Bent down the inside left channel, and the substitute fired an angled shot that went straight through the legs of Robles.
Martinez switched to three at the back and Everton responded. Coleman struck a left-foot effort narrowly off target, Deulofeu jinked into a shooting position but curled wide and Lukaku almost knocked Stockdale over with a fierce drive.
With a minute remaining, Coleman, arriving unmarked at the far post, struck a low Kevin Mirallas cross against keeper Stockdale when it seemed easier to score.
It was Fulham’s first home win since April Fool’s Day. But nobody will be laughing at Goodison this morning.
MAN OF THE MATCH. Gerard Deulofeu. Deserves the award on the strength of his excellent first-half performance
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Stockdale; Zverotic, Senderos, Hangeland, Riise (Amorebieta 64); Karagounis, Parker; Kacaniklic, Kasami, Taarabt (Bent 65); Berbatov. Subs: Etheridge, Sidwell, Rodallega, Riether, Bangna. BOOKING: Parker (foul).
EVERTON (4-1-4-1): Robles; Coleman, Stones, Distin, Oviedo; Heitinga (Barry 69); Deulofeu, McCarthy, Gibson (Jagielka 69), Naismith (Mirallas 80); Lukaku. Subs: Howard, Baines, Jelavic, Barkley. BOOKINGS: Gibson, Coleman and McCarthy (all fouls).
REFEREE: Martin Atkinson.