This was supposed to be the start of a torrid schedule for Fulham, with Manchester City and Liverpool up next after this trip to Leicester, but the way they won at the King Power Stadium suggests those other fixtures may not be foregone conclusions and nor is Fulham’s fate this season.
They are out of the bottom three thanks to a win that was as deserved as it was surprising, even managing to score a penalty after bungling three of their four previous spot-kicks this season.
Ivan Cavaleiro had shanked one over the bar in embarrassing fashion against Everton last week but he atoned by guiding a perfect penalty beyond Kasper Schmeichel for what turned out to be the winning goal.
“I asked him in training if he would take the penalty and he looked me deadpan in the eye and said: ‘Yes, I’m ready,’” Scott Parker said. “The courage to step up after everything that was probably said about him, those are the moments you need. This was a massive win for us, really something we can use to push forward.”
As well as the penalty, Fulham executed their plan impeccably, negating Leicester’s strengths and striking on the counterattack. Ademola Lookman opened the scoring on the half-hour, eight minutes before Cavaleiro’s successful spot-kick and, although Harvey Barnes scored late on for Leicester, even Brendan Rodgers conceded the visiting side merited their win.
Leicester have lost three of their five home matches and have developed a worrisome habit of falling flat when top spot is within reach. Last week they went to Liverpool with high hopes but never troubled the champions en route to a 3-0 defeat. Here they struggled to get going against a team who began the match in 19th place.
Although Fulham arrived having lost seven of nine league matches, they did not look like a team who had had the confidence beaten out of them. Well organised and tenacious, they gave Leicester’s creative players no space in which to work and then landed two telling blows on the break.
That said, Fulham needed to survive a scare in the 18th minute when a free-kick by James Maddison was repelled by the wall but came back to Youri Tielemans, who struck a splendid left-foot volley against a post from 20 yards. Wesley Fofana tried to score from the rebound but poked it against the crossbar.
The only threat Leicester posed from open play in the first half came six minutes later when Dennis Praet hared down the right wing and crossed for Jamie Vardy. The striker had barely touched the ball until that point but produced an acrobatic flick that demanded a save from Alphonse Areola.
Fulham struck on the counter on the half hour, when the excellent André-Frank Zambo Anguissa pounced on a careless pass by Tielemans and strode forwards 40 yards before threading the ball through to Lookman. The forward rewarded that service with a cool finish, sliding the ball past the onrushing Schmeichel. Rather than celebrate, Lookman ran to the touchline to collect and hold aloft a Senegal shirt like the one worn at the 2002 World Cup by Papa Bouba Diop, the former Fulham midfielder who died last weekend at the age of 42.
Eight minutes later Fulham were given an opportunity to double their lead following a foul by Christian Fuchs on Bobby Decordova-Reid. Schmeichel might have fancied his chances but undeterred Cavaleiro guided a perfect shot beyond the reach of the keeper from 12 yards.
Rodgers made two substitutions at half-time but Leicester could not work a clear opening until four minutes from time. Barnes exploited it spectacularly, sending a thunderous shot into the net from 10 yards after Vardy nodded a cross by Tielemans back to him. Too little, too late.