In many ways, this was the story of Fulham’s season of struggle. Scott Parker’s side dominated possession, created the clearer chances and yet couldn’t find a winner against Crystal Palace this afternoon. You sense that Roy Hodgson – one of Fulham’s finest ever managers – would have been the happier with a share of the spoils at full time and the Whites would be left to reflect on a missed opportunity to pile yet more pressure on their principle relegation rivals, Newcastle United and Brighton and Hove Albion.
Parker certainly couldn’t be accused of settling for a point, throwing on Aleksandar Mitrovic to accompany Josh Maja up front for the final quarter of an hour but Fulham failed to make their superiority count on the scoreboard. Palace were workmanlike and resilient but, bar a late rally that threatened their second smash and grab raid of the week, the Eagles rarely tested Alphonse Areola in the visiting goal. A splendid save from Vicente Guaita denied Maja, who spurned a series of good opportunities in the second half, a winning goal on his return to Selhurst Park and Parker’s attention will now turn to securing a surprise result against the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool or Manchester City in the coming weeks.
A turgid first half an hour was only enlivened by a couple of close shaves. Tosin Adarabioyo timed his intervention impeccably to deny Christian Benteke a sight of goal, whilst Joachim Andersen almost inadvertently turned a teasing cross from Andros Townsend beyond his own goalkeeper. Fulham’s best openings came from set pieces with Joachim Andersen heading wide from a corner and then sending a free header over from Ademola Lookman’s free kick.
Parker sent on Antonee Robinson to add a bit of adventure from left back and his side’s willingness to test Guaita was on display from the first minute of the second period when Maja tried to chip Spanish goalkeeper from the halfway line. Another Lookman free-kick posed problems for the Palace defence but Guaita dealt easily enough with Adarabioyo’s tame header before fielding a speculative strike from Andersen after the home side had struggled to clear another corner. The Danish defender went close from a 30-yard free-kick – his effort from distance, as well as perhaps the identity of the taker, surprising Guaita and flashing a yard wide.
Fulham were fully in control and Ruben Loftus-Cheek perhaps should have done better than bend a tame effort into Guaita’s chest after Bobby Decordova-Reid had teed him up on the edge of the box. Maja, until then well marshalled by the experienced Gary Cahill and Cheick Kouyate at the heart of the Palace defence, then went as close as anyone to breaking the deadlock, spinning away from Kouyate and shooting just wide from the edge of the box.
Ivan Cavaleiro then almost had an immediate impact after being introduced as a substitute. The Portugese winger curled in a beautiful cross from the right, Maja rose majestically to head for goal and Guaita made a magnificent reaction save. Fulham probably should have gone in front from the ensuing corner, but Cahill made a brave block as Andersen appeared destined to score at the back post. Loftus-Cheek then lashed a drive just wide of goal after Cavaleiro had cushioned a high ball from Andersen superbly into the Chelsea loanee’s path – and you got the feeling it just wasn’t going to be Fulham’s day.
Mitrovic replaced Anguissa as Fulham went for broke, but they momentarily lost their grip on the midfield battle as a dour, tense contest reached its closing stages. Benteke threatened from a Palace corner, climbing high to head across goal, and Hodgson’s charges briefly perked up as an attacking threat but it was Fulham who finished far stronger. Lookman was guilty of snatching at a glorious chance when he was found by a wonderful cross from the excellent Harrison Reed, slashing his strike wastefully wide with Mitrovic crying out for a cross, and Fulham couldn’t carve out a winner in the three minutes of stoppage time with another Adarabioyo header drifting frustratingly wide.
Parker’s plucky side haven’t lost any ground on their competitors at the foot of the table, but this was a big chance to take a giant leap towards safety missed. The consolations come in the form of another diligent defensive performance, rewarded with a ninth clean sheet of the season, and the continuation of an eight-match unbeaten away run, which represents Fulham’s finest top flight sequence away from home in the club’s history.
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-2-3-1): Guaita; Ward, van Aanholt, Kouyate, Cahill; Milivojevic, Riedwald; Eze (McCarthy 79); J. Ayew, Townsend; Benteke. Subs (not used): Butland, Dann, Mitchell, Kelly, Hannam Batshuayi, Mateta.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola; Tete, Aina (Robinson 45), Andersen, Adarabioyo; Reed, Anguissa (Mitrovic 73); Decordova-Reid (Cavaleiro 66), Lookman, Loftus-Cheek, Maja. Subs (not used): Fabri, Ream, Kongolo, Bryan, Lemina, Onomah.
REFEREE: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire).
VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Peter Bankes (Merseyside).