A brace from Andy Cole secured a precious win for under-pressure manager Chris Coleman as Fulham ended a miserable run with victory over Crystal Palace at Craven Cottage.
Cole scored either side of half-time to move onto eight league goals for the campaign but might have scored a hat-trick in the second half alone. Tomasz Radzinski made sure of the points with a late third, which came as some relief after three straight defeats had plunged Fulham right back into the relegation dogfight. They comprehensively outplayed Palace, who would have overtaken their hosts had they won this fixture, to ease some of the strain on Coleman.
The return of Luis Boa Morte, who had missed a month’s worth of action through injury, lifted the Cottagers and added some pace and verve to their play. Radzinski was just as threatening on the other flank and Fulham’s opener came courtesy of the Canadian international, who was allowed to roam inside and find Cole. The veteran striker was left all alone and it didn’t matter that this wasn’t the cleanest finish of his illustrious career as the ball trickled past Gabor Kiraly.
Boa Morte nearly provided a second moments later but the nobody could touch home the Portugese winger’s devilish cross. Tom Soares spurned two great chances to level for Palace and the visitors barely showed as an attacking force, with Malbranque and Boa Morte going close to extending the lead, before being awarded a penalty ten minutes before half time. Johnson won it himself, touching the ball past Edwin van der Sar, and tumbling to earth under the challenge – before dusting himself down and converting the spot-kick.
That increased the nervousness around Craven Cottage. Several half chances came and went before Radzinski’s tame finish was easily fielded by Kiraly and Coleman implored his side for more penetration after the break. They upped the ante – with Danny Butterfield just about clearing a beautiful Mark Pembridge cross as Cole prepared to head in – and went back in front of the hour. The goal was all Cole’s own work. He wriggled between a pair of Palace defenders where they appeared to be no room and then poked a predatory finish past Kiraly.
Boa Morte had a third ruled out for a push on Fitz Hall but the winger was far too hot for Palace to handle. He did brilliantly down the left again, laying on a glorious chance for Cole to claim his hat-trick, but the forward fired over the bar. It didn’t matter too much as Radzinski stabbed home from close range after a rampaging run from Malbranque saw the Frenchman get away from two Palace defenders and supply a superb cross.
FULHAM (4-3-3): van der Sar; Volz (Rosenior 76), Bocanegra, Knight, Rehman; Diop, Pembridge, Malbranque (Clark 82); Boa Morte (John 89), Radzinski, Cole. Subs (not used): Crossley, McBride.
GOALS: Cole (4, 60), Radzinski (73).
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-5-1): Kiraly; Butterfield, Popovic, Hall, Granville, Routledge; Riihilahti (Torghelle 65), Soares, Hughes (Leigertwood 64), Lakis (Andrews 79); Johnson. Subs (not used): Speroni, Boyce.
BOOKED: Soares, Butterfield, Popovic.
GOALS: Johnson (pen 35).
REFEREE: Dermot Gallagher (Oxfordshire).