Fulham will need to win at Manchester United on the final day of the season to set a new club record top flight points tally. What better way for Aleksandar Mitrovic to make amends for his moment of madness that saw the Serbian striker suspended for eight games and the Whites’ FA Cup dreams to go up in smoke? Fulham’s talismanic number nine grabbed two goals this afternoon to continue his red hot return to action following his header at Southampton last weekend, but Marco Silva was late rueing late defensive generosity that gifted an equaliser to Joel Ward.
Palace were predatory in front of goal having taken the lead late in the first half against run of play through Odsonne Edouard, who scored with their first shot ten minutes before the break. An emotional Roy Hodgson waxed lyrical about the reception given to him by the Craven Cottage crowd afterwards but the veteran Palace boss shouldn’t have been surprised – he is a bona fide legend at Fulham after rescuing Fulham from almost certain relegation, recording the club’s highest ever finish and then surpassing all that by guiding a well-drilled outfit all the way to the Europa League final.
Hodgson’s latest survival act saw Palace whisked from a fiercely-contested relegation battle with the minimum of fuss, meaning that a side who hadn’t won in twelve matches when he replaced Patrick Vieira at Selhurst Park didn’t need to worry about the consequences of this very watchable London derby at his old stomping ground. The visitors remained without Wilfred Zaha, who hamstring injury is likely to rule him out until the summer, but did have former Fulham centre back Joachim Andersen in their ranks. His early clash with Mitrovic forced the Cottage hero into a change of shirt after inflicting a bloody nose.
That didn’t stop Fulham from making the early running. Kenny Tete drilled a shot over from distance but the hosts were uncharacteristically wasteful from a host of set plays despite enjoying more of the ball. Palace took twenty minutes to put together a move that took them towards the opposition penalty area only for Joao Palhinha to put paid to that attack with a typically crunching challenge on Ebere Eze. Even though some alert defending from Issa Diop prevented Jordan Ayew from stealing in at the far post, it was still a surprise when the visitors hit the front – breaking at pace from a Fulham corner with Eze released Edouard behind the Fulham rearguard before the former Celtic striker leathered a powerful shot past Bernd Leno.
Fulham continued to pour forward but looked destined to go in a goal down at the interval, until an ill-judged intervention from Tyrick Mitchell saw the Palace full back bring down Harry Wilson in the penalty area. His team-mates pleaded a pretty poor case to Bobby Madeley, meaning that there was a long wait before the spot kick could be taken. Even if Mitrovic’s penalty record is now a little iffy, there was no doubt who would be taking it. His effort probably contained plenty of pent up anger – and it left Sam Johnstone with no chance.
Mitrovic somehow squandered a simple chance to put Fulham ahead at the start of the second half when he casually stabbed wide having been picked out by Harrison Reed six yards from goal. Johnstone then fielded a hopeful shot from Willian, but Palace were unable to keep the home side at bay for too long. It was that man Mitrovic again who punished poor marking to power a header past Johnstone from an inch-perfect Willian free-kick. Johnstone kept Palace in the contest when he displayed awesome agility to turn over a Willian effort that appeared set to nestle in the top corner and Fulham ultimately paid the price for a drop in intensity after Marco Silva had taken off the influential Tom Cairney, who was keeping things ticking off in his usual classy manner.
Referee Madeley awarded Palace a generous free-kick when Eze tumbled over having been shadowed by Tete. Michael Olise’s delivery caused chaos in the Fulham area. Leno managed to repel an initial effort from Ward, but the Palace skipper was alive to the rebound and bundled in an equaliser to prove that Palace have assumed that quintessential Hodgson quality of never quite knowing when they are beaten.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Leno; Tete, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Diop; Palhinha, Reed, Palhinha; Wilson (Decordova-Reid 80), Willian, Cairney (Solomon 80); Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Duffy, Cedric Soares, Lukic, Harris, Kebano, Vinicius.
BOOKED: Adarabioyo, Palhinha, A. Robinson.
GOALS: Mitrovic (pen 45+5, 61).
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-2-3-1): Johnstone; Ward, Mitchell, Andersen, Guehi; Doucoure, Hughes; Olise, J. Ayew, Eze; Edouard (Mateta 80). Subs (not used): Whitworth, Clyne, Richards, Adaramola, Ahmada, Lokonga, McArthur, Riedewald.
GOALS: Edoaurd (34), Ward (83).
REFEREE: Josh Smith (Peterborough).