Fulham’s promotion may now seem inevitable but the Whites made heavy weather of beating a battling Norwich City side at Craven Cottage this afternoon as they failed to hit the heights of their FA Cup exploits against Manchester United a week ago.

Jean Tigana’s side were only certain of the three points in the final seconds thanks to a piece of predatory finishing from Luis Boa Morte and the Frenchman, whose uncompromising pursuit of high standards has transformed the Cottagers from auto-runs to champions’ elect in the space of six months, will not have been happy with his side’s lack of spark for much of this contest. Norwich gave as good as they got – and could easily have taken the lead as they posed Fulham’s defence plenty of problems – perhaps building on the fragility Fulham showed in a rare defeat at Stockport on New Year’s Day.

The Canaries were diligent in defence, well marshalled by Matt Jackson and the returning Darren Kenton, and it needed a moment of magic from Louis Saha to open the scoring six minutes before the interval. The French forward produced a bit of brilliance from absolutely nothing, curling a majestic finish past Andy Marshall from twenty yards after working a spot of space for himself outside the area. It was his 22nd goal of a fine campaign – and made amends for a dreadful first half miss when he had been played in by Kevin Betsy.

Norwich ultimately paid the penalty for failing to score when they were on top. Iwan Roberts uncharacteristically missed the target with a header from close range and former Manchester United trainee Alex Notman also gave the home side a few worrying moments. Notman struck a shot that moved in the air and whistled fractionally wide of Maik Taylor’s goal before heading off target after stealing ahead of Kit Symons, but those openings came to nothing just as a prolonged period of pressure early in the second half – when Norwich forced four consecutive corners – came and went.

Boa Morte wrapped up the victory in stoppage time when he surged onto his own flick on and beat Marshall with a nerveless finish to complete a classical counter attack as Fulham showed the true sign of champions: grinding out a victory when they were well below their best.

FULHAM (4-4-2): Taylor; Finnan, Brevett, Melville, Symons; Davis, Goldbaek, Stolcers (Phelan 57), Betsy (Sahnoun 72); Saha, Boa Morte. Subs (not used): Hahnemann, Neilson, Riedle.

BOOKED: Saha, Symons.

GOALS: Saha (39), Boa Morte (90).

NORWICH CITY (4-4-2): A. Marshall; Sutch, Kenton, Jackson (McGovern 48), Fleming; Russell, Mulryne (de Blasiis 73), Llewellyn, L. Marshall; Notman (Abbey 63), Roberts. Subs (not used): Green, Coote.

BOOKED: Russell.

REFEREE: Bill Jordan (Tring).