Clint Dempsey has a new contract offer on the table and it was easy to see why Fulham want him to sign it yesterday when the Texan scored their second-minute opener, then laid on a goal for Damien Duff as the London club secured their place in the safe haven of mid-table.
Fulham had to withstand a late Norwich rally, sparked by Aaron Wilbraham's first goal of the season, but always looked like ending a run of three successive defeats to leapfrog their visitors. City had to settle for the knowledge that there was no need to wait on updates from Molineux and Loftus Road.
"We should have got something at the end but you can't give teams a two-goal start," said the Norwich manager, Paul Lambert. "It was the worst start you can get but we never capitulated."
Norwich are one of the few teams to opt for playing three at the back on occasion but it was a case of having too many centre-halves as Elliott Ward and Zak Whitbread both assumed the other would deal with a Brede Hangeland clearance and Bryan Ruiz was allowed to bring the ball down, cut inside, and shoot. John Ruddy parried but Clint Dempsey beat Russell Martin to the loose ball to tap in. It was Fulham's first successful strike in nearly five hours after suffering three goalless defeats.
A dozen minutes later the lead was doubled. Duff ran off the right flank, behind Whitbread and on to a Dempsey pass before delivering a shot which Ruddy got his hands to but could not keep out.
"We want six," chorused the Fulham faithful, in recognition of the score the last time Norwich played at Craven Cottage, on the final day of 2005 when a 6-0 defeat sent them down. But Fulham lost Pavel Pogrebnyak to an ankle injury which will be assessed tomorrow and Norwich came more into the game with Ward going close after corner and Johnny Howson, well found by Andrew Surman, shooting wastefully wide. It was Fulham, though, who went closest to another goal before the break, Dempsey striking the post. The ball rebounded to Ruiz but Ryan Bennett threw his body in the way of the Costa Rican's shot.
To no great surprise Lambert switched to four at the back at the break with Simeon Jackson joining the isolated Steve Morison in attack. However, Fulham went close again when their own substitute, Alex Kacaniklic whipped in a shot which Ruddy tipped on to the bar.
Norwich thereafter began to worry Fulham and Mark Schwarzer had to parry a Wes Hoolahan shot with Aaron Hughes blocking Surman's follow-up. A saving tackle by Ryan Bennett on Stephen Kelly, Ruddy's parry of a thumping John Arne Riise drive, and a miss by Wilbraham meant the score remained unchanged until the final 13 minutes. Then a Wilbraham shot, taken after Mahamadou Diarra was caught in possession, deflected in off Hughes' knee. Norwich sniffed a point, but Fulham held on.
"In the second they changed the system and we could not get out," said Fulham manager , Martin Jol, "but I was pleased in the end.
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Kelly, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise; Duff, Dembele, Murphy (Diarra, 71), Dempsey; Ruiz Etuhu, 82), Pogrebnyak (Kacaniklic, 36).
Norwich (3-5-1-1): Ruddy; R Bennett, Ward, Whitbread (Jackson, 46); Martin, Howson, Fox (E Bennett, 86), Surman, Naughton; Hoolahan; Morison (Wilbraham, 66).
Referee Anthony Taylor.
Man of the match Dempsey (Fulham).
Match rating 7/10.