t is rare for a game to mean quite so much so early in the season, but smiles on Fulham faces at full-time showed just how much this one did. Finally, they have arrived in the Premier League.
When Fulham need a win, a visit from West Brom was most welcome. The Baggies haven’t come away with a League victory from Craven Cottage since 1967, and from the off never looked like ending that run here.
Three points were vital for both sides, neither having picked up a win so far this season and with rather unfavourable fixtures on the horizon, but it was the west Londoners who finally clicked, playing their finest football since promotion and looking to be enjoying themselves back in the Premier League for the first time.
Eyebrows were raised when Ruben Loftus-Cheek was dropped to the bench, with Bobby Decordova-Reid preferred on the right on a chilly Monday evening by the river. The questions asked were quickly answered with Fulham’s start. The Cottagers were dominant in the middle through Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Mario Lemina, while Ademola Lookman was a constant menace down the right.
That midfield pair, with captain Tom Cairney just ahead, overwhelmed their visitors, but early on could not create too much off the back of it. Aleksandar Mitrovic was dropping deep and losing the ball, posing little threat.
It wasn’t until the Serbian pushed forward that he started to make an impact, finally offering a target in the box. A fine move in the middle saw the ball swept out to Antonee Robinson, whose cross was met at the far post by Mitrovic, the striker heading across goal for Decordova-Reid to nod in his second Premier League goal of the season.
Fulham were fantastic and free-flowing, and would double their lead shortly after with Mitrovic involved again, helping on the ball from Decordova-Reid after Ola Aina had laid it through, back into the path of the full-back, who thumped home his first ever Premier League goal with a rifled left-footed drive into the far corner.
Parker spent the summer and the start of this season calling for togetherness while watching disjointed performances result in defeat after defeat. There was nothing fractured about their display this evening, the hosts moved intelligently as one with Robinson and Aina combining wonderfully with those ahead of them in the wide positions. Harrison Reed, on for Lemina at the break to shore things up, covered everywhere while Anguissa continued to dictate alongside him.
This win feels hugely significant, but returns just the same as any other. Parker knows this is perhaps the easiest encounter they will face across the season, but maybe that made it all the more important they took all three points. The Fulham boss knows his target, winning the “mini-league” as he dubbed it where the champions take fourth from bottom.
It will still be a tough, possibly unpleasant season for the Cottagers, but they have finally clicked and know that if this kind of performance can be replicated they will have more than enough to finish top of that mini-league.
There were question marks over exactly what would happen to Anguissa when he returned from his season on loan with Villarreal.
Parker said he would give him, and others, their chance – though the expectation was that the 24-year-old, who really struggled during his first season in the Premier League when the Cottagers were relegated, would be sold.
But the midfielder took his chance and unlike Jean Micheal Seri, who also came back from a loan only to be left out of Parker’s squad, has made his mark.
First alongside Mario Lemina and then Harrison Reed in the second half, the Cameroon international was sensational against the Baggies.
Breaking things up in midfield, charging forward and playing a vital part in the first goal or even looking to work his way into the box and maybe grab one of his own, it was a vintage display.
Anguissa set the tone for others to follow and barely put a foot wrong. Karlan Grant should have punished a soft moment in the first half when firing wide after Anguissa was too easily dispossessed, but that one incident aside, it was a commanding showing.
Andersen settles well as Fulham keep first clean sheet
Having desperately chased defensive recruitments over the transfer window, Scott Parker was dealt a deeply frustrating blow when Joachim Andersen, signed on loan from Lyon, was injured in training before kicking a ball.
Parker clearly thinks a lot of the Dane, who returned to training on Friday and was thrown straight in to fix the Fulham defence which had looked so porous before tonight on his Premier League debut.
He wasn’t up against much here, it must be said, but the 24-year-old slotted in seamlessly alongside Tosin Adarabioyo and was a leading presence at the back, something the Cottagers have so sorely lacked.
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Areola 6, Aina 7, Adarabioyo 6, Andersen 6, Robinson 7, Zambo Anguissa 9, Lemina 8 (Reed 6), Cairney 7, Decordova-Reid 7 (Ivan Cavaleiro 6), Mitrovic 7, Lookman 7 (Bryan n/a)
Subs not used: Odoi, Rodak, Ream, Loftus-Cheek
Star man: Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa. The Cameroon international was everywhere in the win against West Brom, breaking up play at the back and causing no end of trouble going forward.