In Fulham owner Shadid Khan’s interview with BBC 94.9, Khan highlighted that the Cottagers were still gelling and the fans have yet to see the best from Martin Jol’s men. Surely, it was an owner’s optimism, but he looked a wise man leaving Selhurst Park with a smile that could light up the stadium.
However, Fulham’s start to the match was far from convincing. They struggled to push forward as a unit throughout the entire first half, and found themselves trailing Crystal Palace seven minutes in, courtesy of an Adrian Mariappa header. Fulham’s inability to get into advanced positions was down to Palace’s organization without the ball. Ian Holloway’s men allowed Fulham’s centre backs to build from the back, but Jose Campana pressed Scott Parker when he dropped deeper to receive the ball – Dwight Gayle also completed this duty when Parker was closer to the centre backs.
Campana’s pressure forced Parker to play passes sideways, while Mile Jedinak and Stuart O’Keefe closed down Steve Sidwell. Fulham lacked a link between midfield and attack, thus forcing them to either play hopeless long balls to their forwards or concede possession in midfield. Palace minimized space between the lines with their high-defensive line and Martin Jol’s men were unable to break past their press. They did enjoy a great amount of success when Kasami and Berbatov – both on one occasion – dropped into midfield as a spare man to receive the ball and facilitate it forward. And it was peculiar that Jol didn’t instruct his men to repeat this feat.
Luckily, two moments of sheer brilliance saw Fulham walk into half-time with a lead, despite their attacking deficiencies. Pajtim Kasami made a powerful darting diagonal run towards the box, latching onto Sascha Riether’s long ball. The Swiss midfielder controlled the ball with his chest and volleyed it over Julian Speroni and into the back of the net. Subsequently, at the stroke of half-time, Sidwell’s inch-perfect volley – which was initially blocked by an assembled Palace wall – fell admirably under the crossbar, leaving Speroni to watch.
Although Palace didn’t deserve to be trailing going into the second half, they didn’t necessarily offer much going forward. Palace’s main threat came from Yannick Bolasie, who used his trickery to get past defenders, but like the rest of his teammates, the Palace winger’s quality in the final-third was putrid. Halloway’s men were poor in possession, lacked invention going forward, and their production in wide areas was diabolical.
Palace was down a goal heading into the second half, and it was odd to see Campana replaced with Jerome Thomas. Although Campana didn’t have a remarkable first half, he did keep Parker quiet, and his departure led to a Fulham onslaught. Now, Parker and Sidwell were allowed to push forward and play positive passes, and although they weren’t involved in the third or fourth goal, Fulham’s play in general improved.
Holloway continued to chase the match by making more attacking alterations, but their lack of quality led to their downfall, and may see them flirt with relegation this season. Two moments of brilliance hampered their great defensive work rate in the first half, but Palace didn’t create many legitimate chances to merit a point. Meanwhile, their vulnerability defending set-pieces ruined any opportunity of mounting a comeback.
More so, this was a splendid result for Jol’s men – who are usually poor on the road – but this wasn’t the best we’ve seen from Fulham, and they’ll need to improve if they intend on living up to Khan’s statements.