Ward earns draw for Crystal Palace at Fulham
Last updated on .From the section Premier League
Joel Ward's late equaliser earned Crystal Palace a battling point against Fulham in a mid-table clash at Craven Cottage.
Fulham had been heading for victory thanks to two goals from Aleksandar Mitrovic, who was making his first start since returning from his eight-match ban for pushing a referee.
The Serbian scored a penalty in first-half stoppage time to cancel out Odsonne Edouard's opener, before heading home Willian's free-kick after the break.
Willian could have extended the home side's lead, but his fizzing effort from distance was well tipped over by Sam Johnstone.
The draw extends Fulham's unbeaten run to three matches and leaves them 10th in the table. Crystal Palace have moved above Chelsea into 11th, although the Eagles have played two games more than their London rivals.
There was a distinct end-of-season feel about the match at kick-off on a warm spring day on the banks of the River Thames, with both teams having little more than pride to play for.
That Palace are safe in mid-table is testament to the job done by Roy Hodgson, who has now lost just two of his nine games in charge to steer the Eagles away from danger.
The former England boss only signed a short-term deal until the end of the season, but would not be drawn on whether he will extend his stay ay Selhurst Park.
"I shall worry about that when the time comes," the 75-year-old told BBC Match of the Day. "At the moment, I am just looking forward to ending the season in a good way and being grateful for the enjoyment I've had in these last two months."
Palace offered little attacking threat early on, choosing to sit deep and hit on the counter - which proved devastatingly effective for the opener.
The lively Eberechi Eze drove the ball through to Edouard, who got in behind the Fulham backline and thumped the ball into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
Mitrovic's double then looked to have taken the game away from the visitors, who were restricted to efforts from distance from Eze and Edouard, before they levelled late from a set piece.
A free-kick from the left cannoned off a Fulham defender and fell to Ward, whose initial effort was saved by Bernd Leno before he forced the ball home for his first goal since February 2019.
Mitrovic has now scored three goals in around 115 minutes since returning after his lengthy ban, including one as a substitute against Southampton last weekend.
This Saturday, he was involved in nearly all of Fulham's good play in a match that only sporadically burst to life.
The Cottagers had an early shout for a penalty turned down when Mitrovic tangled with Tyrick Mitchell in the area, but the same Palace defender brought down Harry Wilson seconds before the break, which allowed the former Newcastle striker to level from the spot.
He should have put Fulham ahead seconds after the restart when he dragged wide from 12 yards, but made no mistake when he met WIllian's near-post free-kick and sent a bullet header beyond Johnstone.
"I said the eight games [suspension] was exaggerated if you compare to other things that happened this season, but that's our opinion and we respect all decisions," Fulham boss Marco Silva told Match of the Day.
"Everyone knows how we missed a top goalscorer like him. He's a very important player but our group handled the situation well."
Despite the disappointment of conceding a late equaliser, Fulham can reflect on a hugely satisfying first season back in the top flight, the first time they have avoided an immediate return to the Championship since 2002.
"It has been a brilliant season for this football club," added Silva. "All the predictions said we would be first to go down. The way we started the season, we showed that was not going to happen.
"Now we have to look forward and analyse the season and see what we need to keep improving."
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