Fulham vs. Everton: 6 Things We Learned

Matt CheethamCorrespondent IMarch 30, 2014

Fulham vs. Everton: 6 Things We Learned

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    Everton maintained an imperious run of late-season form with a 3-1 away win at Fulham.

    A forgettable first half made way for an enjoyable second period, sparked into life by a David Stockdale own goal, spawned off the boots of Steven Naismith.

    Ashkan Dejagah levelled matters with a rasping near-post strike, before late goals from Kevin Mirallas and Naismith sealed another key win for Roberto Martinez.

    Here's a look at some Everton-related talking points to emerge from this contest.

Another Second-Half Transformation

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    Not for the first time this season, Everton struggled to find any cohesion in their first-half performance. 

    The passing was laboured, the movement predictable, and the tempo regularly stuttered to a halt.

    While Fulham predominately sat deep, the hosts will have been disappointed not to take a half-time lead, such was the clear-cut chances they missed.

    Once again, however, the Toffees emerged a completely different animal after break.

    There was suddenly pace, ambition and urgency in their play, leading to far more opportunities in the final third. 

    Eleven of their 14 shots came during the second half, as well as all three goals, which has been a recurring pattern to the season.

    In total, 35 of Everton's 49 goals have now come in the second half of matches; that's over 71 percentthe highest percentage in the Premier League.

    While this is clearly an impressive trait, and one that shows the belief emanating from the dressing room, it's also something that must be improved upon.

    In the final seven games of the season—especially against Arsenal—Everton must find their rhythm far sooner and maintain it for longer.

Naismith and Fellow Subs Play Familiar Key Role

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    Everton's improvement once again coincided with Martinez's introductions from the bench and primarily Steven Naismith's. 

    The Scotland international fired in a heavily deflected opener, watched on as his fellow substitutes—Aiden McGeady and Mirallas—combined for the second and then slotted home the third himself.

    Two more strikes (minus Naismith's opener, which currently stands as an own goal) took Everton's total to nine Premier League goals from the bench this season. 

    In all competitions, that's now 13 of 64 goals (over 20 percent).

    Last season, just four of Everton's 68 strikes came from a substitute, which is already nine fewer than this current campaign.

    Martinez has added an extra layer of depth to his squad and, once again, displayed his canny knack of knowing exactly when to use it.

Martinez's Tinkering Has His Attackers Firing

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    As well as his substitutions, Martinez's actual selections have helped manipulate extra form from each of his attacking midfielders. 

    Mirallas, McGeady, Naismith, Gerard Deulofeu, Ross Barkley, Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar have all been rotated in the three positions just behind the striker. 

    Before this game, Martinez had changed two players in his past four line-ups, almost always tweaking two of his three attacking midfielders.

    This in itself has kept competition fierce. Each player knows he is unlikely to play a full game and must impress when he does take the field.

    In this match, however, Martinez managed to extract an even greater return from these key positions.

    By naming just his second unchanged XI in 16 games, Mirallas, Naismith and McGeady—now without significant action for consecutive matches—were champing at the bit following their eventual introduction.

    Desperate to impress, all three decided the game, and Martinez's constant changes have his attackers bursting with form at the crunch end of the season.

Howard, McCarthy and Stones Among Those to Impress

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    Aside from Everton's impressive substitutes, Tim Howard stood out as the Toffees' leading performer. 

    The American had a busy afternoon, tested with eight shots on target—the third-most his side have conceded all season.

    Indeed, Fulham's 18 chances were the most the Toffees have allowed under Martinez. The fact that such creative production led to just one solitary goal was a testament to Howard's commanding showing, albeit aided by some dismal finishing.

    Elsewhere, John Stones produced further evidence of his monstrous potential, while James McCarthy made a typically energetic contribution in midfield.

Points and Away Form Emphasise Improvement

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    There's no denying the fact Everton have made dramatic strides during their new manager's short time in charge. 

    This result marked a fifth consecutive Premier League win, the Toffees' best run since winning six in a row back in 2002/03.

    It was also a sixth away win of the season, giving Martinez's side 24 points on the road; that's already the club's best away return in four seasons, with three games still to play.

    Finally, and most impressively, this victory took the Toffees past 60 points for the season, after just 31 games—their best points haul at this stage since 1986, a year they finished second.

    Compared to more recent campaigns, Everton are currently eight points better off than last season and a far more striking 17, 19 and 12, respectively, ahead of the previous three years.

    Just six points from the remaining seven games will crown a best-ever Premier League tally, coming in what was supposed to be a transitional season. 

Fourth Is There for the Taking

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    Everton's winning streak has poured relevance into their home straight of the season, taking them to within touching distance of a Champions League place.

    Defeats at Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea seemed to end their challenge, but this inspired run of form has marched them right back into contention. 

    In fact, Martinez's side can decide their own fate, sitting just four points behind Arsenal, with a home game in hand against Crystal Palace.

    With the Gunners due at Goodison Park next week, Everton face their latest most pivotal clash of the season, and once again it's against Arsenal.

     

    Statistics via WhoScored.com