It was an afternoon for reunions in west London. Nathaniel Clyne’s first Crystal Palace appearance for more than eight years ended in victory as Roy Hodgson enjoyed a triumphant return to his former club at the expense of Scott Parker’s side.
There is an age difference of 33 years and 65 days between Hodgson and Parker – the second biggest in Premier League history – and the Fulham manager would probably be the first to accept that he still has a lot to learn. After falling behind to a brilliantly taken goal from the outstanding Jaïro Riedewald in the ninth minute, the hosts had several opportunities to find a way back into the game but failed to take them before Wilfried Zaha effectively sealed the points for Palace.
The substitute Aboubakar Kamara was then shown a straight red card for needlessly raking his studs down the ankle of Eberechi Eze, with Tom Cairney’s long-distance strike late on little more than a consolation for Fulham as their search for a first win of the campaign goes on. “We need to learn about the dynamics of this division quickly,” Parker admitted.
Having signed a short-term deal last month following spells with Southampton and Liverpool that saw him briefly emerge as England’s first-choice right-back, Clyne last pulled on a Palace shirt in a 2-1 defeat to Portsmouth in April 2012 – a campaign that saw Dougie Freedman’s side finish 17th in the Championship. By contrast, Fulham ended that season ninth in the Premier League, having reached the Europa League final two years earlier under Hodgson.
Yet while the intervening period has seen Palace establish themselves in the top flight for the longest period in their history, Fulham have instead assumed the role of London’s yo-yo club having started in a different division for the third successive campaign. The addition of several players at the end of the transfer window – including former Palace loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek from Chelsea and Ademola Lookman from RB Leipzig – and a first point of the season against Sheffield United last week had raised hopes that Parker’s side could stand a better chance of survival this time around.
But his hopes of securing a first clean sheet of the season were ended inside the first 10 minutes, when Riedewald was able to slide home following Zaha’s delightful no-look pass. Fulham dominated possession thereafter and Clyne’s right flank was tested on several occasions by Lookman, who saw his shot from a tight angle strike the outside of the post five minutes after Palace had gone ahead.
His next attempt was even closer, although this time it cannoned back off the woodwork and into the path of Aleksandar Mitrovic with the goal gaping, only for Scott Dann’s vital touch to divert his effort over the bar. Michy Batshauyi came close to extending Palace’s lead soon after but he was denied from close range by Fulham goalkeeper Alphonse Areola.
Given that Fulham had lost their last 14 Premier League matches when conceding first, the omens did not look good at half-time. After the break, Palace’s back four – instructed from the sidelines by Hodgson’s assistant Ray Lewington, another former Craven Cottage stalwart – were happy to soak up pressure and restrict their opponents to efforts from distance.
“We’ve got a stronger squad now and that’s really benefited us,” said Hodgson. “Our decision-making was excellent today.”
Their second goal was the perfect example of Fulham’s deficiencies. Batshuayi was beaten in the air but still found himself in acres of space moments later after a clever pass from Andros Townsend, and the Belgian delivered an inch-perfect cross for Zaha to convert . Clyne was withdrawn with quarter of an hour still to play, before any hopes of a Fulham comeback evaporated following Kamara’s dismissal despite Cairney’s superb goal.