When these two sides last met 16 months ago, Fulham hit seven past Luton Town on the night the Cottagers sealed the Championship title. Few would have imagined that the next time they would meet would be in the Premier League.
As it was, this was a first top-flight meeting between the teams since 1960 when the Hatters won 4-1 at Kenilworth Road but it was Fulham who took the three points here thanks to substitute Carlos Vinicius’s second-half strike and moved into the top half of the table.
The Brazilian’s first goal of the season inflicted a fourth straight defeat for Luton, who became only the second side to lose each of their first four Premier League matches in their first season in the division, since Swindon Town in 1993-94 and are now rooted to the bottom of the league.
‘Tricky one. Difficult one and to be honest, we expected that with their 5-3-2 behind the ball,’ admitted Marco Silva, whose side were made to graft for the three points. ‘It was crucial for us to win this game,’ he added.
In truth, Luton offered stubborn resistance but lacked that clinical edge to beat Bernd Leno despite some glorious chances.
Carlos Vinicius came off the bench to score Fulham’s opening goal at home to Luton Town
Marco Silva made three changes from the Fulham side that lost to Man City before the break
Luton’s keeper Thomas Kaminski was booked for timewasting as they looked to stifle the hosts
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‘We missed three golden opportunities today and I think we should have had a penalty as well,’ said Luton boss Rob Edwards.
MATCH FACTS AND RATINGS
FULHAM (4-3-3): Leno 7, Tete 6, Diop 7, Ream 6, Castagne 6, Pereira 7.5 (Cairney 81), Palhinha 7, Reed 6 (Iwobi 62, 6), Wilson 6 (De Cordova-Reid 81), Jimenez 5 (Vinicius 62, 7), Willian 7 (Bassey 90+1).
Subs unused: Rodak, Toure, Muniz, Francois
Goals: Vinicius 65
Bookings: Diop, Castagne
Manager: Marco Silva 6
LUTON TOWN (5-3-2): Kaminski 6, Kabore 7, Burke 6 (Woodrow 82), Lockyer 6, Anderson 6, Bell 6, Lokonga 7 (Mpanzu 75, 5), Nakamba 6, Chong 6 (Adebayo 75, 5), Brown 6 (Doughty 75, 5), Morris 6 (Ogbene 75, 5).
Subs unused: Krul, Berry, Mengi, Giles
Bookings: Chong, Kaminski
Manager: Rob Edwards 6
Referee: Michael Salisbury 7
Silva made three changes from the side that lost to Man City before the international break, with Joao Palhinha making his first appearance since his move to Bayern Munich collapsed at the end of the transfer window.
The Portuguese international won 11 duels, the most of any player on the pitch and since making his Premier League debut last August, he has won 308 duels – more than any other player in the division.
‘Top player. Top professional. Top guy,’ said Silva, when asked about Palhinha, who signed a new deal till 2028 earlier this week. ‘He showed his quality and commitment. All players have dreams. Any professional wants to improve so it’s no surprise when one of the biggest clubs come in. But I never had doubts about his commitment to this football club,’ added Silva.
Edwards made four changes from their defeat to West Ham with Issa Kabore and Sambi Lokonga making their debuts after moving to Luton on loan from Man City and Arsenal respectively.
With five at the back and keeper Thomas Kaminski booked for timewasting in the first half, Luton’s gameplan was clear from the outset – to defend in numbers and hit on the break.
Fulham enjoyed most of the ball with 77.8 percent possession – their most ever in a Premier League game – but it was the visitors with the better chances in the first half with Tahith Chong testing Leno early on. Carlton Morris volleyed wide from inside the box before Jacob Brown’s header rattled the crossbar after a superb delivery from Kabore.
Fulham had early opportunities of their own and Kenny Tete should have converted when Andreas Pereira’s corner found the Fulham defender but he failed to keep his free header down.
The visitors should have taken the lead after the break when Brown’s floated delivery found Amari Bell at the far post but his strike was straight at the outstretched Leno.
Fulham’s Kenny Tete (L) should have taken the lead, but he failed to keep his free header down
Rob Edwards rolled the dice with four substitutions, but the Hatters failed to get the equaliser
Vinicius’s goal moved Fulham into the top half of the Premier League after five matches
And they were made to pay for their wastefulness three minutes after Vinicius replaced Raul Jimenez up front. Pereira found Willian down the left-hand side and his delivery was palmed by Kaminski straight into the path of Vinicius who smashed home to break the deadlock.
With 15 minutes to go, Edwards rolled the dice with four substitutions but they failed to get an equaliser. It was another opportunity missed for the Hatters who will be desperate to avoid making it five defeats on the trot when Wolves visit Kenilworth Road next weekend.
For Silva, a win was a fitting way to mark his 100th game in charge of the Cottagers. His win rate of 39.5 percent with the club in the Premier League is the best out of any Fulham manager but he was keen to emphasise some of the refereeing decisions that have gone against his side this season.
‘Five games. Tough schedule and many decisions against us as well that have had a huge impact,’ stressed Silva. ‘Sometimes it’s important to remind because sometimes people forget. It’s not an excuse but it’s a reality.’