Opinion: Vital Everton victory needs to be just the start for Fulham
Photo by Getty Images/Michael Regan

Josh Maja wheeled away in celebration as the ball that had just left his foot nestled in the net for the second time. A shamelessly indiscreet grin swept across his face. Scoring a brace on his full Premier League debut, can you blame him? Within seconds, all of his teammates had converged at the corner flag, hugs all round. What a moment; what a big win.

The striker's two goals against Everton on Sunday night might just have kicked Fulham's campaign into gear in the nick of time.

They came into the match ten points off safety and on a nearly three-month winless run in the league. You'd have forgiven them for allowing a degree of pessimism to creep in against Carlo Ancelotti's Europe-chasing Toffees — but they didn't.

Manager Scott Parker held his nerve during the match, insisting his players remained focused and wary of the perils of complacency, but the bubble burst when referee Andy Madley blew his whistle for full-time. He buzzed around the pitch, embracing each and every player, commending their performances. Maja stole the plaudits of the public, but his manager will know that it was a display and result produced and earned in equal measure by every component of the entire team.

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There was a fantastic energy about Fulham. They pressed from the front, harrying Everton onto the back foot on their own turf, desperate not to allow their hosts a second of reprieve at Goodison Park. From the first minute to the very last, their diligence looked destined to pay off.

They created a number of chances and limited the supply of their opponents to scraps. Bobby Decordova-Reid hit the post in the first half, while Harrison Reed and Ademola Lookman also came close. The best chance for Everton came as a result of a surging run from right-back Seamus Coleman, with a forward line including James Rodriguez and Richarlison marshalled superbly — the South American duo barely had a say in the whole match.

Fulham would reap their just rewards in the second period.

It took less than three minutes of play after the restart for the deadlock to be broken. Wonderfully intricate link-up between Ola Aina and Lookman set the former free to drive into the penalty box. He spotted the run of Maja towards the back post and duly supplied the striker, who couldn't miss from four yards.

Everton had no reply and, 17 minutes later, they saw their deficit doubled. Reed cannoned a vicious effort off the upright but it fell straight to the feet of Maja who, reacting quicker than centre-backs Ben Godfrey and Michael Keane, prodded home with Robin Olsen still sprawled out on the ground.

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The ease with which the Nigerian was able to slot away both of his goals was a result of — and, indeed, indicative of — the extent of Fulham's superiority over their opponents, from defence to midfield to attack. Their effort bred a nonchalance, a healthy amount of arrogance stemming from the fact that they knew they could win this game.

Where does a relegation-threatened side get that self-esteem from? Well, this victory had been coming, a fact Parker knows better than anyone.

"For large parts, the performance you see tonight and the way we played has happened over the course of the last 15 games," the manager told journalists after the match. "The difference is we managed to score a couple of goals and win the game."

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It's a fair assessment of the situation from Parker. Recent matches against West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion come to mind as cases where the statement rings true, as do the encounters with Newcastle United and Sheffield United earlier in the season. Commentators on Fulham were like broken records; the performances were there more often than not, but the results never came.

Since the closure of the summer transfer window, defence has certainly not been the issue hindering Fulham's potential to rise up the standings. Parker now has a settled core in that part of the pitch, players who perform week in, week out. It's in the other final third where the troubles have usually been.

Aleksandar Mitrovic has not been able to rekindle the form which saw him notch 26 goals in the Championship last season. He started the campaign as Parker's first-choice but, with just two league goals, soon surrendered his place to Ivan Cavaleiro. The Portuguese forward proved effective as a counter-attacking spearhead but enjoyed little more success when it mattered in front of goal, scoring only three. They certainly haven't been deprived of opportunities.

"It's been well documented that we've missed some big chances," Parker said. "When I analyse our performances, we're creating chances. The numbers are there on production, the fine margins are we haven't been clinical — we were tonight. It's a big boost for the team and nothing short of what we deserve."

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Maja made no mistake in front of goal, and long may that continue. Perhaps he's the player Fulham have been missing; patient, persistent, clinical. Maybe a corner has been turned; something which wasn't clicking before at last finally has. Either way, victory at Goodison needs to be just the first step in their push for survival. The hard work, to replicate and sustain that level of performance, starts now.

They're still seven points adrift of 17th and with a crucial week ahead, facing up against Burnley and then Sheffield United. Beating Everton may have provided a somewhat unexpected boost, but Parker will nonetheless be targeting six points out of six by the end of the week with a difficult March on the horizon, bringing opponents including Liverpool and Manchester City.

Rest, rinse, repeat. It's up to Turf Moor on Wednesday to face 16th-placed Burnley, one of the teams Fulham are chasing — and they'll do their chances of victory the world of good if they can replicate their Merseyside masterstroke in Lancashire.

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