Fulham were taught a harsh lesson in the realities of the Premier League as a clinical Crystal Palace side claimed their first top flight win at Craven Cottage since 1968 this afternoon.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s side dominated possession throughout the contest and looked more than a match for former Fulham manager Roy Hodgson’s outfit for much of the first hour, but the Eagles eventually showed the evidence of their Premier League class in both boxes to record what became a comfortable opening day win. Fulham began brightly and showed some classy touches in midfield, with Ivorian debutante Jean-Michael Seri to the fore, but they failed to add a cutting edge to their pretty approach play and found Wayne Hennessy in fine form in the Palace goal.
The home side made an encouraging start with Cyrus Christie, who had oceans of space in front of him down the right flank all afternoon, almost surprising Hennessy at his near post with a low shot from outside the box inside the first three minutes. Captain Tom Cairney, who faded as the match went on, played in Ryan Sessegnon down the left and the teenager’s deflected shot almost fell for Andre Schurrle but the German winger was unable to provide a decisive touch. The Whites should have gone ahead on thirteen minutes when Sessegnon’s smart through ball put Schurrle away but Aleksandar Mitrovic’s side-footed finish was palmed to safety by a diving Hennessey. From the ensuing corner, a clambering Mitrovic sent a header wide of the far post.
Palace soaked up the pressure and gradually began to get a foothold in the contest. Their first sight of goal fell to Andros Townsend, whose sighter from range was easily fielded by Fabri – preferred in goal to the deadline-day signing from Sevilla, Sergio Rico. Christian Benteke almost gave the visitors the lead with a trademark powerful header on the half hour, but the backpeddling Fabri was able to turn his effort on to the crossbar.
At the other end, Mitrovic was warming to the task. He almost marked his return to Craven Cottage as a permanent Fulham signing with a goal, wriggling away from the attentions of Tomkins, keeping his feet and placing a shot inside the far post but Hennessey pulled off another fine save. Palace went up the other end and opened the scoring with a lovely, flowing move. Patrick van Aaanholt guided a pass into the feet of Jeffrey Schlupp, who held off the otherwise excellent Calum Chambers to work a yard of space, and lashed a venomous finish into the roof of the net.
The goal galvanised Hodgson’s men. van Aanholt thought he had added a second with astonishing curler into the top corner from the right angle of the box, but an offside flag ruled it out. The former Chelsea full-back still might have handed the visitors a more comfortable cushion to take into the half-time interval, but Fabri snuffled his snapshot after he had burst past Joe Bryan brimming with attacking intent.
Fulham continued to pour numbers forward and the game’s major talking point arrived after an hour. Schurrle looked to have been felled in the box by a poor Mahmadou Sakho challenge after the German winger had stolen possession from the Palace centre back but Mike Dean theatrically waved away the appeals. Jokanovic was incensed on the touchline and swiftly introduced Aboubakar Kamara but Fulham struggled to find a way past Palace’s stubborn defence.
The Eagles were looking menacing in attack and might have doubled their lead when Wilfred Zaha left Maxime Le Marchand trailing in his wake only for Fabri to improvise and save with his feet. At the other end, Hennessey dived smartly to his right to snaffle Mitrovic’s glancing header from a delicious delivery by Bryan, who eventually succumbed to an untimely ankle injury. Jokanovic went for broke by throwing on attacker Luciano Vietto and the Argentinian showed some silky touches, not least in setting up Aboubakar Kamara for a rising curler from the edge of the box that drifted agonisingly over.
But Fulham’s hopes of a comeback were extinguished by a ghastly error from Fabri with ten minutes to play. He rushed off his line as the impressive Aaron Wan-Bissaka threaded a through ball towards Zaha but never looked likely to reach the ball before the Ivorian forward, instead allowing him the simplest of finishes to put the game to bed. Fulham, to their credit, continued to go forward with Hennessey producing another excellent stop to claw away a Sessegnon header in the final minute before Kamara lashed a finish into the side netting in injury time.
It wasn’t the start the Fulham faithful had been dreaming off, but there was more than enough to suggest the Whites could surprise a few opponents once their myriad of deadline day signings bed in.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Fabri; Christie, Bryan (Vietto 71), Chambers, Le Marchand; McDonald Seri (Johansen 82), Cairney; Schurrle (Kamara 61), R. Sessegnon, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rico, Fosu-Mensah, Cisse, Kebano.
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-4-2): Hennessey; Wan-Bissaka, van Aaanholt (Souare 90), Tomkins, Sakho; Milivojevic, McArthur, Townsend (Kouyaté 88), Schlupp; Benteke (Sorloth 83), Zaha. Subs (not used): Guaita, Ward, Kelly, Riedewald.
BOOKED: Zaha, Schlupp.
GOALS: Schlupp (41), Zaha (79).
REFEREE: Mike Dean (Birkenhead).