Norwich City’s wretched run at Craven Cottage. Sean Kavanagh’s first senior goal extended their winless streak at Fulham to seventeen games and saw Neil Adams’ side deposed at the top of the Championship, although the home side had to draw on real resilience to repel a concerted Norwich onslaught in the second half.
Fulham’s fighting qualities belied their poor league position and this impressive victory can only have strengthened caretaker manager Kit Symons’ claims to succeed Felix Magath on a full-time basis. Symons dismissed suggestions that his players were affected by the ongoing search for a new manager, being overseen by a five man panel that will report to chairman Shahid Khan, and reasserted his own desire to take on the job. The popular former centre back is the fans’ choice and has transformed the atmosphere around the club since Magath’s departure. It was clear from this whole-hearted display that the players are right behind the caretaker.
Whilst Fulham were on the back foot for most of the second period, the home side actually began brightly. Kavanagh, who replaced the injured Fernando Amorebieta in Symons’ only change from the side that lost 2-0 at Middlesbrough, started in front of left back Kostas Stafylidis and the pair linked up promisingly down the left flank. Bryan Ruiz nearly freed Hugo Rodallega in the opening moments with a clever back heel, before Ross McCormack’s powerful drive from 25 yards was blocked at source by Russell Martin. Top scorer Tim Hoogland offered a reminder of his aerial threat, sending a free header over from eight yards, and the hosts gleefully accepted a gift from Michael Turner to open the scoring.
A sloppy pass from the former Brentford defender was seized upon by Scott Parker, who freed Rodallega down the Fulham right. The Colombian forward burst into the Norwich half and then worked the ball across the width of the pitch. The marauding Lasse Vigen Christensen teed up 20 year-old Kavanagh, who calmly slotted a clever finish across John Ruddy and inside the far post from the edge of the box. Only a saving tackle from Wes Hoolahan prevented Rodallega from latching onto another risky Norwich pass in the final third – and the Canaries were indebted to the Republic of Ireland international just before half time when he headed a powerful Dan Burn header off his own goal-line.
Adams’ side had dominated much of the possession, but barely tested Fulham goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli, who comfortably fielded a speculative shot from Bradley Johnson and briefly juggled a curling cross from Nathan Redmond. The league leaders were sent out early for the second period and earned an immediate opportunity to level the contest through a contentious penalty, when Burn was adjudged to have brought down Cameron Jerome. Referee Graham Salisbury appeared to have waved away Norwich’s appeals, before awarding the penalty on the advice of his assistant. It seemed debatable and Fulham’s fury was only sated when Lewis Grabban’s spot-kick rattled the crossbar and bounced away to safety.
The visitors stepped up their search for an equaliser and Adams offered former Celtic striker Gary Hooper his first league outing of the season from the substitutes’ bench. The increasingly influential Hoolahan was carried off after injuring an ankle, but Fulham were being pushed further and further back, with the peerless Nikolay Bodurov heading away a series of dangerous crosses. Johnson lashed a desperate shot wide from distance – and Norwich almost paid the penalty at the other end, but Fulham substitute Moussa Dembele failed to get enough power behind his shot to beat John Ruddy from close range at a corner.
Teenager Josh Murphy tested the resilience of Fulham’s tiring full-backs in what could have proved a game changing cameo from the bench. First, he turned Elsad Zverotic inside out before firing a shot right across the face of goal when Hooper was lingering at the back post for the pull back, and then he cut inside and curled a majestic effort against the crossbar from 20 yards with Bettinelli well beaten. Late free-kicks offered the best opportunities for an equaliser but a crucial interception from Stafylidis prevented Hooper from stealing in and Turner sent a far-post header wide as Fulham hung on for the three points.
FULHAM (4-3-1-2): Bettinelli; Hoogland (Zverotic 22), Stafylidis, Bodurov, Burn; Parker, Christensen, Kavanagh; Ruiz (Dembele 72); McCormack, Rodallega. Subs (not used): Kiraly, Hutchinson, Hyndman, Roberts.
BOOKED: Parker, Stafylidis.
GOAL: Kavanagh (22).
NORWICH CITY (4-2-3-1): Ruddy; Whittaker, Olsson, Martin, Turner; Tettey, Johnson; Grabban (Hooper 66), Redmond, Hoolahan (Murphy 57); Jerome. Subs (not used): Rudd, Miguel, Howson, O’Neill, Odjidja.
REFEREE: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire).