Fulham 1 – 3 Everton: Changes pay dividends for boss Martinez
Not for the first time this season Everton boss Roberto Martinez’s tactical intelligence turned a game in the Toffees favour
[quote]The character of the group was the key. We never gave up and kept an important clean sheet in the first half that allowed us to regroup.
We then saw a performance full of guts and determination and a never-say-die attitude which is needed as the platform in any winning team. I couldn’t be prouder and doing it in front of our fans, who were incredible, makes it a very satisfying day.” Roberto Martinez[/quote]
At times it wasn’t easy on the eye and the men in Royal Blue often had to ride their luck against a rock-bottom Fulham fighting for their Premier League lives.
However, the often talked of cutting edge, glaringly missing through January and February, has well and truly returned to give Everton the platform to launch a Champions League chasing finale to this enthralling season.
Blues boss Martinez had forewarned his players of the task of facing a Fulham side scrapping for Premier League survival. And given Everton’s record at Craven Cottage, coming away victorious from West London was never going to be easy. That Everton returned to Merseyside with all three points would be down to a combination of a collective will-to-win, a rapidly growing self-belief and the tactical acumen of a young and fearless manager.
Martinez made three second half changes – all of whom played a substantial part in delivering the three crucial points – the effect Aiden McGeady, Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith had on the game was undeniably crucial. The entrance of Naismith in particular, who had replaced an injured Ross Barkley in the break, proving to be pivotal.
If Martinez wanted substitute Naismith to provide a dynamic, incisive and intelligent second-half performance, the Spaniard certainly got his wish. Watching from the bench, Scottish international Naismith revealed he had identified how he could hurt Fulham and the former Rangers man took full advantage of the spaces between the Fulham back-four and midfield to deliver a match-winning second half performance.
“Watching the first half, we were very lethargic and I think the two previous games this week took their toll on us a bit and it showed.
“The manager just wanted me to go on and find the wee pockets of space and get in behind. Thankfully I managed to contribute. For the first, the corner came in and when it came off the defender’s head, I watched it the full way and just thought get it on target, and it’s gone in.
“That gave us a spark. Fulham did well and deserve credit for how they came into it and made a good few chances but didn’t take them as well as they should have. Tim made some great saves and we could capitalise on that. Myself, Aiden and Kevin have all come on and showed it’s all about the squad, not just the starting 11.
The 27-year old Scot who initially arrived at the club recovering from a serious knee injury, praised his manager for the second half changes. And Naismith believes the quality the Blues boss can call upon from the bench can be a force to drive the Toffees towards their European aims.
““The manager makes those sorts of winning changes. From the moment he walked in, he said it’s not just going to be about a core 11 who play every game, he said he’d need everybody and that’s been the case. Subs have had big impacts in a lot of the games.
“The confidence is high. We go into each game believing we can win,” said Naismith.
“We’re right in the mix now and that’s where you want to be at the business end of the season. Arsenal is going to be a big game now, they all are until the campaign is over.
“I’m sure there will be a few twists and turns before the end of the season. We’ve just got to make sure it’s not us who falls behind and continue to win.”
Everton had struggled in a below par first half but the introduction of Naismith sparked the Blues into life. A cleared corner only found its way to an unmarked Naismith who tried his luck from the edge of the Fulham area. The Scot’s effort eventually finding the target after at least two deflections.
The goal may have been fortunate but it was the shot-in-the-arm Martinez and his players desperately needed. Moments later a slick move saw Fulham keeper Stockdale deny Romelu Lukaku what looked like a certain second Everton goal.
Fulham maybe on the brink but they are not down-and-out just yet. And it would be their own sub, Ashkan Dejagah, who, while being afforded too much space and time on the edge of the Blues box, let-fly with a shot that had too much power for a despairing Tim Howard.
With the game yet again up-in-the-air, Martinez introduced two more attacking substitutions that would eventually pay crucial dividends. Determined not to settle for anything but a win, the Spaniard brought on McGeady and Mirallas and the two would combine superbly to give Everton a 2-1 lead.
Mirallas, cleverly holding his run before expertly collecting a pin-point McGeady through ball, finished coolly to send the hoards of Evertonian behind the goal into raptures. The Blues never looked back and after taking a decisive stranglehold hold on the game, man-of-the-match Steven Naismith would deliver the killer blow after more good work from fellow sub Mirallas.
The Belgian looked to have been brought down in the box but with referee Anthony Taylor waving play on, the ball broke kindly to Leighton Baines who found Naismith to tap home from six yards out.
The game was done and dusted and the result leaves Everton just 4 points behind next Sunday’s visitors and fellow Champions League chasing Arsenal. The Toffees however have a vital game-in-hand over their rivals.
With seven games left to play, a compelling first season for Everton under the stewardship of Roberto Martinez, could well end up becoming a momentous one.
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Fulham 1 – 3 Everton: Martinez Proud Of Everton Squad
“The performance was as pleasing as you are going to get.
“We never gave up and kept an important clean sheet in the first half and that allowed us to regroup. We then saw a performance full of guts and determination and a never-say-die attitude which is needed as the platform in any winning team.
“I couldn’t be prouder and doing it in front of our fans, who were incredible, makes it a very satisfying day.”
“Today was a really difficult challenge and we need to give huge credit to Fulham’s performance.
The way they started the game, they were brighter and sharper than us and more energetic.
“We had to cope with the mental fatigue of playing Newcastle in midweek while Fulham had extra time of recovery.”