Pajtim Kasami has come a long way since smashing the crossbar with a spot-kick at Stamford Bridge in the Carling Cup. The Swiss midfielder was banished to the reserves by Martin Jol in the aftermath of that incident, but inspired by his manager to prove himself worthy of a place in the starting line-up on the pre-season tour, Kasami has been the brightest spark during Fulham’s dismal start to this campaign. Kasami, who won his first cap for Switzerland as they qualified for the World Cup last week, turned the tide of this crucial battle at the bottom of the Premier League with a sensational strike that laid the foundations for Fulham’s second away win of the season.
For the first sixteen minutes at Selhurst Park, Fulham looked rattled and caught in the floodlights as Ian Holloway’s side stormed out of the blocks. Holloway had targeted this fixture as an opportunity to lift some of the despondency following Palace’s poor start and his team seemed eager to the seize the chance, with Yannick Bolasie’s pace proving dangerous on his Premier League debut. A barnstorming Bolasie run won a free-kick after the winger drew a foul from Steve Sidwell and, from the corner, that followed the Eagles took the lead. Fulham struggled to clear their lines and Jason Puncheon’s deflected cross looped into the air, allowing Adrian Mariappa to outjump Brede Hangeland and head his second top flight goal over the stranded Maarten Stekelenburg.
Fulham responded well to the shock of going behind, forcing a corner almost immediately, but offered little in the way of an attacking threat before Kasami strode on to centre stage. Sacha Riether spotted the 21 year-old’s clever crossfield run and, in an instant, volleyed a magnificent right-footed strike over a helpless Julian Speroni and into the top corner from 25 yards. It was a truly breathtaking finish – all the more impressive as it came from Kasami’s weaker foot – and it turned the match decisively in Fulham’s favour.
Palace were deflated and Fulham headed into the interval in front after another splendid strike, this time from Steve Sidwell. The midfielder’s 50th Premier League goal was one to remember as he fired an unstoppable dipping volley from the edge of the box into virtually the same spot as Kasami after Bryan Ruiz’s free-kick had come back off the Palace wall. Martin Jol’s men had previously gone 25 games without winning a league game in which they had conceded the first goal but after Sidwell’s strike – crucially timed just before the break – there was no looking back.
The visitors started the second half on the front foot. Bent should have put them further in front when a weak clearance from Speroni struck Berbatov and bounced into his path. The former England forward, who opted to join Fulham ahead of Palace earlier this year, snatched slightly at his shot and a relieved Speroni made a sharp reaction save. The reprieve was merely temporary. From the ensuing corner, Berbatov cleverly glanced Ruiz’s flag-kick into the far corner without even leaving the ground. If there was any doubt about the outcome, it was extinguished five minutes later when Phillipe Senderos, left unattended at the far post, squeezed a volley beneath Speroni from another Ruiz corner.
Fulham, so nervous at the start of the night, were now in complete control. Jol’s narrow midfield stroked the ball around majestically and came close to a fifth when Kasami sprinted down the left and sent over a cross that was sliced behind by Mariappa. Their third victory of the campaign was gleefully acclaimed by more than 2,000 travelling supporters and came in front of new chairman Shahid Khan, whose evening was briefly interrupted by a fire alarm that forced an evacuation of the Selhurst Park hospitality boxes midway through the first half. On this evidence, it looks as though Fulham’s fire has returned.
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-4-1-1): Speroni; Ward, Moxey, Mariappa, Delaney; Jedinak, O’Keefe, Campaña (Thomas 45), Puncheon (Chamakh 56); Bolasie; Gayle (Phillips 69). Subs (not used): Price, Gabbidon, Dikgacoi, Kebe.
GOAL: Mariappa (7).
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Stekelenburg; Riether, Richardson, Senderos, Hangeland (Amorebieta 45); Parker, Sidwell, Ruiz, Kasami; Berbatov (Rodallega 90); Bent (Duff 77). Subs (not used): Stockdale, Zverotic, Karagounis, Boateng.
GOALS: Kasami (17), Sidwell (45), Berbatov (50), Senderos (55).
REFEREE: Lee Mason (Bolton).