A limp surrender at Selhurst Park stood in stark contrast to the rousing revival against Brighton and Hove Albion. All the hope rekindled by that blistering comeback on Tuesday night evaporated after the needless concession of a penalty by Cyrus Christie. Fulham were in the game until that point, but showed very little after half time to suggest they were capable of redeeming the situation. Seven points off survival with games fast running out, Fulham’s predicament looks perilous. Claudio Ranieri insists he still believes – but he might be the only one.
The high-pressure stakes seemed too much for a Fulham side that appeared unwilling to take the game to the opposition, even when they were on top during the early exchanges. The result could have been different had Aleksandar Mitrovic converted the visitors’ only clear opening instead of sending a free header wide from Joe Bryan’s cross – and that glaring miss seemed to weigh heavily on the Serbian’s shoulders.
Palace, content to sit deep and make themselves difficult to play through as per the Roy Hodgson handbook, had barely threatened before the 25th minute. There appeared to be little danger when James McArthur drove a crossfield ball towards Christian Benteke on the left corner of the Fulham box. The big Belgian forward might have pushed Christie as he jumped, but there was denying the Fulham full back’s hand was far too high when it made contact with the ball. To make matters worse, Sergio Rico dived the right way and got something on Luka Milivojevic’s spot-kick but couldn’t keep it out.
There was inevitability about how the rest of the afternoon played out. Fulham failed to lift themselves and were indebted to Rico for keeping the scoreline respectable. Benteke rattled the bar with a ridiculous overhead kick just before half-time and Rico saved smartly from Jeffrey Schlupp in the second half. Mahmadou Sakho glanced a header fractionally wide as Palace pushed for a second, which eventually came with three minutes left when Rico superbly stopped substitute Michy Batshuayi’s goalbound drive, but was powerless o prevent Schlupp from snaffling up the rebound.
Fulham failed to ask any serious questions of the Palace rearguard after the break, despite dominating possession. Late efforts from Luciano Vietto, introduced at half-time, and a frustrated Mitrovic were the visitors’ only answers. Ranieri’s men didn’t register a single shot on target – and the continued absence of Ryan Sessegnon, an unused substitute here, seems particularly baffling.
The 24 year-old, who played alongside Aleksandar Mitrovic at Partizan Belgrade, where he helped his boyhood club to back-to-back Serbian titles. He spent a treble-winning season at Portuguese giants Benfica before moving to Liverpool, but Markovic struggled to establish himself at Anfield, despite making 34 first-team appearances in his first season in English football.
Markovic, who has won 22 caps for Serbia, has since spent time on loan with Fenerbahce, Sporting Lisbon, Hull City and Anderlecht. His new club suggested that Mitrovic had ‘highly recommended’ the tricky winger to the Whites. Fulham’s director of football operations Tony Khan said:
Lazar Markovic is a gifted young player; we’re pleased to welcome him from Liverpool for the remainder of the season. Lazar is known as a great teammate, he has the support of our Manager, and he has the talent to strengthen our attack.
The Norway captain has found his first-team opportunities limited at Craven Cottage this season following Fulham’s promotion to the Premier League and hopes to win a second successive promotion from the Championship under Darren Moore at the Hawthorns, with the Baggies sitting fourth in the table at present.
Johansen quickly became a fans’ favourite at Fulham after signing from Celtic for around £3m in August 2016, despite being hauled off after just 32 minutes on his debut. His energetic displays quickly saw strike up a superb understanding with Tom Cairney and Kevin McDonald in the Fulham midfield as Slavisa Jokanovic’s side reached the Championship play-off semi-finals before going one better and beating Aston Villa to reach the top flight last May.
The 28 year-old midfielder, who has made 46 senior appearances for Norway and scored five goals, has made 104 appearances for the Whites, scoring 21 goals. Johansen has only made three starts for Fulham this season – having been a regular in the first-team previously. His current contract at Craven Cottage expires at the end of this campaign, although Fulham have the option of triggering a one-year extension.
The 28 year-old, who has had two previous spells in English football with Arsenal and West Ham United, helped Hoffenheim to a third-place finish in the Bundesliga last season but has found his first-team opportunities limited this term. Nordtveit had made just eight league appearances for Hoffenheim and jumped at the opportunity to try and help Fulham avoid relegation from the Premier League.
Nordtveit told Fulham’s official website tonight:
I’m really happy to have the opportunity to come back to the Premier League and hopefully help Fulham to a safe place. That would be a something that I would put high on my list in my career.
The situation Fulham is in now, it’s more or less the same that Borussia Mönchengladbach was in when I went to them from Arsenal. They were down the bottom of the table, a much worse situation, eight points off a safe place, and we made it. It’s a feeling that I want again because it’s a feeling you can’t get anywhere else, just on a football pitch.
I haven’t spoken to Brede [Hangeland] about coming here but he is a good friend of mine. Of course, nothing would make me more happy than if I could fill half of his boots. He had a great career here. That’s a guy to look up to. Hopefully, I can make some good moments, like he did in a Fulham shirt.
Nordtveit, who can also play as a defensive midfielder, burst onto the scene in his native Norway as a teenager by making his first-team debut with FK Haugesund at the age of 16. He moved to Arsenal, having been watched by Arsene Wenger a year later, but couldn’t make the grade with the Gunners and left four years later without having made a senior first-team appearance in north London. He joined Borussia Mönchengladbach and helped his new club finish in the top four on three occasions, including a third-place finish in 2014. He started all six of Mönchengladbach’s Champions’ League games the following year and, after making 187 appearances, left to join West Ham.
His single season with the Hammers was something of a disappointment as Nordtveit made just 21 appearances, before Hoffenheim came calling in June 2017. The versatile 6ft 2in Norwegian has won 45 senior caps for his country, scoring two goals.
Fulham’s director of football operations Tony Khan said:
Havard is a talented defender, he’s versatile and intelligent, has extensive international and top-tier league experience, and he comes recommended as an excellent teammate. His scouting profile and his data profile are both excellent, and he arrives with the support of our manager. I believe this is a smart loan for Fulham, and we look forward to welcoming Havard to our squad
The French forward always looked certain to leave Craven Cottage during the January window following an eventful month where he missed a penalty against Huddersfield having refused to hand the ball over to Aleksandar Mitrovic, was embroiled in a fight with the Serbian striker at Motspur Park and was arrested on suspicion of actual bodily harm following an altercation with a club employee at Fulham’s Motspur Park training ground.
The 23 year-old joined Fulham from Amiens in July 2017 for a fee believed to be in the region of £5m and scored seven times in 32 league appearances as the Whites won promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs. Kamara scored five goals in 15 appearances this season for the Whites, but will remain in Turkey until 30 June.