Second half strikes from Stefan Johansen and skipper Tom Cairney extended Fulham’s unbeaten run to seventeen games as Slavisa Jokanovic’s side produced a professional performance to see off Norwich City at Carrow Road. The Canaries had the better of a forgettable first half that was short on clear cut chances, but the Whites were far more dangerous once teenage winger Ryan Sessegnon was sent on ten minutes into the second period and clinically finished their opportunities once they arrived.
Jokanovic’s men made the crucial breakthrough twenty minutes into the second half. Sessegnon had already sniffed out two openings within six minutes of coming on – the second of which required a goal-saving intervention from Christoph Zimmerman after Angus Gunn and Jamal Lewis had collided in trying to stop the teenage – but Fulham were putting the home goal under serious pressure. The Canaries defence gave way when Matt Targett’s floated cross allowed Aleksandar Mitrovic to soar above Timm Klose and, although Gunn made a sharp save, Johansen gleefully put away the rebound.
With Norwich trying to recover from the shock of going behind, the visitors moved in for the kill. They doubled their lead just four minutes later when Lucas Piazon’s low cross found its way to Tom Cairney via a deflection and the classy midfielder drove an unerring finish into the bottom corner from around fifteen yards out. The double strike sent 2,000 Fulham fans into ecstasy and was a fitting way to make the twentieth anniversary of Fulham fan Matthew Fox’s senseless passing on the horrible day at Gillingham.
Having allowed Queens Park Rangers back into a West London derby that looked beyond them before the international break, this was a much more impressive way to close out a game that had appeared even during the hour that preceded Fulham’s first goal. The visitors looked leggy and were laboured in possession, whilst Norwich’s enterprising football threatened to cause problems for a hesitant Fulham defence. Ultimately, though, Daniel Farke’s side were unable to contain the Londoners’ fluent football and were made to pay the penalty.
The German would have been pleased with his side’s application in the first period – but they failed to show Fulham’s ruthlessness when in the ascendancy. Norwich made the brighter start with the lively Josh Murphy looking dangerous down the left and the winger was unfortunate to see his shot, after cutting in dangerously from the flank, deflected off Fredericks and be gathered at the second attempt by Marcus Bettinelli. The hosts then should have made more of a three-on-three when Murphy elected to try and find the offside Dennis Srbency when James Maddison was crying out for the defence-splitting ball.
The German striker, a January arrival from Paderborn, came the closest to a Norwich goal when he took matters in his own hands either side of the interval. After a promising move he flashed a shot narrowly wide from 25 yards before the break and then drew a high class save from the Fulham goalkeeper away to his right with a venomous strike from just outside the box. Murphy then guided an acrobatic volley fractionally wide of the far post with Bettinelli grasping at air and the Canaries keep on pressing but eventually Fulham’s composure passing brought the quality of Johansen and Cairney, who looked hurried in the first half, to the fore.
The away side had struggled for much of a presence up front, with Mitrovic starved of service before the break, and only a tame Cairney daisycutter from distance tested Gunn at all – but they were enlivened by the introduction of Sessegnon, who had been rested after making his England under-21 debut at Bramall Lane in midweek, for the anonymous Floyd Ayite. The teenage prodigy immediately offered Fulham a real threat on the counter with his pace and movement, making the Norwich back four think twice about employing the higher line that previously nullified Mitrovic.
There was little way back for the home side after Fulham’s two goals in four minutes had put them in command of the contest. Farke’s outfit did at least kept battling until the end with Srbency just failing to reach a cross from Murphy that flew across the six-yard box, but by now the travelling supporters were beginning to party exuberantly. This victory might not have brought them any closer to second-placed Cardiff City, who appear to have automatic promotion firmly in their grasp, but gaining all three points without playing spellbinding football is the hallmark of a successful side and can only bode well for the remainder of Fulham’s run-in.
NORWICH CITY (4-2-3-1): Gunn; Pinto, Lewis, Zimmermann, Klose; Reed, Tettey (Hoolahan 77); Vrancic (Edwards 84), Murphy, Maddison; Srbeny (Oliveira 77). Subs (not used): McGovern, Husband, Hanley, Raggett.
BOOKED: Murphy, Maddison, Reed.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Fredericks, Targett, Odoi, Ream; McDonald (Norwood 68), Johansen, Cairney; Piazon, Ayite (R. Sessegnon 54), Mitrovic (Kamara 78). Subs (not used): Button, Christie, Kalas, Fonte.
BOOKED: McDonald, Fredericks, Norwood, Kamara.
GOALS: Johansen (66), Cairney (70).
REFEREE: Keith Stroud (Bournemouth).