Slavisa Jokanovic’s scowl at the final whistle made you wonder just what sort of tirade he might unleash at the Fulham players when he reached the dressing room. His side, who had started with energy and purpose, wilted during the second half, allowing an impressive and adventurous Norwich outfit back into a contest from which they may have been removed and the visitors’ equaliser was coming long before substitute Nelson Oliveira made his point to new Canaries’ coach Daniel Farke with two minutes to go.
Jokanovic was insistent that the Portuguese forward was offside when Wes Hoolahan floated a beautiful ball over a very square Fulham defence – and Ryan Fredericks was booked for a ferocious protest after Oliveira had calmly slid the ball past David Button – but the Serbian would have been much more upset with the way Fulham ceded the initiative in the final quarter of the game. The visitors were enlivened by the arrival of Jacob Murphy and Hoolahan, who needed less than nine minutes to display his enduring class despite missing most of pre-season through injuries, and had only been desperate blocks from Tomas Kalas and Denis Odoi – whose repelling of Russell Martin’s fierce drive was adjudged ball to hand by the referee – that had preserved Fulham’s lead.
Jokanovic had selected Oliver Norwood at the base of the Fulham midfield after Kevin McDonald failed a late fitness test and arguably the game turned once the Brighton loanee was bafflingly withdrawn after an hour. Fulham began brightly with Stefan Johansen spurning two good chances inside the first eight minutes, but were then indebted to Button for keeping things level. The former Brentford goalkeeper made light of a nervy pre-season to produce two excellent saves to deny Norwich’s new signing Marley Watkins from close range – and was perhaps Fulham’s man of the match. He might have been beaten by Mario Vrancic, but the German scooped an effort over the bar from ten yards after fabulous play from Yanic Wildschut.
A pulsating contest swung from end-to-end. Fulham were getting plenty of joy down the left through Floyd Ayite and Ryan Sessegnon’s regular raids forward and it was from that avenue that the opening goal arrived. Some clever footwork from Ayite saw him trick his way into the Norwich box and advance along the byline. The Togo winger’s low cross looked dangerous area even before it was diverted beyond Angus Gunn by the unfortunate Martin to give Fulham the lead. The Whites could have doubled their advantage shortly afterwards but Gunn saved smartly from Ryan Fredericks and the Canaries defenders scrambled the rebound away from Sone Aluko.
The home side thought they had doubled their lead right at the start of the second half but Aluko’s close range was ruled out after an offside flag ruled out some lovely interplay between Fredericks and Ayite – and Jokanovic’s charges went agonisingly close again when Neeskens Kebano drifted inside and rolled a left-footed shot off the inside of the far post with Gunn well beaten. Aboubakar Kamara was given half an hour to make his debut and, for someone without much English and just four days of training behind him, he showed more than enough to suggest he could be a handful in the Championship. He sent one shot into the side netting which he could have squared for the waiting Cairney, but there was plenty to like about his pace and intelligent movement.
The frustration was that Fulham failed to give the Frenchman enough to work with up front. Instead, they were gradually sitting deeper in effort to soak up the Norwich pressure. The Whites gave the likes of Vrancic and James Maddison far too much room to pick a pass in front of them and when that opportunity was afforded to someone of Hoolahan’s quality, it proved fatal. The Irish international floated a fine ball between Tomas Kalas and Tim Ream, Oliveira – who had replaced the ineffectual Cameron Jerome – chested it down brilliantly and made light of three defenders attempting to crowd him out to roll home the finish. His celebrations were wild and directed towards Falke as he removed his shirt on his way to the Norwich bench, but the Canaries’ new German coach was anything but angry. The thunderous disposition belonged to his opposite number.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Button; Fredericks, Sessegnon (Odoi 70), Kalas, Ream; Norwood (Cisse 63), Johansen, Cairney; Kebano, Aluko, Ayite (Kamara 63). Subs (not used): Rodak, Madl, Edun, Piazon.
BOOKED: Cairney, Johansen, Fredericks.
GOAL: R. Martin (o.g. 25).
NORWICH CITY (5-3-2): Gunn; Wildschut (Murphy 59), Husband, R. Martin, Zimmermann, Franke; Reed (Hoolahan 80), Maddison, Vrancic; Watkins, Jerome (Oliveira 64). Subs (not used): McGovern, Pinto, Tettey, Godfrey.
BOOKED: Maddison, Oliveira.
GOAL: Oliveira (88).
REFEREE: Robert Jones (Merseyside).