A limp surrender at Selhurst Park stood in stark contrast to the rousing revival against Brighton and Hove Albion. All the hope rekindled by that blistering comeback on Tuesday night evaporated after the needless concession of a penalty by Cyrus Christie. Fulham were in the game until that point, but showed very little after half time to suggest they were capable of redeeming the situation. Seven points off survival with games fast running out, Fulham’s predicament looks perilous. Claudio Ranieri insists he still believes – but he might be the only one.
The high-pressure stakes seemed too much for a Fulham side that appeared unwilling to take the game to the opposition, even when they were on top during the early exchanges. The result could have been different had Aleksandar Mitrovic converted the visitors’ only clear opening instead of sending a free header wide from Joe Bryan’s cross – and that glaring miss seemed to weigh heavily on the Serbian’s shoulders.
Palace, content to sit deep and make themselves difficult to play through as per the Roy Hodgson handbook, had barely threatened before the 25th minute. There appeared to be little danger when James McArthur drove a crossfield ball towards Christian Benteke on the left corner of the Fulham box. The big Belgian forward might have pushed Christie as he jumped, but there was denying the Fulham full back’s hand was far too high when it made contact with the ball. To make matters worse, Sergio Rico dived the right way and got something on Luka Milivojevic’s spot-kick but couldn’t keep it out.
There was inevitability about how the rest of the afternoon played out. Fulham failed to lift themselves and were indebted to Rico for keeping the scoreline respectable. Benteke rattled the bar with a ridiculous overhead kick just before half-time and Rico saved smartly from Jeffrey Schlupp in the second half. Mahmadou Sakho glanced a header fractionally wide as Palace pushed for a second, which eventually came with three minutes left when Rico superbly stopped substitute Michy Batshuayi’s goalbound drive, but was powerless o prevent Schlupp from snaffling up the rebound.
Fulham failed to ask any serious questions of the Palace rearguard after the break, despite dominating possession. Late efforts from Luciano Vietto, introduced at half-time, and a frustrated Mitrovic were the visitors’ only answers. Ranieri’s men didn’t register a single shot on target – and the continued absence of Ryan Sessegnon, an unused substitute here, seems particularly baffling.
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-4-2): Guaita; Wan-Bissaka, Tomkins, Sakho, van Aanholt; Townsend, McArthur, Milivojevic, Schlupp (Sako 90); Ayew (Batshuayi 82), Benteke (Meyer 72). Subs (not used):
Hennessey, Dann, Kelly, Riedewald.
BOOKED: Ayew, Wan-Bissaka.
GOALS: Milivojevic (pen) 25, Schlupp (87).
FULHAM (3-4-3): Rico; Odoi, Le Marchand, Ream (Vietto 45); Christie (Fosu-Mensah 62), Bryan, Chambers, Seri; Cairney, Babel (Ayite 88), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Fabri, Cisse, R. Sessegnon, Kebano.
BOOKED: Le Marchand, Odoi, Babel.
REFEREE: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).