James Maddison earns Leicester draw at Claudio Ranieri’s Fulham

Dominic Fifield at Craven Cottage on 5 December 2018

Fulham’s progress under Claudio Ranieri is being measured in small steps. The Italian and his players departed this tight contest vaguely dissatisfied to have taken only a point having led Leicester City through much of the second half, their mood coloured by the sight of Denis Odoi wastefully scooping a shot over the crossbar in stoppage time. Yet in the cold light of day, the improvements seen here should suggest a brighter future awaits.

The weight of the division still bears down on the Londoners but they are not the soft touch they were a few weeks ago. Three games into Ranieri’s tenure and some of the naivety has been drummed out of them. There were long periods while confronting a team with top-half credentials when Fulham even felt in control, their lead established against the run of play but their shape well-enforced thereafter and a threat carried on the counterattack. The frustration, of course, was that all it took was one moment of carelessness with the end almost in sight to undo a lot of their hard work.

Leicester conjured their equaliser when the substitutes Demarai Gray and Shinji Okazaki combined slickly down the visitors’ right flank and the latter, allowed space by a disoriented Alfie Mawson, pulled the ball back to the penalty spot. There loitered James Maddison, the classiest attacking talent on the pitch, to dispatch a crisp first-time finish into the bottom corner. The hosts’ wait for a first clean sheet of the season had been extended. “At this moment, when we make mistakes, the big opponents score,” said Ranieri. “But we continue to progress. Slowly, slowly.”

This had been an emotional experience for the Italian against the team with whom he claimed the only top-flight title of his managerial career to date. He had offered his tribute to the late Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha prior to kick-off, acknowledged the chants of the away support and saw four key members of his Premier League winning side start in Leicester’s ranks. Yet, other than a quick “hello” to familiar faces, he concentrated purely on Fulham’s latest opportunity and gained encouragement from much that he witnessed.

Fulham could point to the substitute Tom Cairney fizzing a shot just wide of the post while their lead still stood or that late miss by Odoi. Leicester threatened repeatedly in the first half and Kelechi Iheanacho should have scored the game’s opening goal early on. But at the other end Kasper Schmeichel was forced into an astonishing fingertip save to deny Callum Chambers – a makeshift defensive midfielder who seems destined to bring the best out of opposing goalkeepers having tested Chelsea consistently on Sunday – as he belted a volley from Odoi’s nod back towards the far corner.

Fulham eventually forced themselves ahead via an unlikely scorer. Aboubakar Kamara had provided the chaos factor out on the flank, disconcerting more with his upper body strength than any skill on the ball, until three minutes before the break. He barged on to Aleksandar Mitrovic’s flick and beyond the erratic Caglar Soyuncu to the byline, spinning on the loose ball while the defender slid off the pitch having anticipated blocking a left-footed shot. Kamara took an uncharacteristically calm touch and, from an unkind angle, skimmed his finish through Schmeichel’s legs and into the far corner.

That concession disconcerted the visitors, who rather ran aground on Fulham’s newfound discipline in the exchanges that followed. “We were poor in our play, without good invention or quality,” said Leicester’s manager Claude Puel. “We didn’t put on the pitch enough quality but we found all the time a fighting spirit and a desire to come back into the game.” It was down to Maddison, who looks the part at this level after his summer arrival from Norwich, to draw them level and extend their unbeaten run to seven games in all competitions.

Indeed, they might have prospered more had Vicente Iborra or Gray taken chances in the frenzied last few minutes, though the most critical miss would come from Odoi as Leicester laboured to clear a corner. “Yes, we had the final chance,” added Ranieri. “If he had shot better or passed the ball to Mitrovic in the middle ... but I am happy.”

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