In the same way the crowd might cheer the every action — good or bad — of a retiring great of the game, the home support cheered with an unbounded pride every time Palhinha touched the ball in this 1-0 win over Luton Town.
The one pertinent difference, though, was that unlike in a testimonial, the man in the centre of it all made next-to-no errors all game. Here, from Palhinha, was the level of performance that convinced Bayern Munich to bid £56million for him on deadline day, Fulham to reject such riches, and their fans to rejoice when, on Thursday, he signed a new long-term contract with the club.
At one point midway through the first half, Luton’s Jacob Brown looked to his right and saw Fulham were horribly exposed out wide. Just as he tried to play Carlton Morris through on goal, Palhinha steamed in from nowhere and snuffed out his pass.
It was the sort of crunching challenge Marco Silva’s side had sorely missed when, without Palhinha after his Bayern move broke down, Fulham fell 5-1 to Manchester City before the international break.
This was the smoothest and most in-sync Fulham had passed the ball between themselves for quite some time, but they did not always do much with their possession, and left themselves exposed to Luton’s counter-attacks.
Tahith Chong produced a one-man breakaway and shot against the gloves of Bernd Leno within four minutes, before Fulham threatened Luton’s goal for the first time when Kenny Tete nodded three inches too high from Andreas Pereira’s typically reliable corner delivery.
Fulham kept the ball so well, but a distinct lack of movement off the ball bred restlessness from their supporters. Another let-off arrived when Issa Kabore crossed delightfully for Jacob Brown, who hurtled himself at the ball like a salmon to crash a header against the upright.
As the sun slowly toasted Fulham’s increasingly impatient home fans after the interval, Silva — on his 100th match as manager — waved his arms and plodded about in frustration. By 60 minutes, Fulham had seen 79 per cent of the ball, and created so very little.
But Palhinha kept them ticking over, kept Luton out of possession and Fulham in commanding control.
Finally, on 65 minutes, Fulham found a way through. It will have been a bittersweet sight for Raul Jimenez — yet to score for his new club — to see his replacement, Carlos Vinicius, break the deadlock just three minutes after entering the fray. Willian crossed, and goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski could only claw the ball for Vinicius to slam home.
In May 2022, Fulham thrashed Luton 7-0 to seal the Championship title after a record-shattering season. Nothing quite so blistering here, but three crucial points. Their fans were as pleased to see Palhinha nibbling at the feet of opposition players again as they were to watch a first home league win of the season.