Josh Maja scored twice on his first Premier League start as Fulham gave their survival hopes a massive boost with a surprise 2-0 victory at Everton.
The January deadline-day signing from Bordeaux ensured Scott Parker’s men moved to within seven points of 17th-placed Newcastle with a second-half double that clinched their first win in 13 Premier League games.
Fulham dominated from the kick off but could not find the finish to some fine approach play in the first 45. Bobby Reid had their best attempt when he hit the post with a flick-on from Ademola Lookman’s left-wing corner. Everton barely troubled the Fulham defence but almost snatched an interval lead when Seamus Coleman’s surging solo run ended with a shot that clipped the post.
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The visitors continued to look the more likely after the break and Maja finally made the breakthrough when he provided a close-range finish to a slick move down the left on 48 minutes.
The Nigeria international then doubled his tally just past the hour when he was in the right place to tap home after Harrison Reed’s shot came back off the post.
Everton were far from their best and never truly looked capable of mounting a recovery without injured top scorer Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
The Toffees stay seventh and are three points off fourth-placed Liverpool, who have played two games more. Fulham remain 18th but will be buoyed by a significant win heading into an important week.
TALKING POINT - Everton’s top four push suffers a blow; Fulham have a glimmer of hope
This wasn’t the result Ancelotti would have wanted heading into a big week of football for his team. It certainly wasn’t the performance he’d have been expecting from a side with serious designs on gate-crashing the top four. Everton were flat and are now winless in four home league matches ahead of Wednesday’s visit of runaway leaders Manchester City. The Toffees have their out-of-form neighbours, Liverpool firmly in their sights but will feel this is a missed opportunity given they face the tough test of Pep Guardiola’s prior to a trip to Anfield on Saturday, a ground they have not won at since 1999. Everton still have it in their own hands, but need to remedy some poor results on home turf if they are to realise their manager's ambitions to finish in the Champions League places.
The stakes are similarly high but in very different circumstances for Fulham, who will be delighted to claim a first ever league win at Everton. They visit Burnley on Wednesday in a key battle in their bid for survival. The Clarets are now eight points above the 18th-placed Cottagers in 16th, but if Fulham can beat Sean Dyche’s men and follow it up with another positive result at home to rock-bottom Sheffield United on Saturday, they would suddenly be right back in the frame in their attempt to stay in the division. The fact that they may have finally found a goal-poacher could be a game-changer for them.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Josh Maja (Fulham)
Several Fulham players could get the nod given that it was such an impressive team performance. However, the Cottagers have struggled to score goals and the new signing marked his first league start with a match-winning brace. That’s what the 22-year-old was brought in on loan to provide and if he can continue to find the net it could prove to be a very shrewd signing.
Everton: Olsen 6, Coleman 7, Holgate 6, Godfrey 6, Digne 7, Gomes 6, Doucoure 6, Davies 6, Rodriguez 6, Richarlison 5, Sigurdsson 6. Subs: Keane 6, King 6, Bernard 6.
Fulham: Areola 6, Tete 7, Andersen 7, Adarabiayo 7, Aina 8, Lemina 7, Reed 7, Loftus-Cheek 7, Reid 8, Maja 8, Lookman 8. Subs: Cavaleiro 6, Onomah n/a, Anguissa n/a.
10’ – FULHAM CHANCE! Fulham somehow fail to score. Reid’s flick on from a right-wing corner hits the far post. Aina sees his follow-up blocked before Andersen skies it over the top.
34’ – EVERTON CHANCE! Coleman wins the ball just inside the Fulham half and is allowed to drive all the way to the edge of the box. He lets fly with a low attempt but sees it clip Areola's left-hand post and spin wide.
48’ - GOAL! – Everton 0-1 Fulham. Maja marks his debut with a goal! It's a deserved opener for the visitors as Maja slides in from close range after a great work from Aina and Lookman down the left.
65’ - GOAL! – Everton 0-2 Fulham. It's Maja at the double! The forward has the simple task of tapping into an empty net after Reed's 25-yard shot came back off the post.
Aged 22 years and 49 days, Josh Maja is the second-youngest player to score on his first Premier League start for Fulham, after Collins John v Blackburn in April 2004 (18y 178d).
Maja is the fifth Nigerian player to score on his first Premier League start, after Efan Ekoku in May 1993, John Utaka in August 2007, Peter Odemwingie in August 2010 and Alex Iwobi in March 2016.
Fulham have picked up their first ever away win at Everton in league competition, on what was their 28th attempt. Coming into this evening’s game, they had lost each of their last 22 away league games against the Toffees.
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