Barclays Premier League: Fulham 2, Norwich City 1
17:02 31 March 2012
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Aaron Wilbraham’s first Premier League goal was not enough to salvage a point for Norwich City as they slipped to their third successive away defeat at Craven Cottage.
City were two goals down inside 13 minutes as Clint Dempsey and Damien Duff gave Fulham a flying start.
Dempsey scored after less than two minutes after goalkeeper John Ruddy parried a shot from Bryan Ruiz.
And City were caught cold again as Duff made it 2-0 when he finished off Dempsey’s well-judged pass.
Jonny Howson missed a golden chance to reduce the arrears before the break, but the Canaries produced a much better second-half performance and although Fulham could have made the game safe on several occasions, Paul Lambert’s men were back in with a shout when Wilbraham, on for Steve Morison, struck after 77 minutes.
The substitute’s powerful shot from Hoolahan’s pass took a deflection off Aaron Hughes on its way past Mark Schwarzer.
City’s late rally failed to deliver an equaliser, however, despite four minutes of added time.
Defender Ryan Bennett was handed his debut for the Canaries as one of four changes to the team that started the 2-1 win over Wolves.
The reported £3m-plus signing from Peterborough was included after making his first reserve team appearance in the 5-1 defeat by Fulham at Colney on Tuesday.
There were recalls for Kyle Naughton, who played the second half against Wolves, and Andrew Surman, while Steve Morison returned in attack.
Skipper Grant Holt was serving a one-match ban, while Simon Lappin was left out of the 18. Elliott Bennett and Simeon Jackson were relegated to the substitutes’ bench.
Anthony Pilkington was ruled out for the second week running by a hamstring injury.
Fulham showed two changes to the eleven who started Monday’s 1-0 defeat at Manchester United, with Bryan Ruiz and Danny Murphy returning at the expense of Mahamadou Diarra and Kerim Frei, both of whom were on the bench.
Ex-Canary midfielder Dickson Etuhu was among the substitutes, along with Swedish winger Alex Kacaniklic, recalled from his loan at Watford.
Up to 5,000 City supporters made the trip to the capital, hoping for a better experience than the 6-0 defeat that condemned their side to relegation from the top flight seven years earlier.
But they didn’t enjoy the greatest start as Fulham went ahead in only the second minute through Dempsey.
An involved passing move from City broke down when Ryan Bennett’s forward ball was returned first time and Ruiz got away from Ward to fire in a shot that Ruddy parried, but Dempsey followed up to knock in the rebound for his 19th goal of the season, and Fulham’s first in four matches.
The Canaries, playing with three at the back and with Russell Martin and Naughton as wing-backs, forced a couple of corners in quick succession, defender Bennett heading over from Fox’s kick.
A neat interchange between Hoolahan and Howson opened a gap on the right side of the Fulham defence, but Morison sent a poor cross out of play.
Things went from bad to worse for City in the 13th minute when Duff extended Fulham’s lead.
Dempsey was the architect with the perfect pass for Duff, who escaped the attentions of Naughton and beat Ruddy with a left-foot shot that the keeper got a hand to, but could not keep out.
Home fans responded with the chant of “We want six” and Fulham threatened again when Dembele found space for a shot that deflected off Ward but bounced into Ruddy’s hands.
Ward was shown the yellow card after 26 minutes, the first of the afternoon, for a foul on Ruiz.
Ward earned another word from referee Taylor when Pogrebnyak went down on the touchline and needed treatment but there seemed no obvious foul and he was angry with the decision.
The goalscorers combined well when Dempsey headed over from a Duff cross as the hosts continued to dominate.
There was a rare half-chance when Ryan Bennett headed back Surman’s corner and Ward shot wide, but City had made little headway.
Ten minutes before the break, Pogrebnyak, still feeling the effects of that knock, made way for Kacaniklic.
Howson missed a golden chance to reduce the arrears after 38 minutes when Surman played him into a shooting position, but he poked his shot left-footed across the face of the goal.
Then Whitbread tried his luck from distance but Schwarzer dived to make the save.
Fulham should have made it 3-0 two minutes before the break when Dembele set up Dempsey, whose shot hit the post and rebounded to Dembele, but his follow-up effort was blocked by Ryan Bennett as he slid in.
In first-half stoppage time, Surman flashed a 20-yard drive wide from Hoolahan’s pass.
• Half-time: Fulham 2, Norwich City 0
At the restart, City brought on a striker for a defender as Jackson replaced Whitbread. They reverted to a conventional back four with Bennett and Ward in the centre.
Kacaniklic almost made it 3-0 three minutes after the break, recovering well from a slip as he escaped Russell Martin’s attentions and curling in a right foot shot that Ruddy tipped on to the bar.
There was a delay as Murphy received treatment after landing badly as he jumped for a header with Hoolahan.
Hoolahan almost reduced the arrears by forcing Schwarzer to dive to his left to save after Morison had nodded down Bennett’s long ball, and as Surman followed up the rebound from a tight angle, Hughes got in an important block.
Fox was booked for a challenge on Dembele that brought more derision from an intolerant home crowd.
A foul by Murphy on Hoolahan gave City a free-kick and Surman’s effort was deflected out for a corner. Surman took it but Bennett headed over.
Only an excellent challenge by Bennett prevented Kelly adding goal number three as he moved on to a ball from Ruiz.
Hughes missed a good opportunity moments later when he shot over from Dembele’s pass.
Riise was next to let fly from the left, but Ruddy made an important save.
City made a second change midway through the half when Wilbraham was sent on for Morison.
Fulham replaced skipper Murphy with Diarra with 20 minutes to go.
With a quarter of an hour left, Wilbraham missed a reasonable opportunity when he pulled his shot across goal after Surman and Naughton combined well.
But after 77 minutes, substitute Wilbraham did reduce the arrears to set up a potentially exciting finish.
A determined run by Hoolahan took the ball to the left of the Fulham area and Wilbraham cut inside on to his right foot to shoot past Schwarzer via a wicked deflection off Hughes.
Etuhu entered the fray as Fulham made their final change, replacing Ruiz with eight minutes to go. Shortly afterwards, Elliott Bennett replaced Fox for City.
Etuhu was swiftly booked for a foul on Hoolahan as City kept up their late assault.
Russell Martin was then the victim of a heavy challenge by Etuhu as the seconds ticked away.
• Result: Fulham 2, Norwich City 1
• Fulham: Schwarzer; Kelly, Hangeland, Hughes, Riise; Ruiz (Etuhu, 82), Dembele, Murphy (Diarra, 71), Dempsey, Duff; Pogrebnyak (Kacaniklic, 35). Subs (not used): Stockdale, Senderos, Frei, Trotta.
• Norwich City: Ruddy; Ryan Bennett, Ward, Whitbread (Jackson, 45); Russell Martin, Howson, Fox (Elliott Bennett, 84), Surman, Naughton; Hoolahan; Morison (Wilbraham, 68). Subs (not used): Steer, Drury, Crofts, Bradley Johnson.
• Referee: Anthony Taylor (Manchester)
• Attendance: 25,700
• Goals: Fulham: Dempsey (2), Duff (13). City: Wilbraham (77)
• Bookings: Fulham: Etuhu (88). City: Ward (26), Fox (54)