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Fulham cruise through the gears at Carrow Road

For 45 minutes at Carrow Road, it was something of a struggle for Fulham. Slavisa Jokanovic’s side looked sluggish after the international break and a coupe of the illustrious ballplayers in midfield seemed just a bit lethargic. Norwich were adventurous, energetic and competitive in putting Fulham off their usual stride – but when the Whites up their game after the interval, the Canaries just couldn’t live with the Londoners.

Those two goals in four second half minutes broke Norwich’s spirit and owed much to Fulham’s own sense of adventure. Fulham had such a slow start at the beginning of the season in large part due to a lack of willing runners from midfield, failing to join isolated forwards in the box. In East Anglia yesterday afternoon, the pivotal moments were provided by marauding midfielders. The doubts about Stefan Johansen that surfaced during that dismal run before Christmas should have long since been assuaged – but any lingering concerns were banished by the clinical way he swivelled to pounce on the rebound after Aleksandar Mitrovic’s thumping header had been pushed out by Angus Gunn.

Tom Cairney’s had a frustrating campaign to date, especially with that troublesome knee injury that has done such damage to both his and Fulham’s season. The Craven Cottage faithful had their hearts set a flutter during the January transfer window when a succession of rumours linked him with a number of Premier League clubs – but the captain has always been clear that his preference would be to make a return to the top flight with the Whites. Moments of magic have been far and few between in a difficult few months for the Scottish midfielder, but when Lucas Piazon’s deflected cross dropped at his feet sixteen yards out, there was little doubting the outcome.

When those two midfield dynamos are on song, there are few teams had this level who can live with the precision of Fulham’s passing and their patient probing around the box. Both Cairney and Johansen had words for Norwich’s talented young pretender James Maddison, who looks like a slightly more athletic version of Eastenders’ Jamie Mitchell from yesterday, and couldn’t get the hosts’ midfield to purr in the manner that Fulham’s was humming during the second half. Johansen incensed the Norwich players in the final quarter of an hour by winning a free kick and leading a series of mock celebrations in front of the travelling supporters – finally showing that cheeky chappie persona that everyone down at Motspur Park has enjoyed since he made the move from Celtic last season.

What was most pleasing about this hard-fought victory was that it wasn’t a performance full of flowing football. Fulham certainly didn’t have it all their own way and had to graft their way to a victory against stubborn and motivated opponents. Canaries’ midfielder Harrison Reed admitted that the Canaries tried to get physical with Fulham, but brute force alone wasn’t enough halt the Whites’ incredible unbeaten run. It will be like that for all of the seven games until the end of the season – and any play-off opponents will try and make themselves difficult to play for, worried about being passed off the field by Jokanovic’s possession football. It that sense this was the kind of win Fulham have to secure when they aren’t hitting their highest levels and, most importantly of all, it proved a fitting tribute to Matthew Fox on the twentieth anniversary of his passing.

Jokanovic refuses to rule out automatic promotion

Slavisa Jokanovic is refusing to concede that Fulham’s feint hopes of automatic promotion are over – despite Cardiff City’s commanding cushion in second place in the Championship.

The Bluebirds hold a seven point lead, with a game in hand over the Whites, after beating Burton Albion 3-1 yesterday – despite Fulham’s extraordinary seventeen-match unbeaten run. Jokanovic was encouraged by his side’s application in a hard-fought win at Norwich City on Good Friday and, whilst he admits he is just concentrating on maintaining the high levels of performances over the next few games, the Serbian coach isn’t quite ready to solely focusing on the play-offs just yet.

He told his post-match press conference at Carrow Road:

No, no. We are just focusing on winning the next few games. We know we need some help from Wolves and Cardiff but if they give us some help then we have to be in a position to take advantage. It’s not in our hands, so all we concentrate on are our own games. There are seven games left, 21 points to play for.

This is another big challenge out of the way and now we have to prepare for another big challenge at home to Leeds on Tuesday night. We just have to keep picking up good results and then see what happens in May. But I am not worried about that now, it’s only the next game I am thinking of.

