Claudio Ranieri was denied a crucial victory over his old club as James Maddison scored a late equaliser at Craven Cottage to prevent Fulham from moving out of the Premier League relegation zone at Craven Cottage this evening. The former Norwich midfielder scored for the second game in succession to grab a point for an off-colour Leicester side, just as the Whites were looking set to climb off the bottom of the table.
On what Ranieri admitted afterwards was an evening full of emotion, Fulham produced a much improved display and looked comfortable for long periods after Aboubakar Kamara gave the home side the lead with a poacher’s goal that owed much to his persistence just before half time. The French forward burst onto a flick from Aleksandar Mitrovic and away from Turkish centre back Caglar Soyuncu, before shooting through the legs of goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel from the tightest of angles. It was Kamara’s first league goal for more than eleven months.
But Fulham’s kamikaze defending has been their achilles heel throughout their turbulent return to the top flight. They have not kept a clean sheet all campaign – and their wait for one in the highest division of English football now stretches more than nineteen games – and had rode their luck in a first half where Leicester had passed up a number of presentable opportunities to score. Spanish goalkeeper Sergio Rico bailed his side out on a number of occasions – none more than so that when he denied Kelechi Iheanacho in a one-on-one after Jean-Michael Seri had again surrendered possession in a dangerous area, whilst Wes Morgan and Maddison somehow failed to hit the target from close range.
It looked as if Claude Puel’s men might miss the finishing instincts of injured striker Jamie Vardy, who remains a doubt for this weekend, but the introduction of Shinji Okazaki and Demarai Gray enlivened Leicester just when they needed a boost. Only two minutes after the Japanese forward’s arrival, the visitors were level. Both substitutes were involved in the goal with Gray sprinting away from a couple of challenges in the middle of the park and feeding Okazaki down the right. His measured low cross dissected a static Fulham defence and Maddison arrived late to poach his fifth goal of the season.
Maddison might have clinched an unlikely victory in a thrilling finale but uncharacteristically hurried a strike from around eight yards and his effort flew wide. At the other end, Fulham fashioned a couple of late chances of their own to claim all three points. Schmeichel did brilliantly to claw away a low Mitrovic drive on the turn and, then, with almost the last kick of the game, centre back Denis Odoi spooned an effort over the crossbar when it seemed easier to score. The home side were left scratching their heads at how they had failed to win have had 25 attempts at goal, but were made to pay for their profligacy. Calum Chambers, who had another barnstorming game in central midfield, saw a venomous first half volley acrobatically saved by Schmeichel, whilst Kamara shot in the side netting in the second half with Tom Cairney and Mitrovic waiting for a possible cut back.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rico; Christie (Ream 83), Le Marchand (Bryan 77), Odoi, Mawson; Chambers, Seri; Kamara, R. Sessegon, Vietto (Cairney 45); Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Anguissa, Schurrle, Kebano.
GOAL: Kamara (42).
LEICESTER CITY (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel; Simpson (Okazakiat 72), Chilwell, Morgan, Soyuncu; Mendy (Iborra 71), Ndidi; Albrighton, Diabate (Gray 55), Maddison; Iheanacho. Subs (not used): Ward, Pereira, Fuchs, Knight.
GOAL: Maddison (74).
REFEREE: David Coote (Nottinghamshire).