If the marketing men at the Premier League want to showcase their greatest league in the world, they’d do well to lose the footage from this forgettable encounter at Carrow Road. There was so little spark between two sides determined not to be beaten that the scoreboard gave up the ghost well before the final whistle. Not that Martin Jol will be complaining; points on the road are precious for Fulham and, when he reflects on the fact that their first clean sheet in fourteen games lifted the visitors to twelfth in the table, the Dutch coach could find a few reasons to be content with his afternoon’s work.
Alarming lapses in what used to be a reliable rearguard have threatened to drag Fulham fully into the relegation dogfight this season but they rarely looked troubled against a Norwich side who badly missed their captain. Grant Holt had only a watching brief today after injuring his back this morning – the tall and powerful pairing of Brede Hangeland and Philippe Senderos coped easily enough with Luciano Becchio, who battled manfully to little avail on his first start since signing from Leeds United. The visitors’ defence diligence was all the more impressive given the absence of an ill Sascha Riether – the previously ever-present right back was replaced by Bulgarian Stanislav Manolev, who hardly put a foot wrong on his Fulham debut.
Jol made other changes as well, with on-loan Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong adding some bite into the midfield on his first appearance for Fulham and Steve Sidwell returning after a knee injury. Dimitar Berbatov replaced Ashkan Dejagah to partner Hugo Rodallega up front, but the Bulgarian had barely shaken off his hamstring strain before being bloodied by a high boot from Bradley Johnson that left a damaged nose requiring stitches. Fulham were intrepid, eager and disciplined – but they barely mustered an opening in the first half despite dominating possession. Damien Duff had the briefest of glimpses of goal before Michael Turner blocked his cross-cum-shot.
Norwich came closest to breaking the deadlock whilst Berbatov’s nose was being tended to. Clever interplay between Elliott Bennett and Javier Garrido fashioned the space for the Spanish full-back to cross but Becchio’s blunt shot dribbled straight into Schwarzer’s arms from nine yards. The home side’s most promising moments came through Wes Hoolahan, who went on a couple of mazy dribbles deep into Fulham territory, but first Alex Tettey and then the lively Robert Snodgrass failed to attach an end product to the Republic of Ireland midfielder’s enterprise. City’s only other openings came from more direct means with both Russell Martin and Becchio missing the target with headers.
Fulham started the second period brighter with a fierce drive from Steve Sidwell stinging the palms of Mark Bunn from twenty yards before a venomous strike from Bryan Ruiz was bravely blocked by Sebastien Bassong’s throat. There was plenty of endeavour and application, but little in the way of quality as misplaced passes and mistimed tackles were far more common than clear cut chances. A spell of home pressure culminated with a speculative shot from Bennett blocked by Sidwell and, whilst Urby Emmanuelson’s introduction perked up Fulham, it was the home side who had the better chances to break the deadlock as time ticked by.
Hoolahan’s prompting produced another chance, although Johnson rather snatched at a left-footed effort from the edge of the box that flew well wide before Norwich’s newest arrival, Sierra Leone striker Kei Kamara – signed on loan from MLS franchise Sporting Kansas City – joined fellow substitute Simeon Jackson, who scored a late equaliser here last season to deny Fulham a rare away win, up front as Chris Hughton gambled in search of a winner. You couldn’t fault Kamara’s willingness as he sent a header off the crossbar and then jumped into Schwarzer at successive set-pieces, but his cameo lacked the spark necessary to provide a winner.
NORWICH CITY (4-4-1-1): Bunn; R. Martin, Garrido, Bassong, Turner; Tettey, Johnson, Snodgrass, E. Bennett (Jackson 76); Hoolahan; Becchio (Kamara 76). Subs (not used): Camp, Whittaker, Tierney, Howson, Surman.
BOOKED: E. Bennett, Snodgrass.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Manolev, J.A. Riise, Hangeland, Senderos; Frimpong (Emmanuelson 64), Sidwell, Duff, Ruiz (Dejagah 90); Berbatov, Rodallega (Petric 76). Subs (not used): Etheridge, Hughes, Karagounis, Kacaniklic.
BOOKED: Frimpong, Manolev.
REFEREE: Howard Webb (Rotherham).