Andy Johnson and Aki Riihilahti profited from Ian Pearce’s early dismissal as Crystal Palace recorded their first Premiership win of the season over Fulham and moved off the bottom of the table.
Victory came as a huge relief to Iain Dowie but Chris Coleman was fuming at Fulham’s naivete and the fact that experienced centre back Pearce left his side in the lurch having been dismissed after just six minutes for hauling down Johnson as he bore down on the Fulham goal. That set the tone for a long night for the visitors, who couldn’t put much pressure on Palace’s porous defence with only ten players.
The only surprise was how long it took the Eagles to break the deadlock. Johnson, Michael Hughes and Joonas Kolkka all missed glorious opportunities to give the home side the lead and, whilst Dowie will be concerned by his side’s wastefulness in front of goal, the Palace boss can be delighted with how his charges responded to his demands for an adventurous opening.
They put Fulham under pressure from the outset with Johnson slamming a shot against van der Sar’s legs after outstripping Zat Knight for pace in the third minute. Wayne Routledge flicked a great cross from Kolkka across the face of goal and the away side were already showing signs of being unable to shackle Palace’s attacking threat. Things went for bad to worse when Pearce left his backpass unforgivably short and decided to pull Johnson over as the in-form forward closed in on the Fulham goal. It was a clear red card and made Fulham’s task all the harder.
Riihilahti flashed a header inches wide before Johnson momentarily lost his composure in front of goal when space opened up for him. The former Birmingham striker headed over from a fine Routledge delivery and Fulham briefly sprung to life as an attacking force when Knight slammed a long-range free kick into the wall and Gabor Kiraly, a virtual spectator until this point, did wonderfully to claw away Steed Malbranque’s terrific attempt.
Fulham were fortunate to get to half time unscathed as Johnson headed woefully wide, but they were finally breached seven minutes into the second half. Riihilahti made the goal, threading a lovely pass between Fulham’s retreating centre backs, and Johnson did the rest, confidently stroking a finish into the corner of the net as he raced through on van der Sar.
Palace went for the kill and Moritz Volz rescued Fulham when he cleared a Routledge cross with Palace players lining up at the back post, but the reprieve didn’t last long. Routledge swung in a corner that saw Riihilahti outjump the Fulham defence and guide a great header past van der Sar. Johnson then failed to beat van der Sar from twelve yards but Palace had already done enough to claim a precious three points.
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-5-1): Kiraly; Boyce, Popovic, Hall (Sorondo 45), Granville; Watson, Routledge (Lakis 72), Riihilahti (Kaviedes 74), Hughes, Kolkka; Johnson. Subs (not used): Speroni, Torghelle.
GOALS: Johnson (53), Riihilahti (69).
FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Volz, Green, Knight, Pearce, Goma; McKinlay, Pembridge, Boa Morte, Malbranque; McBride (John 62), Radzinski (Goma 9; Bocanegra 62). Subs (nout used): Crossley, Rehman.
SENT OFF: Pearce.
REFEREE: Mike Riley (West Yorkshire).