Fulham stretched their unbeaten run further thanks to second half goals from midfielders Stefan Johansen and Tom Cairney after struggling to test Angus Gunn in the Norwich goal during a rather tame first half.

Jokanovic praises Fulham’s perseverance

Slavisa Jokanovic admitted to being a little bit worried about the outcome of this afternoon’s clash at Norwich after spending just one day with his full squad following the international break – and praised Fulham’s perseverance for securing all three points in East Anglia.

The Whites were seldom at their best during a hard-fought win at Carrow Road but clinched the three points thanks to two goals in four second-half minutes from midfielders Stefan Johasnen and Tom Cairney. Jokanovic admitted after the final whistle that Fulham had to be patient to weather a bright start from Norwich and iron out a bit of rustiness in their own game. The Serbian eventually professed himself satisfied, saying:

To be honest, in the first 45 minutes we took control of the ball from Norwich, we had possession, but we didn’t find enough space to attack behind the defenders and finish the action. A few times they hit us on the counter attack. We changed our mind and started to take risks a little bit at a higher level and try and attack with more confidence and with more desire. In the end we started to attack the spaces and scored the goals.

It’s not easy after the international break, especially for us, a team who sends so many people around the world to play for their national team. I wasn’t so comfortable today because I worked only one day with my team. We showed we aren’t fresh enough, a little bit tired at some moments in the game, but in the end fortunately we scored the goals and we won the points. This is what, in this moment, is important for us.

Jokanovic refused to be drawn on the importance of this victory, preferring to reflect on his own optimistic nature and re-focus ahead of another tough tussle with Leeds United at Craven Cottage on Tuesday night.

I am an optimist in my life. I want to be successful, and to do that I need to be successful tomorrow on the training ground, and next Tuesday night against Leeds. At the moment all we can try to do is play good football, try and find our style that will win us games, and try and make our fans satisfied.

Many clubs want a happy end to the season, and we are going to fight to go up. We are not at the end yet, we are going to fight to go up, but for which position I don’t know what’s going to happen. The only thing I’m interested in at this moment is preparing for the game which is immediately in front of us. This is under my control, other things are not.

Norwich City 0-2 Fulham: Player ratings

Marks out of ten following Fulham’s hard-fought success at Carrow Road …

Marcus Bettinelli: At a time when Fulham were arguably second best in the contest, Bettinelli’s organisation of his defence and control of dangerous situations inside the visiting penalty area proved crucial. He came off his line to collect a couple of threatening balls – an area of his game that has dramatically improved since he returned to the side – and produced a sensational save to keep out a rising drive from Dennis Srbency at the start of the second half. 7

Ryan Fredericks: The right back was initially reluctant to rampage forward as he usually does but got through an awful lot of defensive work in the first half as the home side began the game on top. He managed to kept Josh Murphy relatively quiet, which was no mean task, and also filled in for Fulham’s centre backs when they were caught out of position. Powered forward more effectively in the second half as Fulham got their football flowing. 7

Matt Targett: Another assured display from the Southampton loanee who has been simply outstanding since he made the switch to Craven Cottage back in January. Fulfilled all of his defensive duties impeccably once again and looked much more comfortable once Sessegnon had been brought on to resume their dominant partnership down the left flank. Delivered a devilish cross for Aleksandar Mitrovic that crucially helped to break the deadlock – and set Fulham on their way to another vital victory. 7

Denis Odoi: Perhaps something of a surprise choice to continue at the heart of the defence after his dreadful mistake that cost Fulham two points against QPR and Tomas Kalaas’ return to match action during the international break. Did well in the air against Srbency and looked composed on the floor, carrying the ball far into Norwich territory at a stage in the first half when Fulham’s build up from the back was far too laboured. Certainly put that derby error well behind him. 7

Tim Ream: Efficient and dependable as ever from the American who has become the rock at the heart of Slavisa Jokanovic’s back four. Another commanding display that radiated confidence even at a time when Fulham were struggling to impose their usual performance on a feisty Norwich side. Looked up for the battle against Srbency, brought the ball out from the back with his usual confidence, and was happy to move into areas ahead of the defensive line when Maddison appeared threatening. 7

