Josh Maja’s first Premier League goals gave Fulham a huge boost in their relegation fight with a 2-0 win over a lethargic Everton.
Fulham controlled Sunday night’s game from start to finish at Goodison Park but were facing a familiar headache when their dominance had not been rewarded before half-time, with Bobby Reid’s header against the post the closest they had come.
But Maja struck a well-worked opener three minutes into the second period for the perfect Fulham welcome on his first start for the club, before doubling the lead just after the hour after Harrison Reed struck the woodwork.
Seamus Coleman had also shot against the goalframe before half-time, but it took Everton 76 minutes to muster an attempt on target, as they missed the chance to move level on points with Liverpool, ahead of a tough schedule where they visit Manchester City and Liverpool in the next six days.
Conversely, the result builds Fulham’s hope of a great escape as they lifted themselves back within seven points of safety – and should Newcastle lose at Chelsea on Monday Night Football, they will have the opportunity to reduce that gap to four next weekend.It was certainly a bold call of Carlo Ancelotti to retain seven of the starting line-up from Wednesday’s 120-minute FA Cup win over Tottenham – and from the off, it showed.
Fulham were quicker into the challenge, sharper on the ball. Maja swung at a poor Robin Olsen punch from a free-kick, before another set-piece came even closer to the opener when Reid’s flick from a corner struck the base of the post.
So many times Scott Parker has watched his side fail to make their momentum count, and it could easily have happened again had Coleman’s long-range effort been more clinical and not rebounded out off the woodwork.
This time, they were not swayed. Fulham remained unrewarded before half-time but three minutes into the second period, Ola Aina and Ademola Lookman combined well with a one-two to tee up Maja, who slid in at the back post for his first Premier League goal.
The pressure continued to come, with a second goal a big step towards a rare victory for the Cottagers, and after Lookman had fired just over from Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s nice run and find, Maja again showed his striking credentials to react fastest and tap home when Reed struck the post.
Finally, with a quarter of an hour left, a half-cleared corner was half-volleyed goalwards by Gylfi Sigurdsson to give Alphonse Areola his first save of the night.
Soon substitute Josh King was close to reducing the arrears when bundling home Andre Gomes’ wonderful cross, but was needlessly offside as Everton’s limp comeback efforts ended with nothing, leaving Fulham to draw hope from a richly deserved win, their first since November.