After three straight defeats, a fired-up Fulham found their groove again and delivered a stylish repudiation of any suggestion that they were already on the beach. Marco Silva’s men led Leicester City by three goals before half-time and looked threatening every time they came forward. Only when the head coach rang the changes did the visitors threaten any sort of revival, although the Foxes’ hopes of an astonishing comeback were undermined when the excellent Bernd Leno saved a Jamie Vardy spot-kick. Dean Smith’s side fought to end to make this an eight-goal thriller, but side are deep in the sort of relegation battle than many a pundit predicted for the Cottagers before a ball was kicked.

Silva’s nous has been the main reason that Fulham are heading for the sort of mid-table mediocrity that would delight every Craven Cottage regular who has had to ride the rollercoaster of emotions that follows being promoted and relegated with depressing regularity. The Portuguese head coach surprised many observers by opting for a Championship side on his long-awaited return to English football but he has turned second tier specialists into a side that can trade blows with the Premier League’s very best and still remain standing.

Key to the Whites punching above their weight this season has been the performances of a few stalwarts. Tim Ream, sidelined for the season after being fracturing his arm last week against Manchester City, has belied his advancing years with composed displays at centre half. Plenty questioned the signing of Willian after the former Chelsea and Arsenal winger cancelled his Corinthians contract in search of fresh start, but the 34 year-old rolls back the years on a weekly basis in SW6. Daniel Iversen, heroic in Leicester’s draw with Everton last monday, shouldn’t have allowed his free-kick from the left to go all the way in to open the scoring but the Brazilian veteran has been surprising top flight defences ever since he arrived at Fulham in September.

Silva’s penchant for attacking football means that his side are often a little open and this afternoon’s outcome might have been different had Harvey Barnes squeezed Jamie Vardy’s centre inside the far post rather than wide, although Kenny Tete’s sliding challenge might have put the winger off. It proved a costly miss. Fulham looked irresistible going forward. Harrison Reed probably should have scored when played in by Harry Wilson, but his shot was deflected over before Tosin Adarabioyo missed the target with a free header from the ensuing corner.

The hosts didn’t regret those failures for too long. Wilson, who is finally showing his quality at the highest level after a season that began with injury frustrations and was then interrupted by the World Cup, drove through the middle of the Leicester midfield before slipping a perfectly-weighted pass through the horribly square Leicester defence for Carlos Vinicius to double Fulham’s lead. Vardy should have halved the Foxes’ arrears after seizing on a poor pass from Antonee Robinson but, not for the first time this season, Leno bailed out his back four.

Reed missed another chance to increase Fulham’s advantage with Iversen bravely blocking after a flowing move that involved Cairney and Willian before the Leicester goalkeeper also fielded Tete’s attempt from outside the area. But the Whites were not to be denied a third goal, which of the highest quality. Joao Palhinha won possession with a typically tenacious tackle, Reed flicked the ball onto Vinicius and the Brazilian fed Cairney, who wrong-footed Caglar Söyüncü, before firing into the bottom corner off his right foot.

Leicester emerged determined to put things right and it needed an excellent save from Leno to keep out a low drive from Barnes. But Fulham still looked like they had more goals in them. Referee Robert Jones waved away Wilson’s strong claims for a penalty after he looked to have been taken out by Boubakary Soumare, although the rancour subsided when Cairney added a fourth seven minutes after the interval. Tete tore along the right flank and found Cairney in space – with the Fulham captain slotting simply into the net despite the despairing dive of Wout Faes.

Barnes did raise the spirits of the visiting fans, lashing in a lay-off from Vardy to get Leicester on the board and the Foxes’ fans at the Putney End were bouncing when Leno was penalised after bringing down Vardy having made an ill-advised dash from his line to try and intercept a through ball. The German goalkeeper became Fulham’s first number one to save a spot kick since Marcus Bettinelli in 2017 when he guessed right to foil Vardy’s effort.

The Whites went right up the other end to restore their four-goal cushion, with Willian driving in from 25 yards after after a raking pass from Reed. In keeping with a crazy game, the visitors came alive after Silva had substituted a number of key performances. Maddison grazed the crossbar with a free-kick and substitute Tete shot fractionally wide before Maddison converted a spot-kick he won having tumbled under the merest of touches by Palhinha. A terrible back header from Shane Duffy then allowed Patson Data to set up Barnes for his second of the afternoon, but Fulham were able to recapture their control in six minutes of stoppage time to end their losing run.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Leno; Tete, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Diop (Duffy 77); Palhinha, Reed (Lukic 77); Wilson (Kebano 82), Willian (Solomon 82); Cairney (Decordova-Reid 82); Vinicius. Subs (not used): Rodak, Cedric Soares, Harris, Dibley-Dias.

GOALS: Willian (10, 70), Vincius (18), Cairney (44, 51).

LEICESTER CITY (4-2-3-1): Iversen; Castagne, Kristiansen (Thomas 76), Faes, Söyüncü; Soumare (Dewsbury-Hall 76), Tielemens (Ndidi 60); Maddison, Barnes, Praet (Tete 45); Vardy (Daka 76). Subs (not used): Ward, Evans, Souttar, Pereira.

BOOKED: Barnes, Maddison, Soumare.

GOALS: Barnes (59, 89), Maddison (pen 81).

REFEREE: Robert Jones (Merseyside).