Carlos Vinicius needed just three minutes to remind Marco Silva of his predatory prowess as the Brazilian striker stabbed home the decisive goal to give Fulham a much-needed win over plucky Luton Town at Craven Cottage this afternoon.
Vinicius, who wrote his name in Fulham folklore by heading the winner against Chelsea last January, hasn’t had the opportunity to replace Aleksandar Mitrovic this term despite deputising admirably for the Serbian when Fulham’s talisman was banned for taking his protest against Chris Kavanagh at Old Trafford too far. Silva has preferred summer signing Raul Jimenez even before the former Fulham number nine departed for Saudi Arabia, but the Mexican veteran was easily nullified by Luton’s three centre halves on what looked like being a frustrating afternoon as the Cottage paid tribute to Mohamed Al-Fayed.
Vinicius, though, showed a striker’s instinct in profiting from Thomas Kaminski’s failure to hold a cross from Willian and turned home the winner as the Whites largely laboured against the newly-promoted Hatters. Silva’s substitutions made the difference with Alex Iwobi, also introduced just after the hour, spreading the play out to Willian – via Andreas Pereira – smartly after a deft touch added momentum to a Fulham move. That attack proved crucial as the Whites were holding on at the death and, despite seeing only a fifth of the ball, Luton created the clearer chances even before falling behind.
Rob Edwards’ men might have slipped to the bottom of the Premier League pile as they remain pointless after four games, but there was plenty for a vocal travelling support to take encouragement from. They were well drilled in defence, with Fulham only appearing threatening from set plays in the first half such as when Kenny Tete headed over from a corner, and created the game’s best opportunities. Jacob Brown headed against the near post from a wonderful Issa Kabore cross with Bernd Leno beaten before Amari Bell somehow shot straight at the German goalkeeper when he had the goal to aim at after being found unattended at the far post by Brown’s brilliant ball.
Jimenez buzzed in front of the Luton defence brightly but his best effort was another ambitious overhead kick, whilst Pereira was also pretty peripheral for much of the contest. Joao Palhinha almost celebrated his new contract with a header having reached a deep cross from Timothy Castagne but his effort looped onto the roof of the net. Iwobi made an immediate impression as Fulham went through the gears, starting the move that led to the opener, and then orchestrating attacks that threatened to double the lead. Willian had a shot deflected just past the angle of far post and crossbar and Iwobi scooped a shot into the Hammersmith End after Palhinha had prised open the visiting defence by releasing Bobby Decordova-Reid.
Vinicius might easily have wrapped the points up when sent clear by a terrific Tete through ball, but Luton grew in confidence the longer the deficit remained a slender one. Kabore had a shot deflected wide before skipper Tom Lockyer flashed a header across the face of goal in stoppage time and Fulham’s frantic defending scrambled a late opportunity away from the feet of their old centre forward Cauley Woodrow. It wasn’t pretty but Silva will certainly take seven points from the first five fixtures – which lifts his side to ninth in the table. More importantly, this was Fulham’s first home league clean sheet in nine matches stretching back to February. That represents something to build upon.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Leno; Tete, Castagne, Diop, Ream; Palhinha, Reed (Iwobi 62); Wilson (De Cordova-Reid 81), Willian (Bassey 90+1), Pereira (Cairney 81); Jimenez (Vinicius 62). Subs (not used): Rodak, Ballo-Toure, Francois, Muniz.
BOOKED: Castagne, Diop.
GOAL: Vinicius (65).
LUTON TOWN (5-3-2): Kaminski, Kabore, Bell, Burke (Woodrow 82), Lockyer; Lokonga (Pelly 75), Nakamba, Chong (Adebayo 75); Morris (Ogbene 74), Brown (Doughty 74). Subs (not used): Krul, Mengi, Giles, Berry.
BOOKED: Chong, Kaminski.
REFEREE: Michael Salisbury (Wiltshire).