Fulham produced a sublime display of counter-attacking football allied with defensive diligence to shock Leicester City and move out of the relegation zone whilst paying the perfect debut to the late Papa Bouba Diop at the King Power stadium last night. The Londoners, without a top flight away win since an already-relegated side triumphed at Bournemouth in April 2019, went in front through a superbly taken breakaway goal from Ademola Lookman made brilliantly by Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and even cured their penalty curse when Ivan Cavaleiro rifled home a second from the spot before half time. Such was their composure that Fulham weren’t significantly troubled until substitute Harvey Barnes gave Leicester a life line with five minutes left, but the Whites weathered a mad spell of stoppage time to secure a precious victory.
Parker’s selections once again raised eyebrows with talismanic striker Aleksandar Mitrovic and captain Tom Cairney left out of his starting line-up, but the young coach’s clever line-up ultimately outfoxed Brendan Rodgers. Anguissa and Harrison Reed’s dynamic partnership in front of the Fulham defence totally nullified Leicester’s midfield, whilst a composed display from stand-in skipper Joachim Andersen and Toisin Adarabioyo left Jamie Vardy feeding on scraps in attack. Bobby Decordova-Reid, fresh from scoring a fine equaliser against Everton, got through mountains of defensive work down the right but his most significant contribution came when he sprinted the length of the field and won a penalty when Christian Fuchs halted his dangerous run with a foul just inside the area.
Fulham began with an intensity to their pressing and a regimented shape that suggested they had spent the week since being far too open against Everton hard at work on the training ground. Leicester, eyeing a move towards the top of the Premier League, created precious little in a tight first period but should have gone in front in the eighteenth minute. After Lookman had blazed a free-kick wastefully over, the Foxes had a similar opportunity at the other end. James Maddison’s free-kick came back off the wall, Youri Tielemans rattled the post with a fine volley from 20 yards and, as Fulham’s shell-shocked defence tried to recover, Wesley Fofana hit the crossbar with the follow-up. Vardy’s only serious attempt of note arrived five minutes later – an improvised flick at the near post that Alphonse Areola thwarted – but by then Fulham were showing signs of being effective on the break.
Their sense of adventure was typified by a move that began with Ola Aina rampaging down the right and concluded with Antonee Robinson, Fulham’s other full back, shooting straight at Kasper Schmeichel from fifteen yards after being found by Cavaleiro. Some of their approach play contained lovely touches and they more than merited the shock lead they seized when Tielemans’ terrible pass was cut out by Reed and fed on to Anguissa. The Cameroonian international drove forward with purpose, carrying the ball fully forty yards, and then choosing both the perfect moment and weight of pass to release Lookman clear down the left. The winger’s coolness as he went through on Schmeichel, sliding a finish clinically into the corner, was commendable – especially after all the talk about his fluffed Paneka penalty at West Ham.
There was a lovely touch in the joyous celebrations that followed the goal. Lookman made his way to the touchline, sharing a warm embrace with his manager, before holding aloft one of Diop’s old Senegalese shirts – emblazoned with the number nineteen on the back – in a moving tribute to the fallen former Fulham midfielder, whose tragic death at the age of 42 was announced yesterday.
Fulham’s evening got even better eight minutes later. Decordova-Reid, a constant source of cover for Aina on a night of ceaseless running, scurried down the right flank in search of a hopeful ball forward. The Jamaican forward got there first and was brainlessly brought down by Fuchs, although Simon Hooper had to head to the video monitor before awarding the spot-kick. Cavaleiro spooned his previous penalty horribly into the Hammersmith End after an untimely slip against Everton, but this one couldn’t have been more different – hit with power and conviction in the bottom corner, giving Schmeichel no chance even though the goalkeeper dived the right way.
Rodgers made two substitutions and a tactical switch at half-time as he sought to stir his side from their stupour. Barnes and Cengiz Under came on for Praet and Luke Thomas as the hosts switched to a back four, but the alterations actually made very little difference. Leicester huffed and puffed, definitely having more of the ball and the play, but Parker’s men stood firm and actually had the better chances to extend their lead. They pressed Leicester into submission creating a half-chance for Ruben Loftus-Cheek before putting together the move of the match as Robinson, Cavaleiro and Lookman combined down the left with the latter eluding James Justin before forcing a fine save from Schmeichel.
Leicester sent on Kelechi Iheanacho and went to two up front as they searched for a spark but a route back into the contest only appeared with six minutes left. Vardy found a pocket of space in the area for the first time, heading Tielemans’ deep cross down for Barnes, who lashed home a rising half-volley to gave the hosts’ hope. Both Under and Iheanacho had chances to equalise in five frantic minutes of added time, whilst Andersen produced a fine saving challenge to deny Barnes a second. In a crazy finale, Schmeichel stayed forward from a corner as Leicester searched for salvation, allowing Mitrovic to carry the ball over the halfway line. The Serbian surprisingly opted not to go for goal and Aina’s belated effort was deflected behind, but it proved academic in the end.
A battling away victory – and arguably Fulham’s most complete display since arriving back in the top flight – meant an awful lot to Parker and his players. The young manager and his coaching staff showed they are not to be underestimated at the start of what was almost universally acknowledged as a thankless run of fixtures, suggesting that the Whites might not be the division’s whipping boys after all. These sorts of wins are essential for survival – and Fulham have now proven their mettle against one of the country’s best.
LEICESTER CITY (3-4-2-1): Schmeichel; Fofana, Evans, Fuchs; Justin, Thomas (Under 45), Tielemans, Mendy (Ihenacho 70); Praet (Barnes 45), Maddison; Vardy. Subs (not used): Ward, Morgan, Choudhury, Albrighton.
GOAL: Barnes (86).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola; Aina, Robinson, Andersen, Adarabioyo; Reed, Anguissa; Decordova-Reid, Lookman (Bryan 90), Loftus-Cheek (Lemina 77); Cavaleiro (Mitrovic 87). Subs (not used): Rodak, Ream, Cairney, Kamara.
BOOKED: Reed, Adarabioyo.
GOALS: Lookman (30), Cavaleiro (pen 38).
REFEREE: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire).
VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Darren England (Doncaster).