• by Julian Taylor

No capital gain for struggling Cottagers as Eagles offer lesson in efficiency



FULHAM 1 CRYSTAL PALACE 2


JULIAN TAYLOR AT CRAVEN COTTAGE


Life in the Premier League continues to provide significant difficulty for Fulham, who went down to a well-drilled and confident Crystal Palace at Craven Cottage.


A goal in each half by the Eagles from Jairo Riedewald and Wilfried Zaha punished the Whites who, despite plenty of sporadic endeavour, ultimately faded before a late consolation by Tom Cairney. It was a super strike, yet all to no avail as Fulham remain bottom of the table.


Cottagers’ chief Scott Parker has pinned much hope on new signings, but the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Mario Lemina were posted missing for much of this capital derby, controlled by Crystal Palace, a team who – unlike the newly-promoted hosts - understand what it takes to thrive in this environment. And a late red card for substitute Abou Kamara for a high tackle on Ebere Eze wrapped up Fulham’s frustration.


Fulham may have went into this clash with just a single point from their endeavours to date, but the spirit shown during last week’s stalemate at Sheffield United gave Parker reasonable grounds for encouragement. This, in the wake of a reshaped team and hoping that the raft of new recruits would settle in. Palace, meanwhile, had to settle for a draw at home to Brighton in their previous game, after the concession of a late equaliser. Yet the south Londoners, embedded in fifth place, exist satisfactorily – and these three points will be grateful received.


Regrettably for Eagles chief Roy Hodgson, due to ongoing Covid restrictions, there was no fanfare from what would have been a normal welcoming crowd at the club where he is so fondly remembered. Fulham’s famous run to the Europa League final a decade ago is forever etched on the banks of the Thames.


However, it didn’t take long for the west London outfit to afford some early hospitality: an unfortunate feature of their Premier League experience this season to date.


Eight minutes gone – and the Cottagers were caught out. The Eagles’ move started when the busy Zaha took a shot which was palmed away by Alphonse Areola. Seconds later, though, a clever Zaha reverse pass made its way into the path of Riedewald, who fired under the Fulham keeper from around 12 yards. A real blow for Parker’s early hopes.


How to respond? If Fulham’s confidence was expected to dip they didn’t show it and their response was vibrant. A nifty approach initiated by Antonee Robinson, found Aleksandar Mitrovic who supplied a neat pass for Ademola Lookman, who cracked a low shot against the base of the post, with the faintest of touches by Palace keeper Vincente Guaita.


Palace, with their noted pace on the flanks, appeared content to try and clip the Cottagers on the counter-attack for spells in the first half, now that they held a vital advantage.


The hosts were denied by the woodwork once more, in the 25th minute when the industrious Lookman took aim, only for the rebound off the far post to be unnecessarily blasted over the bar by Mitrovic. It proved to be a fairly symbolic moment from the Serb, who was well taken care of all afternoon. Although Robinson and Lookman were combining well on the left, the frustration was obvious, as is so often the case when a team is languishing at the foot of the table. While they were searching for a leveller, at least there were no problems in terms of Fulham’s work rate.


Keen to hold on to their advantage, Palace were managing the tempo of the game better than Fulham, where the addition of a second goal would all but have taken the points back to south London.


That threat on the counter came to fruition when Hodgson’s men doubled their lead in ruthless fashion in 63 minutes, thanks to Zaha.


With Fulham caught for pace, Michy Batshuayi took possession on the right hand side, before supplying a low cross for Palace talisman Zaha to force the ball home at the far post. The winger did require treatment for his trouble after colliding with the woodwork.


And with that moment of bravery, the likelihood of Fulham staging a remarkable comeback was remote. It was a sign of things that Loftus-Cheek, failing to make any real impact, was replaced in 73 minutes by Bobby Decordova-Reid.


The Eagles opted for more energy, giving former QPR star Eze a chance to shine when he came on for Jeffrey Schlupp. But the matter in hand was now, rather wisely, all about consolidation for Hodgson. With three minutes to go, Kamara’s high challenge was deemed suitable for dismissal by referee Graham Scott after VAR consultation.


Fulham, surprisingly, did manage halve the deficit. Cairney took aim and planted a fine goal past Guaita in stoppage time from all of 25 yards. Under different circumstances this would have been the signal for a major comeback. But it was too late, on what proved to be a very productive afternoon for Palace and Hodgson.


Fulham: Areola, Aina, Ream, Adarabioyo, Robinson, Cairney, Anguissa (Kamara 66), Loftus-Cheek (Decordova-Reid 73), Lemina Reid 78), Lookman, Mitrovic,


Crystal Palace: Guiatra, Clyne (Van Aanholt 72), Kouyate, Dann, Mitchell, Townsend, Milivojevic, Riedewald (Sakho 84), Schlupp (Eze 75), Batshuayi, Zaha

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