The 19-year-old’s composed finish after 26 minutes was no more than Albion deserved for a bright first half display which would have brought further goals were it not for the excellence of Fulham keeper Bernd Leno.
Lewis Dunk clipped the bar with a free-kick shortly after the break but Fulham equalised through Joao Palhinha against the run of play. Roberto De Zerbi threw on five subs and Adam Webster’s looping header was cleared off the line but a winning goal eluded Albion, who have yet to beat Fulham in seven Premier League meetings.
There were six changes to the team which had beaten Ajax with Adam Webster, Igor Julio, Carlos Baleba, Mo Dahoud, Adam Lallana and Evan Ferguson all brought in.
Albion hogged the ball in the opening exchanges, and it needed a fine double save from Leno to stop them taking a seventh-minute lead. The German pushed Baleba’s 20-yarder away for a corner before an even better save with his legs thwarted Simon Adingra on the line after Lallana had cleverly found him with a chip to the far post.
More good approach play, this time by Kaoru Mitoma and Lallana, created space for Baleba on the edge of the box but he lifted his right-foot shot well over then Adingra skied his effort with Ferguson and Lallana involved in the build-up this time. Albion were purring in attack and another incisive move which included a lovely backheel by Dahoud set up Mitoma but he dragged the shot disappointingly wide from an angle on the left.
Palhinha was fortunate to escape unpunished when Pascal Gross was hit by his flailing arm. To De Zerbi’s obvious amazement Albion weren’t even awarded a free kick, referee Michael Salisbury deciding it was accidental.
A goal was coming, and it arrived on 26 minutes. Igor won the ball deep in his own half and surged forward before finding Gross, who was making his 200th Premier League appearance. He threaded his pass between two defenders and Ferguson took a touch before stroking it left-footed into the bottom corner – a wonderfully composed finish by the teenager. Ferguson could have had a second before the break after dispossessing Palhinha but Leno smothered his shot.
Albion needed the security of a second and Dunk so nearly provided it four minutes after the break when he clipped a free-kick from just outside the D over the wall and past Leno but it clipped the bar and went over.
A lovely passing sequence ended with Baleba clipping a shot over from the edge of the box but then out of nothing Fulham levelled in the 65th minute. Baleba was dispossessed 25 yards out after Albion played out from the back, Alex Iwobi quickly switched it to Palhinha and he drove an unstoppable right-foot shot high into the top corner.
Game on and Steele saved Albion from going behind when he instinctively pushed away Rodrigo Muniz’s close-range shot. De Zerbi made a triple change with 20 minutes to go and switched to a back four.
Back came Albion. Leno denied Ansu Fati with his outstretched left leg after Billy Gilmour played him in then Webster directed Gross’s corner back towards the far post and it needed a spectacular goal-line clearance by Antonee Robinson to prevent it from dropping in.
Albion had the momentum back and nine minutes of stoppage time offered further encouragement. In the dying seconds Albion broke and the ball fell into Facundo Buonaotte’s path but he blasted his volley into the North Stand. It summed up a frustrating afternoon.
Albion: Steele, Gross, Webster, Dunk, Igor Julio, Baleba (Buonanotte 70), Dahoud (Gilmour 70), Adingra (Veltman 70), Mitoma, Lallana (Fati 58), Ferguson (Joao Pedro 78).
Subs not used: Verbruggen, Milner, van Hecke, Hinshelwood.
Referee: Michael Salisbury.