Five-star Fulham leave limp Leicester looking down as fightback falls short


Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha must have enjoyed better bank holiday Mondays. But the Leicester owner, who saw his side ripped apart by a rampant Fulham team that were unlucky to find themselves only 3-0 up at half-time thanks to goals from Willian, Carlos Vinícius and Tom Cairney, may fear that the worst is yet to come.

While Dean Smith pointed to the way his players briefly fought back after Cairney made it four through consolation goals from Harvey Barnes and a James Maddison penalty, a missed spot-kick from Jamie Vardy and another goal for the evergreen Willian only rubbed salt into the Leicester wounds.

With a stern-faced Srivaddhanaprabha watching from the Cottage pavilion as Fulham maintained their quest to reach a record points total in the Premier League under Marco Silva, Leicester’s concerns are mounting at the other end of the table.

With their final three games against the Champions League‑chasing Liverpool at home, then Newcastle away before entertaining West Ham on the final day, time is running out after wins for Everton and Nottingham Forest dragged Smith’s side into the bottom three.

“The game was lost in the first half. I’m disappointed because I didn’t see that coming,” the Leicester manager said, while Maddison admitted surprisingly that they “were not hungry enough to want to win the game”.

Smith’s appointment last month to replace Brendan Rodgers was a massive gamble by Srivaddhanaprabha considering his dismal spell in charge of Norwich but the 52‑year‑old seemed to have galvanised the squad having picked up five points from their past three games, despite conceding the first goal each time.

Yet while Daniel Iversen was the hero of the epic 2-2 draw against Everton last week, this time the Leicester goalkeeper gave his side a mountain to climb inside the opening 10 minutes and they never really recovered. Willian’s free-kick was designed to force Iversen into a decision about whether to come and gather the ball but his hesitancy proved costly as it squirmed beyond his grasp and into the net.

Barnes was inches away from converting a cross from Maddison before Harrison Reed shot wide following a quick Fulham break. But Smith’s worst fears were realised when João Palhinha turned the ball over and fed Harry Wilson, with Vinícius making the most of some hapless defending from Wout Faes and Caglar Soyuncu to guide his shot past Iversen. Once again the visitors almost hit back straight away and it took a fabulous save from Bernd Leno to stop a powerful drive from the rejuvenated Vardy.

Fulham now require two wins from their final three matches to surpass their target of 53 points achieved under Roy Hodgson in 2009 that was enough to secure seventh spot and resulted in the famous run to the Europa League final.

That may be beyond them this time, although Silva was delighted by his side’s performance as Leicester were made to chase shadows. “We produced some great moments of football and should have won this game much more comfortably,” Silva said. “It was great to see the players express themselves.”

Reed should have made it 3-0 on the half-hour following a dazzling run by Willian but this time Iversen was able to make the save, before Vinícius went close with a header from Kenny Tete’s cross. The inevitable arrived just before half-time courtesy of Cairney to cap a flowing move involving Reed and Vinícius, with the assistant coach John Terry subjected to a barrage of “Terry, what’s the score” as he left the pitch deep in conversation with Smith, surely wondering where it had all gone wrong.

Having seen Barnes force Leno into an early save in the second half, any hopes of a remarkable comeback were to prove shortlived when Cairney steered home his second goal of the afternoon thanks to a swift break from the marauding Tete.

To their credit, Leicester fought back and found some renewed belief after Barnes slammed home Maddison’s pass from a tight angle. But Leno’s full-length save to deny Vardy from the spot, after the goalkeeper brought him down, was yet more evidence that this wasn’t going to be their day.

That was underlined when Willian – who turns 35 in August but now has five Premier League goals this season – beat Iversen from distance for the second time, with Maddison’s late penalty and Barnes’s second after good work from the substitute Patson Daka greeted with desperate cheers from the travelling Leicester fans, all of whom had stayed until the bitter end. The next few weeks are not going to be for the faint-hearted.