Cole rolls in to dampen revival hopes at Norwich

Norwich 0 - Fulham 1
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Andy Cole spared Chris Coleman the ignominy of suffering four consecutive Barclays Premiership defeats for the first time in his tenure as manager of Fulham.

Andy Cole spared Chris Coleman the ignominy of suffering four consecutive Barclays Premiership defeats for the first time in his tenure as manager of Fulham.

Cole struck his seventh goal of the season in the seventh minute to condemn Norwich to only their third Carrow Road defeat of the campaign and leave manager Nigel Worthington's side firmly entrenched in the bottom three.

Mercifully for the Canaries, two late goals from Portsmouth in a 3-2 Fratton Park win over West Brom prevented them from returning to the foot of the table.

For the third successive week, Norwich were asked to come from a goal down if they were to take anything from the match, but they fell woefully short of their task.

A fortnight ago they trailed to a 24th-minute James Beattie strike before staging a comeback to claim their first Premiership victory at the 14th time of asking this season.

Last Saturday, the Canaries were behind after just nine minutes when Clinton Morrison fired Birmingham in front, but again Worthington's side dug deep to salvage a point.

On this occasion, Fulham were ahead inside seven minutes from their first meaningful attack of the game, and that after Norwich had started relatively brightly.

It was beautifully crafted, however, with Norwich scythed open through the heart of a defence containing Gary Doherty for the first time, with the previously ever-present Simon Charlton a late withdrawal with an Achilles injury.

Dohetry's prior seven starts, following a late summer move from Spurs, had all been in attack, but he and Craig Fleming appeared all at sea when Steed Malbranque initially played a one-two with Mark Pembridge.

After a deft back-heel flick by Brian McBride into the path of Cole, and with a hint of offside which was not given, the former England international then stroked home his seventh goal of the season beyond Robert Green.

Norwich then huffed and puffed with customary vigour, but the moments of quality came from Fulham, underlined when they passed the ball with aplomb in and around the Canaries penalty area midway through the half as they searched for another opening.

It proved elusive, however, for after desperate defending it culminated in Papa Bouba Diop's 20-yard drive being blocked by Fleming, before Pembridge forced a fine save from Green soon after at a time when the Cottagers had wrested the initiative.

After Green offered a hand of apology to his team-mates after clumsily nudging over the bar a dipping, looping effort from Sylvain Legwinski, he was fortunate not to be beaten in the 38th minute.

City were again carved open by intricate passing as Malbranque and Cole combined to tee up Pembridge for a first-time shot he horribly sliced wide.

From the let-off, and on a swift break, Norwich created their best chance of the half, culminating in Mathias Svensson's crisp drive saved smartly low down to his left-hand post by Edwin van der Sar.

The Dutchman had previously watched Leon McKenzie's effort to a Phil Mulryne free-kick flash past the woodwork, while he also comfortably plucked out of the air a more direct deadball attempt from the Northern Ireland international that lacked power.

The start of the second half was proliferated by yet more free-kicks, as the match was at times tetchy, but with two chances for Fulham and one for Norwich, they again all came to nothing.

At least the visitors were proving the more creative and incisive, and on the hour a sharp turn from Cole inside the area led to a driven cross into the six-yard box, with McBride an inch away from sliding the ball home.

Only in the final 15 minutes of the half did Norwich remotely look as if they would salvage a point as they penned Fulham inside their own half for long spells.

They came close through Doherty, McKenzie, David Bentley and in particular substitute Mattias Jonson, but it says something that van der Sar was never once tested.

Instead, it was Fulham who came closest to adding to the game's tally, but Green was equal to a rasping free-kick from Pembridge in the dying moments of a game in which City arguably produced their worst home performance of the season.