A month ago Martin Jol had Rene Meulensteen looking over his shoulder in the Fulham dugout; now Meulensteen has Alan Curbishley looming behind him. In the circumstances, the Dutchman will be particularly glad of Scott Parker’s late strike which gave the Londoners their first away win of his reign.
Meulensteen, predictably, declared himself “absolutely delighted” with Curbishley’s appointment as technical director – whatever that means – just as earlier in the season Jol welcomed Meulensteen. “Alan will provide me fantastic support, with all his experience,” the manager said. “My strength is on the training ground; he will provide an extra pair of eyes, an extra opinion.”
Experience was very much the theme of Meulensteen’s day, with Parker’s winner epitomising a display he praised for showing “vital character and leadership”. “Our experience will, hopefully, prove very valuable in keeping us in the Premier League,” Meulensteen said.
The three points looked valuable yesterday, with Crystal Palace and Sunderland also winning away. Those results had an ominous look for Norwich City too, as their failure to press home an early advantage meant they slipped back towards the relegation zone.
The in-form Gary Hooper gave Norwich a 13th-minute lead with a shot that was hit hard and low but looped high over David Stockdale off the boot of defender Aaron Hughes. Lively going forward, Fulham were often slapdash at the back and the game would have been beyond them inside 25 minutes had not Johan Elmander and then Hooper spurned gifts freely proffered. Norwich, however, caught the generous spirit and it resulted in the ball ending up in their net twice in two minutes.
They were reprieved on the first occasion when John Ruddy, attempting to hack clear a suicidal back pass by Bradley Johnson, saw the ball rebound past him off Parker. The Fulham captain, instinctively protecting his face, had knocked the ball in with his raised forearms.
But the Canaries were still in disarray when Johnson fouled Parker on the edge of the box and Pajtim Kasami scored with a fine free-kick that found its way through a defensive wall thrown into disarray by a simple feint from Steve Sidwell.
Fulham just about deserved the points for their second-half adventure. The winner came three minutes from time, Parker collecting a headed clearance from the Norwich box with a skilful first touch and with his second dispatching it back with interest from 22 yards.