Fulham showed commendable character to shrug off the concession of two first-half penalties to battle back and earn a draw against Norwich City, one of the early Championship pace setters, in a pulsating encounter tonight at Craven Cottage. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of a see-saw evening for Slavisa Jokanovic will have been the defining intervention of on-loan striker Chris Martin, who followed up his first Fulham goal at Barnsley on Saturday, with a brace that turned the tide of a contest that only seemed to be flowing one way and denied the Canaries their first win at Fulham since 1986.
Any semblance of momentum that might have been generated by the weekend’s win at Oakwell appeared to have been shredded by half time. Fulham had started reasonably brightly but fell behind when Scott Malone, who had scored one and created two more of the goals that the Whites had mustered in south Yorkshire, went from hero to zero. The former Cardiff City full-back dived in to upend Jacob Murphy – allowing Graham Dorrans to fire a seventeenth-minute spot-kick straight down the middle – and he was then harshly penalised by referee James Linington again for holding onto Cameron Jerome just before the break – and Dorrans repeated the trick to put Alex Neil’s side firmly in the driving seat.
The visitors had carved out several chances, looking most dangerous from set plays, but rarely tested David Button in the Fulham goal. Russell Martin sent two free headers wide from corners, but Dorrans’ unfailing accuracy from twelve yards meant his side weren’t ruing their profligacy. It wasn’t that Jokanovic’s charges had played badly – they more than held their own in an open encounter and might have mustered a reply of their own, but for Northern Ireland international goalkeeper Michael McGovern making a stunning save from Sone Aluko and Martin prodding against the near post after a dreadful defensive lapse from his namesake.
A game that seemed out of Fulham’s reach soon came alive after a rousing start to the second half from the home side. They signalled their intent merely a minute after the restart when Martin’s flick from Malone’s cross lacked the power necessary to unduly worry McGovern, but the return of Ryan Fredericks via the substitutes bench after three months out offered an outlet down the right that immediately worried Marcus Olssson. Stefan Johansen ruffled the side netting with a curling free-kick, before Fulham found their way back into the contest ten minutes after the break.
Martin, who hassled and harried his old team-mates all evening, finally found half an yard inside the penalty area, collecting a smart pass from the impressive Stefan Johansen, and patiently drove deep into the box. It seemed as if he had been forced too wide, but his low shot found a way into the bottom corner – via two deflections (the last of which came off Johansen) and Fulham had a foothold in the contest. The home side then laid siege to the Canaries’ goal – gone was the visitors’ composed and classy football of the first half with the likes of Wes Hoolahan and Murphy to the fore – and earned their reward midway through the second period.
The equaliser had its genesis in a defensive error with Dorrans attempting a dangerous pass deep inside his own half and Johansen galloped forward before slipping an incisive ball across the two Norwich centre halves to release Martin. The Scottish striker, previously so out of form in front of goal, drew Russell Martin, cut inside onto his right foot and finished clinically low past McGovern to haul Fulham level.
Norwich only began to recapture some of their former fluency once they had been pegged back. Both sides might have nicked all three points in an absorbing finale with Alexander Tettey’s bullet strike from range being brilliantly pushed away by Button, whilst Aluko snatched at an opening from 20 yards in stoppage time, screwing his shot horribly wide. The Canaries were left to contemplate just how long their Craven Cottage hoodoo can continue, while Fulham could draw confidence from the fact that they fought their way back into a match that appeared well beyond them.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Button; Odoi (Fredericks 50), Malone, Sigurdsson, Ream; Parker, McDonald (Tunnicliffe 82); Piazon (Smith 90+3), Aluko, Johansen; C. Martin. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Sessegnon, Madl, Kebano.
BOOKED: Aluko, Malone, Parker, Johansen.
GOALS: Martin (55, 66).
NORWICH CITY (4-2-3-1): McGovern; Pinto, Olsson, R. Martin, Klose; Tettey, Dorrans; Jacob Murphy, Brady (Castro Olivera 85) , Hoolahan (Naismith 63); Jerome. Subs (not used): Ruddy, Bennett, Thompson, Pritchard, Josh Murphy.
BOOKED: Jerome, Dorrans, R. Martin.
GOALS: Dorrans (pen 17, pen 43).
REFEREE: James Linington (Isle of Wight).