Goal of the Season contenders from Pajtim Kasami and Steve Sidwell took all the headlines from Fulham's 4-1 win in their London derby at Selhurst Park on Monday night but Crystal Palace looked like a side who would need a miracle to escape Premier League relegation and it piled pressure on Ian Holloway, who has now left the club by mutual consent.
Holloway's home team had taken the lead through Adrian Mariappa but Martin Jol's visitors hit back before half-time through Kasami and Sidwell's jaw-dropping volleys. Fulham then made sure of the points to move up to 14th place through Dimitar Berbatov and Philippe Senderos in the second half.
It was a huge relief for Fulham, who had back-to-back wins after beating Stoke City before the international break, but there were big problems for Holloway in terms of a leaky defence and a record signing, Dwight Gayle, who severely struggled in front of watching Palace goalscoring royalty Ian Wright and Mark Bright in the stands. Holloway and Palace appeared to lack ideas and the spirit which got them promoted via the Championship play-offs last season.
Holloway made three changes to his starting XI from the side who lost 3-1 at Liverpool last time out. Yannick Bolasie made his first start of the season as the 4-2-3-1 line-up which finished the game at Anfield began against Fulham. Gayle, the Palace goalscorer against Liverpool after coming on at half-time, was also recalled along with Jose Campana.
Fulham boss Jol was able to name Maarten Stekelenburg in goal and handed a start to on-loan forward Darren Bent, while Kieran Richardson and Scott Parker - back from injury - also played as David Stockdale, Fernando Amorebieta, Damien Duff and Giorgos Karagounis missed out.
Story of the game
The sensational, spectacular goals from Fulham's Kasami and Sidwell were impossible to ignore as the standout events of the match. But Holloway's tactics also came under question.
Kasami and Sidwell's were fabulous goals and it is tough to pick any fault in Palace's defending at the latter's reactionary strike. But Holloway could have been a little bit frustrated at the manner in which wide-man Kasami had been allowed to sprint through the centre of midfield unmarked from the halfway line before only being picked up by Mariappa to score his goal.
Any annoyance from Holloway at Kasami's free run would be understandable given he had explained his plans to stop Fulham's midfielders in a surprisingly open pre-match interview with Sky Sports' Monday Night Football. He said: "We are going to have a 4-2-3-1 formation. The most important position is the middle one of the three. So, if my two central midfielders drop off a little bit, maybe a bit too much - as we have been doing, I am going to have a middle player in there pressing Fulham's midfielders to stop them getting the ball so easily."
The "middle one of the three" who Holloway referenced was captain Mile Jedinak. The central midfielder was typically busy in the first half, having 43 touches of the ball and winning 75 per cent of his eight duels. And, as has been the case all season, Jedinak was Palace's best player all night, although he was guilty of losing Senderos for a Fulham goal. He finished the game with 83 touches, an 80% success rate from 15 duels and he gained possession 10 times - more than any other Palace player. Palace right-back Joel Ward also had a good game, touching the ball 101 times - more than any player on the pitch, winning 14 of 21 duels and gaining possession seven times.
Palace had overall made a good start, taking the lead in just the seventh minute when exposing a familiar Fulham weakness. Before the weekend, Jol's team had the worst record for conceding corners (60) in the Premier League this season and another such set-piece was not properly cleared before Berbatov was slow to close down Jason Puncheon and only deflected the cross to give Mariappa the chance to outjump Brede Hangeland and head the opener.
Holloway would have been pleased with his team's first half, although it did not go quite as he had expected before kick-off. Again, he had told Monday Night Football: "We normally defend with two big, strong central midfield players. I think they have been doing too much. I want my two centre-halves to step in on Berbatov, particularly, if he drifts and floats. You have then got to watch Bent over the top but it is getting that balance right with Jedinak and Stuart O'Keefe just blocking that off so Berbatov does not hurt us behind our midfield."
Holloway's theory to stop Berbatov getting on the ball did not work as the Bulgarian saw 41 touches of the ball in the first half. He also attempted 32 passes in the first half. But Berbatov had Fulham's third-worst pass conversion rate of 78.1% in that time and that meant Bent, whose movement was disappointing, was completely isolated. The on-loan Villa man only touched the ball four times in the opening half-an-hour and received just one pass from Berbatov. Bent finished the first half with just five touches of the ball.
Unfortunately for Holloway, his own striker, Gayle, who saw Jerome Thomas come on for Campana at half-time in a bid to add some support, did not create anything going forward and had just one off-target shot before being taken off in the 69th minute. Sky Sports' Gary Neville had highlighted the need for Gayle to try and run the wide channels before the game, saying: "It will be difficult for Gayle. Fulham have got an experienced block in the four of Scott Parker, Sidwell, Senderos and Hangeland. Holloway talked about the space down the sides and I wonder whether Gayle is going to make those type of movements. That would seem to be the most obvious route for Gayle to go tonight."
But 23-year-old Gayle, a £6million summer signing from Peterborough United, proved he has a lot to learn in the Premier League. Holloway's decision to spend big on Gayle is one of the largest question marks from the summer. Gayle touched the ball just 14 times, lost five of his seven duels and had a woeful completion rate of just 44.4% from only nine attempted passes. He also failed to move out wide in search of the ball before being substituted.
By the time Gayle went off to be replaced by Kevin Phillips, Fulham had already gone 4-1 in front from Berbatov's header and Senderos' close-range volley, both assisted by corners from Bryan Ruiz, who created three chances in total and produced seven crosses. It highlighted Palace's defensive problems under Holloway, which are a repeat from his days with Blackpool in the Premier League and mean they, as the second-from-bottom club, and rock-bottom Sunderland remain the only Premier League teams yet to keep a clean sheet this season.
"We went with the same team that finished quite strongly against Liverpool and we got ourselves in front. But the ruthlessness of this division and the skill of some of these players you saw in that first goal which was completely something else. It knocked us a bit and I tried to pick them all up at half-time, then we go and make a couple of mistakes from set-pieces, which we're normally good at."
"Kasami's is a sensational goal and an important goal. Before that, I thought, Palace had been the better team. The momentum in the game completely changed at Kasami's goal. The Sidwell goal was also a brilliant strike. Palace, going in at half-time, if you were Ian Holloway, you could have said, 'look , lads, we have been done by two sensational goals'."
"Neil Warnock has been installed as the early 9/2 favourite to succeed Holloway in a wide open market, with Tony Pulis (6/1) and Eddie Howe (10/1) considered the other main contenders."