Kevin McDonald: The Scot initially struggled to contain Norwich’s vibrant movement in front of the Fulham back four and couldn’t get his passing radar functioning early on. Eventually managed to bring a semblance of order to proceedings by dropping deeper to rebel the home side’s encouraging start, but he still looked swamped by the adventurous yellow shirts on occasions. Not a surprise that Jokanovic hooked him in the second half after he had been both cautioned and then warned by referee Keith Stroud. 6

Stefan Johansen: Just as he did last season, the Norwegian popped up with a predatory piece of finishing to put Fulham ahead at Carrow Road. This wasn’t the sort of domineering performance that characterised last year’s run-in, but it was essential to get the Whites going all the same. Took his goal superbly after reacting quickest once Mitrovic’s header had been saved and an intelligent flick in midfield sent the visitors pouring forward for the second a few minutes later. Exuberantly celebrated winning a free-kick in front of the Fulham fans with the clock ticking down. 8

Tom Cairney: Like Johansen, the Fulham skipper struggled to pull the strings early on and was in the wars from the outset as Farke clearly told the Norwich midfielders to try and disrupt Cairney’s rhythm if they possibly could. The Scottish playmaker, who had a disappointing return to international duty over the past week, preserved and got his reward with a sweet strike to make sure the points headed south. Even when he doesn’t touch his highest level, Cairney still looks like one of the divsion’s best performers. 8

Floyd Ayite: Another immensely frustrating afternoon for the Togolese winger, who flattered to deceive in the final third despite receiving the ball in a few dangerous positions. Might have had a penalty in the early stages when he appeared to be bundled off the ball aggressively, but faded from view as he failed to put in a telling ball for a frustrated Mitrovic. Fulham looked much more threatening once Sessegnon replaced him. 6

Lucas Piazon: The Brazilian kept on going throughout but this wasn’t one of his better displays. Struggled to match Norwich’s early intensity and large portions of the contest seemed to pass him by. Improved by quite some margin in the second half and it was his deflected cross that fell at Cairney’s feet for Fulham’s second goal. 6

Aleksandar Mitrovic: Spent most of the first half horribly isolated as Jokanovic’s men struggled to get out of first gear. Waged a real battle with Norwich’s centre backs but was feeding off scraps until Sessegnon’s introduction enlivened Fulham. Might not have scored but proved mightily effective in the second half – principally when his header was well saved and Johansen gobbled up the rebound. That proved to be the game’s turning point. 7

Substitutes:

Ryan Sessegnon (on for Floyd Ayite, 54): You could see the sense in Jokanovic deciding to rest the teenager, who had looked a little jaded in his last few outings, especially after the emotional high of making his England under-21 debut on Tuesday night. The seventeen year-old might not have had a part to play in either of the goals but Fulham posed a greater attacking threat with him on the field – and his presence enlivened what had been a sluggish display until that point. 7

Oliver Norwood (on for Kevin McDonald, 66): The Northern Ireland midfielder was sent on to shore things up in midfield after Kevin McDonald had been booked and then warned once again by Keith Stroud. Kept things nice and simple in the middle of the park – and was booked himself as the game developed a little bit of needle late on, but his arrival of the bench simply illustrated just how much depth Fulham have in central midfield at the moment. 6

Aboubakar Kamara (on for Aleksandar Mitrovic, 78); The French forward replaced Mitrovic for the final quarter of hour after the Serbian had rather run out of puff. Didn’t have too many opportunities to put his go-faster green boots to the test, although he had might have better controlled a glorious through ball from Cairney that could have put him one-on-one with Angus Gunn. No doubting his desire at all. 6

Johansen and Cairney stuff the Canaries

Second half strikes from Stefan Johansen and skipper Tom Cairney extended Fulham’s unbeaten run to seventeen games as Slavisa Jokanovic’s side produced a professional performance to see off Norwich City at Carrow Road. The Canaries had the better of a forgettable first half that was short on clear cut chances, but the Whites were far more dangerous once teenage winger Ryan Sessegnon was sent on ten minutes into the second period and clinically finished their opportunities once they arrived.

