This was the night when Fulham banished their identity crisis. A team who have looked stodgy and toothless this season erupted into life as great entertainers, recording a swaggering victory thanks in part to two first-half goals, from Pajtim Kasami and Steve Sidwell, that must rank as goal-of-the-season contenders. Crystal Palace, further mired in the relegation zone, did not know what hit them.
It got ugly at the end when a section of Palace fans barracked their players as they departed the field after a fifth successive defeat, with the defender Damien Delaney turning on those doing the booing. Speculation also swelled around the future of Ian Holloway after he attended a meeting with the co-chairman, Steve Parish, that delayed him attending the post-match press conference until 11.15pm. Having arrived, the Palace manager refused to divulge exactly what was said in advance of further talks with Parish on Tuesday.
Much rancour and uncertainly in the home ranks then, yet those involved could at least take solace from having witnessed Kasami's and Sidwell's strikes in the flesh, the former a volley that Martin Jol, the Fulham manager, ranked as comparable to Marco van Basten's famous goal for Holland against USSR in 1988.
Kasami, reacting to Sascha Riether's long pass on 19 minutes, charged down the right flank. Having collected the ball on his chest while positioned at a tight angle just outside the Palace area and with Adrian Mariappa closing in, the 21-year-old hit a first-time dipping drive over Julian Speroni and into the far corner of the net. A crowd which had been in raucous mood after Mariappa's seventh-minute opener for the hosts, fell silent in shock and awe.
"This was a 30- to 40-yard sprint because he [Kasami] plays on the left and turned up on the right, he controlled it and had a shot," Jol said. "I don't think he will score a goal like that again and it will be one of the best goals this season.
"Van Basten's was probably the best volley in football but it was one touch; this was different – a sprint, control ball and then wrong foot. This must be one of the best goals."
Asked about Sidwell's goal on the stroke of half-time, Jol played down the effort, yet it was another moment which left those watching open-jawed and goggled-eyed. The hosts thought they were safe from danger after Bryan Ruiz's free-kick just outside the area had been blocked by the wall; but as the ball spun out, Sidwell was waiting to thrash a first-time volley into the top right-hand corner of the net.
Palace had begun brightly, moving the ball with energy against sluggish opponents and took the lead after Mariappa ran on to Jason Puncheon's left-wing cross and, having climbed above Brede Hangeland, drove a header past Marten Stekelenburg on the Dutch goalkeeper's second appearance for Fulham following recovery from a shoulder injury.
A second goal appeared likely, especially with Yannick Bolasie, making his first start of the season after being sidelined with a torn hamstring, a threat on the left of the hosts' midfield. But then came Kasami's bolt from the blue. Palace continued to threaten but, as Holloway said, "had the stuffing knocked out of them" by Sidwell's screamer.
Fulham grew in confidence in the second half with Dimitar Berbatov, partnering Darren Bent in attack, starting to shine. It was the Bulgarian who made it 3-1 via a header from Ruiz's 50th-minute corner, with Philippe Senderos scoring five minutes later through the same source. Fulham, who before last night had scored once away from home this season, were rampant.
In contrast, Palace's players appeared increasingly drained of ideas. There were occasional bursts of life from the men in red and blue, most notably on 65 minutes when Dwight Gayle thought he had scored with a low strike only for the referee, Lee Mason, to rule the goal out for offside. Palace's players protested but find themselves stuck in 19th place. Fulham, in contrast, climb to 14th, with the owner, Shahid Khan, who was in attendance here, said to be "very pleased" by Jol.
"He felt we showed a lot of resilience and character," said the manager. A couple in white also displayed breathtaking skill.