A superb strike from Manuel Lanzini condemned Fulham to a narrow defeat in their final pre-season friendly against Premier League West Ham, but another serious-looking knee injury to Alfie Mawson might be of greater consequence to Scott Parker.
The Argentinian playmaker curled an unstoppable finish beyond Marcus Bettinelli from the edge of the box on 18 minutes, pouncing decisively after both Mawson and Denis Odoi had missed chances to clear. It was no more than the visitors deserved as they dominated the first half possession and, had they more clinically punished a number of sloppy Fulham defensive mistakes, Manuel Pellegrini’s side could have been out of sight by the interval.
Joe Bryan and Maxime Le Marchand handed the Hammers a glorious opportunity after five minutes, but the former Bristol City left back atoned for a slack pass with a fine saving tackle as Felipe Anderson bore down on goal. Debutante Pablo Fornals than seized on a dreadful pass from Le Marchand but Odoi managed to block Aaron Cresswell’s attempted finish at the far post.
Fulham struggled to create chances or build up much momentum at all in the final third a week ahead of their Championship opener at Barnsley. Anthony Knockaert looked lively in flashes during his first appearance at Craven Cottage, but too often Fulham’s final ball was lacking. The Frenchman did curl one cross delightfully in for Aleksandar Mitrovic, but the Serbian’s looping header drifted away from goal.
Mitrovic was at the heart of Fulham’s best moves, enjoying a physical battle with Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop. He played a magnificently disguised ball to send Ivan Cavaleiro surging through the centre but the winger’s curler was clawed away from the bottom corner in breathtaking fashion by Lukasz Fabianski. The former Newcastle forward than created a chance all for himself, shaking off the attentions of Balbeuna and ploughing on into the box, but his tame shot was straight at the West Ham goalkeeper.
The second half got off to the worst possible start when Mawson went down clutching his knee after what seemed to be an innocuous tussle with new West Ham striker Sebastian Haller. Mawson missed nearly four months of football after injuring his knee against Huddersfield last Christmas and was in serious discomfort as he was helped from the field. Parker is arguably already short of quality options at centre half and Fulham will now need to consider going into the transfer market with the Championship kick-off on the horizon.
Bettinelli produced a couple of decisive bits of goalkeeping in quick succession to keep Fulham in the contest. First, he pushed away an Arthur Masuaka cross just as Haller appeared destined to notch a debut goal and, from the ensuing corner, made an instinctive reaction save to deny Haller again from barely two yards out.
The hosts’ perked up with the introduction of Aboubakar Kamara down the right and the Frenchman might have made an immediate impact but for the mature defending of Ben Johnson, whose recovery run put Cavaleiro under pressure, and the Portuguese winger sent his shot high into the Hammersmith End. Kamara went closer with an audacious curler from the left angle of the penalty area with twenty minutes to go, with the ball flying fractionally wide of the far post.
Kamara’s pace and power was causing a much-changed West Ham defence some serious problems and he looked likely to level matters when he surged clear of the visitors’ defence to reach Tom Cairney’s through ball, but he dragged an effort narrowly wide of the far post. Bettinelli produced an excellent stop to keep out an effort from Miguel Antonio after a swift West Ham break and, right at the death, Andriy Yarmolenko somehow missed a sitter from almost in front of goal as the Hammers’ Premier League quality told.
Fulham were industrious and forced a succession of corners in the closing ten minutes. Odoi fired weakly straight at Fabianski after Mitrovic appeared to be hauled down in the box, whilst Bryan’s rasping drive from outside the area comfortably cleared the crossbar. This was a searching test for Parker’s side, but there are still serious defensive deficiencies to be addressed if Fulham are to mount a serious promotion push.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Odoi, Bryan, Mawson (Christie 48), Le Marchand; McDonald (Kebano 82), Johansen (de la Torre 88), Cairney; Cavaleiro (Ayite 77), Knockaert (Kamara 59), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Francois, O’Riley, Fonte.
WEST HAM UNITED (4-2-3-1): Fabianski; Johnson (Zabaleta 65), Cresswell (Masuaka 45), Balbuena (Sanchez 45), Diop (Cullen 82); Rice, Wilshere (Diangana 65); Anderson (Yarmolenko 45), Fornals (Antonio 45), Lanzini (Snodgrass 64); Haller (Chicharito 65). Subs (not used): Roberto, Martin.
GOAL: Lanzini (18).