This hex WILL be broken

Posted by Phil Mison

DImitar Berbatov scores a penalty for Fulham at Everton.GettyImagesDimitar Berbatov makes it 1-1 against Everton, but the curse would come back to strike Fulham.

But not this season. So Fulham folded on the road yet again at Goodison, losing by the same three-goal margin that finally sounded the death knell for dear old Martin a fortnight ago in our last away game.

• Report: Everton 4-1 Fulham

While the man who got us into this unholy mess in the first place sits with his feet up with nothing more troublesome this Christmas to contemplate than where to invest his 820,000 pounds pay-off, Whites fans will endure a further week parked in the bottom three while preparing for a pounding from the Manchester City goal machine next Saturday. Did you catch their display against leader Arsenal? Out of this world -- how can that side fail to win the title?

The simple fact of the matter is that Rene Meulensteen is no miracle man and can only work with what he has up to January. Against this high-tempo and finely-tuned Everton side, taken up yet another notch by Roberto Martinez, and now deservedly knocking on the door of the top four, Fulham gave it a go -- as I predicted they would -- but caved in to a side simply too good in every department.

My pre-match forecast was not that far off the mark, and the final scoreline of 4-1 paints a false picture.

With three quarters of the match played, Fulham were back on level terms, playing the better football, and on course for that precious point. But -- and not for the first time in the past year -- when you field the oldest side in the division, legs get heavy, concentration levels drop and mistakes creep in. Thus it was that the Toffees got back in front just six minutes after Dimitar Berbatov stroked another immaculate spot kick home, before cantering over the line. Both managers agreed the contest was much closer than 4-1 suggests, but Everton deserved their win and well done to them.

The harsh reality for the Cottagers is that half of the side put out Saturday needs replacing, and we need a year at least to begin building back to the level Everton has achieved. Hard to imagine it was just three or so seasons ago we saw ourselves very much as their equals in the middle ground of the Premiership.

The Jol legacy casts a long dark cloud over the club’s immediate future -- only once the frenetic run of holiday fixtures are past can we take stock and start to work out how we are going to get up to the 40-point mark. It is certain the club will be moving into the market, but it’s vital we don’t get cut adrift, as I sense is happening to Sunderland.

Meulensteen took it on the chin but still remained upbeat in his interviews, putting emphasis on the need for more hard work and seeing no intrinsic loss of morale inside the camp. Yes we got thumped, but after a difficult first 45 minutes, came out fighting in the second half and posed Everton a few questions. By no stretch was this the sham of a side one witnessed at West Ham.

My snapshot of the game? I almost tweeted at halftime, the comparative displays of Steven Pienaar and Alex Kacaniklic was your litmus test for the two sides. Pienaar was brilliant. He is constantly carrying the ball into areas to hurt you. Romelu Lukaku came short to expand the link up play and Everton’s full backs ran into the spaces behind the back four. Tim Howard was a spectator for the first 45 minutes and Fulham did well to only concede once -- 10 corners to two at the half tells the story.

Fulham were on the back foot and Kacaniklic, who I so desperately would like to see prosper, was wasteful and guilty of poor technique or lack of vision too many times. When he blazed over an open goal on 50 minutes I had my head in my hands. How damaging was that? Certainly, neither our Swedish winger nor Ashkan Dejagah found a way to get behind the home defence and deliver crosses in the way they had against Villa.

A pity, because there were signs this Everton defence is not the finished article. They panicked at times, the crowd got on their backs in the second half -- but Fulham at present just don’t have the resources to turn the screw.

Last week at the Cottage I counted down time in 10-minute blocks against Villa until I saw their heads finally drop. Had we held that scoreline at 1-1 on Saturday for another 10 minutes -- who knows? Well, it’s all "ifs" and "buts" I guess. Rene says there will be lessons learned from the defeat. He’s still the right man for the job and Fulham drew praise from most pundits for trying to make a game of it.

In the meantime my Fulham buddies, I need your help. I want you to find me an exorcist and deliver him to my door so we can drive up to Goodison Park in the summer and get this ridiculous CURSE lifted! Enjoy the week, and please don’t overspend on my Christmas present.



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