Jokanovic’s men made the crucial breakthrough twenty minutes into the second half. Sessegnon had already sniffed out two openings within six minutes of coming on – the second of which required a goal-saving intervention from Christoph Zimmerman after Angus Gunn and Jamal Lewis had collided in trying to stop the teenage – but Fulham were putting the home goal under serious pressure. The Canaries defence gave way when Matt Targett’s floated cross allowed Aleksandar Mitrovic to soar above Timm Klose and, although Gunn made a sharp save, Johansen gleefully put away the rebound.

With Norwich trying to recover from the shock of going behind, the visitors moved in for the kill. They doubled their lead just four minutes later when Lucas Piazon’s low cross found its way to Tom Cairney via a deflection and the classy midfielder drove an unerring finish into the bottom corner from around fifteen yards out. The double strike sent 2,000 Fulham fans into ecstasy and was a fitting way to make the twentieth anniversary of Fulham fan Matthew Fox’s senseless passing on the horrible day at Gillingham.

Having allowed Queens Park Rangers back into a West London derby that looked beyond them before the international break, this was a much more impressive way to close out a game that had appeared even during the hour that preceded Fulham’s first goal. The visitors looked leggy and were laboured in possession, whilst Norwich’s enterprising football threatened to cause problems for a hesitant Fulham defence. Ultimately, though, Daniel Farke’s side were unable to contain the Londoners’ fluent football and were made to pay the penalty.

The German would have been pleased with his side’s application in the first period – but they failed to show Fulham’s ruthlessness when in the ascendancy. Norwich made the brighter start with the lively Josh Murphy looking dangerous down the left and the winger was unfortunate to see his shot, after cutting in dangerously from the flank, deflected off Fredericks and be gathered at the second attempt by Marcus Bettinelli. The hosts then should have made more of a three-on-three when Murphy elected to try and find the offside Dennis Srbency when James Maddison was crying out for the defence-splitting ball.

The German striker, a January arrival from Paderborn, came the closest to a Norwich goal when he took matters in his own hands either side of the interval. After a promising move he flashed a shot narrowly wide from 25 yards before the break and then drew a high class save from the Fulham goalkeeper away to his right with a venomous strike from just outside the box. Murphy then guided an acrobatic volley fractionally wide of the far post with Bettinelli grasping at air and the Canaries keep on pressing but eventually Fulham’s composure passing brought the quality of Johansen and Cairney, who looked hurried in the first half, to the fore.

The away side had struggled for much of a presence up front, with Mitrovic starved of service before the break, and only a tame Cairney daisycutter from distance tested Gunn at all – but they were enlivened by the introduction of Sessegnon, who had been rested after making his England under-21 debut at Bramall Lane in midweek, for the anonymous Floyd Ayite. The teenage prodigy immediately offered Fulham a real threat on the counter with his pace and movement, making the Norwich back four think twice about employing the higher line that previously nullified Mitrovic.

There was little way back for the home side after Fulham’s two goals in four minutes had put them in command of the contest. Farke’s outfit did at least kept battling until the end with Srbency just failing to reach a cross from Murphy that flew across the six-yard box, but by now the travelling supporters were beginning to party exuberantly. This victory might not have brought them any closer to second-placed Cardiff City, who appear to have automatic promotion firmly in their grasp, but gaining all three points without playing spellbinding football is the hallmark of a successful side and can only bode well for the remainder of Fulham’s run-in.

NORWICH CITY (4-2-3-1): Gunn; Pinto, Lewis, Zimmermann, Klose; Reed, Tettey (Hoolahan 77); Vrancic (Edwards 84), Murphy, Maddison; Srbeny (Oliveira 77). Subs (not used): McGovern, Husband, Hanley, Raggett.

BOOKED: Murphy, Maddison, Reed.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Fredericks, Targett, Odoi, Ream; McDonald (Norwood 68), Johansen, Cairney; Piazon, Ayite (R. Sessegnon 54), Mitrovic (Kamara 78). Subs (not used): Button, Christie, Kalas, Fonte.

BOOKED: McDonald, Fredericks, Norwood, Kamara.

GOALS: Johansen (66), Cairney (70).

REFEREE: Keith Stroud (Bournemouth).

ATTENDANCE: 26,238.