They came more in hope than expectation. But while Luton’s wait for a first Premier League point goes on after substitute Carlos Vinícius secured Fulham’s first home win of the season, the away supporters still have plenty of reason to feel optimistic despite now sitting bottom.
Having conceded nine goals in their first three matches at the top table, this was a markedly improved performance from Luton as it took until midway through the second half for Fulham to find the breakthrough within minutes of Vinícius’s introduction off the bench. Up to that point, it had been the visitors who had created the better chances after weathering an early storm, with Jacob Brown and Amari’i Bell spurning excellent opportunities.
“I’m very proud of the lads – we were in the game until the very last minute,” said Rob Edwards. “We had three great chances and I could be in here talking about us taking something from the game. We’re disappointed but I’ve seen progression again from a couple of weeks ago.”
Edwards had been stung by criticism from Garth Crooks after the BBC pundit said this week he “can’t take them seriously” and tipped Luton to be relegated by Christmas. The former Tottenham striker has since been invited to take part in a training session, although Edwards acknowledged he has more important things to worry about.
Fulham, who paid tribute to their former chairman Mohamed Al Fayed, who died last month at the age of 94, with a scarf-whirling welcome before kick off, were relieved to hang on in the end thanks largely to a dominant display from João Palhinha on his first appearance since a last-ditch transfer to Bayern Munich fell through.
Palhinha extended his contract until 2028 on Friday to provide some relief at last for Marco Silva after a difficult summer for Fulham as they lost top scorer Aleksandr Mitrovic to Saudi Arabia. “Since the first minute that he joined the club, João has been excellent for us and he showed it again today,” said Silva. “I’ve never had doubts about his commitment.”
Having finally avoided immediate relegation back down to the Championship at the third attempt last season as they exceeded all expectations by finishing 10th, on this evidence, it may be more of a struggle without the Serbia striker despite the quality remaining at Silva’s disposal. Mitrovic’s replacement, Raúl Jiménez, offered little in attack apart from an attempted overhead kick that led to Fulham’s first real opportunity after 20 minutes as Kenny Tete headed over a corner from close range.
Luton’s defensive doggedness and team spirit has driven their rapid climb up the leagues and they seemed to grow in confidence as the first half continued. A last-gasp challenge from Palhinha stopped a counterattack in its tracks before a brilliant cross from Issa Kaboré was headed against the post by Brown. The Luton goalkeeper, Thomas Kaminski, managed to get himself booked for timewasting in the 36th minute as Fulham ended the half having racked up almost 80% in possession but little to show for it in terms of cutting edge.
Only Bell will know how he failed to provide the breakthrough within seconds of the restart after Brown picked out the left wing-back unmarked on the back post, with Bernd Leno well positioned to make the save from point-blank range.
Fulham responded by picking up where they had left off in the first half in terms of dominating the ball and Palhinha’s header drifted just over the crossbar as they mounted the pressure. Luton stuck to their gameplan as they camped out midway in their own half and dared their opponents to try to break them down on a sweltering afternoon by the Thames.
Silva opted to play his hand early by introducing debutant Alex Iwobi and Vinícius off the bench in the 62nd minute and it paid off almost immediately. Willian found some space down the left flank and his teasing ball caught Kaminski in two minds as he could only palm the ball straight into the path of Vinícius, who made no mistake with an instinctive finish.
Willian went close to extending their lead as Fulham smelled blood but Luton refused to give up without a fight as Kaboré’s shot was deflected wide to end the day with nothing to show for their concerted effort.