Fulham cruises without Clint Dempsey

August 18, 2012
By ESPN.com news services

Mladen Petric scored twice and set up one more in his debut as Fulham hammered Norwich 5-0 to prove it can easily cope without Clint Dempsey.

Some had predicted Fulham will struggle this season after losing Andrew Johnson to QPR and looking set to lose Dempsey as he tries to force through a move to Liverpool.

If today's display is anything to go by, Fulham will not miss their 23-goal talisman from last season one bit.

Fulham's Mladen Petric, right, celebrates his second goal Saturday with teammate Moussa Dembele. Fulham beat Norwich City 5-0.

The Cottagers put on a sublime display to tear Norwich apart and demoralize the Canaries fans who traveled to southwest London hoping to see Chris Hughton win his first match in charge of the Norfolk club.

Petric, signed on a free transfer from Hamburg this summer, was the star of the show, scoring twice after Damien Duff had poked home a brilliant pass from John Arne Riise to open the scoring.

Alex Kacaniklic, chosen to play in Dempsey's position, scored his first Fulham goal to make it 4-0 and substitute Steve Sidwell blasted home a penalty four minutes from the end to seal the rout.

A chant of "Are you watching Clint Dempsey?" echoed around Craven Cottage in the closing stages.

Fulham manager Martin Jol, however, criticized the Fulham fans who mocked the absent Dempsey.

"I don't want to hear the fans were chanting against him because he was a terrific player for us," Jol said. "He was the most productive midfield player in the whole league last season."

Jol slightly backed off his statement Friday that Dempsey was refuising to play for the Cottagers.

"To say he refused to play is probably a bit harsh but he wanted to move and if you want to move, you don't want to take risks so you don't want to play in case you get an injury," Jol said.

Norwich looked a shadow of the team that finished 12th under Paul Lambert last year, and had it not been for a good performance from John Ruddy, the Canaries could well have conceded seven or eight.

A Fulham victory looked on the cards from the start. The home side started confidently, with Kacaniklic and Bryan Ruiz both swinging in dangerous crosses that just evaded Petric.

Brede Hangeland sent a raking ball over the Norwich defence to find Duff, but Michael Turner came to the Canaries' rescue by nudging the winger out wide.

Norwich raced up the other end and forced Mark Schwarzer into a save when Andrew Surman fired at goal, but that proved to be the visitors' only chance of the first half as Fulham dominated.

Hughton, who worked under Jol as a coach at Tottenham, admitted that his first top-flight game in 20 months could not have gone worse.

"It was an awful day for us," Hughton said. "That's not how you want your first game of the season to go. Four of the goals were avoidable. In preseason we have looked very solid in defense. I had no inkling this would happen."

Ruddy's awful clearance landed straight at the feet of Ruiz, but the Costa Rican cleared the bar while the Canaries keeper raced back to his line.

Ruddy made amends by saving well from Riise and Petric, but the Norwich goalkeeper was beaten soon after by Duff's opener.

Riise hit a delightful cross-field pass to find Duff and his shot trickled in off Ruddy's outstretched leg.

Fulham almost added a second when Petric found Ruiz in the box but Ryan Bennett raced across the back four to put in a crucial tackle.

The Cottagers had their second from the resulting corner, however, as Petric glanced home Duff's cross in. Jonathan Howson hooked the ball clear, but the linesman correctly ruled it had already crossed the line.

Ruddy pulled off a terrific flying save to deny Ruiz just before halftime as Fulham threatened to run riot.

Hughton brought on Steve Morison for Andrew Surman and switched to 4-4-2, but Norwich were still by far the worst team on the pitch.

Eight minutes into the second half, Fulham scored their third.

Ruiz found Petric in space and the Croatian fired home a 30-yard shot that took a wicked deflection off Turner.

Thirteen minutes later it was 4-0. Petric backheeled into the path of Kacaniklic from a Moussa Dembele pass and the 21-year-old finished calmly.

"I thought we did well on the left. It was not easy to follow in the footsteps of Clint Dempsey but luckily enough (Kacaniklic) did well," Jol said. "We did well. We let the ball do the work and we were very good to watch."

The backheel proved to be Petric's last contribution to the game as he was substituted for fellow debutant Hugo Rodallega.

Bradley Johnson found space on the edge of the Fulham box and forced Schwarzer into a rare save, but the home side hit back and was not willing to settle for four.

Kacaniklic lost his marker after drifting in from the flank and fired a powerful shot that Ruddy did well to save.

Four minutes from the end, Fulham were gifted another goal when Turner's awful tackle on Rodallega earned the London club a penalty and Sidwell hammered the spot-kick into the roof of the net.

Hughton is confident that his men will bounce back from the thrashing, however.

"The players are hurting," he said. "This won't be the only defeat that we will have and it won't be the only defeat that we will have by a few goals, but the players will want to react well. They know this wasn't acceptable today and they want to make amends."

Information from Press Association was used in this report.