Premier League - Fulham sink Norwich
Fulham scored twice in the opening 13 minutes as they boosted their chances of a top-half Premier League finish with a 2-1 win over Norwich at Craven Cottage.
The home side took the lead after just two minutes through Clint Dempsey, who bundled in from close range for his 19th goal of an impressive season.
The Texan turned provider minutes later as Damien Duff made it two with a classy finish to put Fulham in control early on.
But Fulham spurned chances to put the game to bed and were made to sweat for the win when Aaron Wilbraham came off the bench to fire in a deflected consolation.
Fulham survived a late Norwich onslaught to hang on for all three points.
Craven Cottage does not hold fond memories for Norwich, who were thrashed 6-0 and relegated from the Premier League on their last visit to the banks of the Thames in May 2005.
While relegation is not a genuine concern for the Canaries this campaign, the ease with which Fulham were afforded their opener after just two minutes looked ominous for Paul Lambert’s men.
Norwich allowed the dangerous Bryan Ruiz the space to test John Ruddy with a low curling effort from the edge of the box that Ruddy could only parry into the path of Dempsey, who converted from close range.
Norwich reacted well to going behind but lacked a cutting edge in attack without the suspended Grant Holt, and had nothing to show for their confidence on the ball.
Indeed, it was Fulham who struck again with a beautiful goal they scarcely deserved at that stage.
Collecting Dempsey’s perfectly-weighted through ball, Duff finished with a superbly taken first-time finish.
Jonny Howson, who has impressed at Norwich since his January transfer from Leeds, was bright again but missed the Canaries’ best chance of the first half, firing wide after Andrew Surman had picked him out.
Fulham could have added to their lead moments before half time, but Dempsey’s effort struck the base of the post before debutant Ryan Bennett made a crucial block to deny Moussa Dembele on the rebound.
Alex Kacaniklic came on for his Fulham debut as a first-half substitute for the injured Pavel Pogrebnyak, and the 20-year-old came agonisingly close to scoring a delightful debut goal when his curling effort from 25 yards was tipped onto the bar by Ruddy’s fingertips.
Subsequent chances fell to Ruiz and Aaron Hughes, but the home side couldn’t find a third goal despite controlling possession.
Fulham’s frailty this season has been their susceptibility to concede in the final 15 minutes of games. They had done it 16 times ahead of this game this season – and that became 17 when Wilbraham cut onto his right foot and fired a shot that diverted off Hughes and into the net.
The final moments were a little fraught for Fulham, who should have closed the game out, but they survived to take all three points.