A makeshift Fulham side warmed up for their Championship curtain-raiser against relegated Newcastle United by inflicting Crystal Palace’s first pre-season defeat of their summer campaign with an encouraging display at Craven Cottage this afternoon.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s first eleven included six summer signings but was robbed of the likes of Marcus Bettinelli, Cauley Woodrow and Ross McCormack, who all watched on from the Cottage balcony. It would be foolish to read too much into a friendly when Premier League Palace – with a fortnight to go until the start of their season – looked ring rusty and undercooked, but there were promising signs from the newcomers.
Thomas Kalas, signed on loan from Chelsea to bolster Fulham’s previously porous defence, was a commanding presence at centre half and teenage full-back Ryan Sessegnon staked his claim for more first-team football with an accomplished display that largely nullified the threat of Andros Townsend. Long-term target Kevin McDonald provided both protection for the back four and crisp passing whilst there were goals for new arrivals Sone Aluko and Floyd Ayite that suggested Jokanovic might be building a cohesive unit.
Aluko, who arrived on a free transfer from Hull City, wasted little time in demonstrating his composure in front of goal. A mistake from Eagles skipper Mile Jedinak allowed Fulham’s captain for the afternoon, Tom Cairney, to pick out the Nigerian international with a precise pass and Aluko wasted little time in speeding away from the covering defenders, rounding a stranded Julian Speroni and finding the unguarded net. Fulham’s football had been full of purpose, with Matt Smith heading straight at the goalkeeper early on, whilst third choice custodian Jesse Joronen had produced a fine reaction save to deny Scott Dann.
Palace’s most potent threat came through the pace of Wilfred Zaha, who was thrown into the starting line-up having missed a fortnight of pre-season training through injury, but there was little cutting edge to meet his dangerous deliveries. Alan Pardew’s side began the second half in the ascendancy with Damien Delaney sending a header wide, but the visitors were undone by another dreadful defensive blunder. This time Speroni spilled a straightforward cross from Dennis Odoi and Smith was on hand to sweep home the loose ball from close range.
The Premier League were stung into action by the ignominy of conceding such a goal and should have found a way back into the contest shortly afterwards but Zaha and Puncheon managed to get in each other’s way as the pair sought to convert an inviting pull-back from substitute Conor Wickham. The returning forward Keshi Anderson, who had missed a considerable chunk of last season with a cruciate injury, did eventually haul Palace back into the contest, nipping between two static defenders to turn home an excellent lofted pass from Luke Dreyer.
But the visitors’ hopes of a timely comeback were extinguished in injury time when Floyd Ayite finally pounced to finsh off a bout of pinball in the Palace box after Scott Parker’s shot had somehow been scrambled off the line by Jonny Williams. Palace had already enjoyed something of a let off moments earlier when Ayite contrived to blaze over the bar having been sent through on goal by Cairney’s clever pass and his bashful celebration of the third goal indicated some relief.
Jokanovic spoke afterwards of this being a useful warm-up ahead of Friday’s televised opener against Newcastle, who remain many people’s favourites for an automatic return to the top flight. The Fulham head coach insisted that he was ready to integrate McCormack, heavily linked with a potential move to Norwich City, into training again on Monday after a lengthy injury lay-off whilst confirming that four other first-teamers were expected to be fit enough for selection for the first game of their Championship campaign.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Joronen; Odoi, Sessegnon, Madl, Kalas; McDonald, Tunnicliffe (Parker 64); Ayite, Aluko (Stearman 83), Cairney; Smith (Christensen 69). Subs (not used): Rodak.
GOALS: Aluko (35), Smith (54), Ayite (91).
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-3-3): Speroni; Ward (Kelly 74), Soaure (Dreher 69), Delaney, Dann; Mutch (Anderson 62), Jedinak (Williams 82), Puncheon (Croll 69); Zaha (Kaikai 78), Townsend (Lee 74), Bolasie (Wickham 45). Subs (not used): Perntreou, Binnom-Williams, Wynter,
GOAL: Anderson (78).