With four first-team players missing through injury, Fulham could quite easily have considered a point against league leaders Cardiff a creditable result. But the manner in which they threw away a first home win of the season against a side who had won their first five fixtures would have seriously frustrated Slavisa Jokanovic. Having gradually ground down Neil Warnock’s robust outfit – and deservedly led through Ryan Sessegnon’s close-range strike, Fulham attempted to sit on a slender lead and were punished when Danny Ward soared above Tomas Kalas to power home Aron Gunnarsson’s cross.
The reaction of Fulham’s players, who slumped to the turf at full time, said it all. Warnock’s side were happy to take the point, looking to the corner flag rather than David Button’s goal even after Liam Feeney’s cross nearly embarrassed the Fulham goalkeeper, but their hosts could have had this contest wrapped up well before Sessegnon put them ahead. The teenager, played in a more advanced left wing role, troubled the Bluebirds throughout with his intelligent movement but initially lacked composure in front of goal – screwing three shots wide in the first period as the Whites’ free-flowing football began to make an impression.
Sessegnon was involved again – linking up smartly with Johansen – as Neil Etheridge, whose only senior appearance in four years with Fulham saw Martin Jol’s men dumped out of Europe by Odense, spread himself well to make a fine reaction save as the 17 year-old bore down on goal. Cardiff’s gameplan appeared to be to use Kenneth Zohore’s physicality to free up space for Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Junior Hoillett, but the Bluebirds best chances came from set plays – where Sol Bamba nodded over – or when Joe Ralls seized on a poor pass from Tim Ream only for the covering Kalas to ride to the rescue.
Warnock, who had earlier called for the lively Yohan Mollo to be dismissed after an innocuous challenge with Lee Peltier, was soon spoken to by the referee before Etheridge gave a reminder of his excellent start to the season, smothering a Kevin McDonald drive and producing a brilliant double save to keep out efforts from Johansen and Floyd Ayite, who floated menacing at the heart of a fluid Fulham front three.
Cardiff found more impetus after the break with Mendez-Laing firing wastefully into the Putney End after being found by a fine cut-back from Loic Damour and Ralls racing clear of Ibrahima Cisse but shooting disappointingly straight at Button. Soon the pattern of the first period returned. Ayite rattled the far post with a rasping drive and, even when Johansen took the ball around Etheridge, he saw his shot blocked on the goal-line by Joe Bennett.
It appeared as if the breakthrough would remain elusive but substitute Aboubakar Kamara’s hulking presence caused carnage in the Cardiff box. The Frenchman wrestled past Sean Morrison and teed up Ayite, whose shot was blocked, but fell kindly for Sessegnon, who made no mistake in steering it beyond Etheridge from six yards out. Cardiff wobbled momentarily but Fulham failed to go in for the kill and their lack of killer instinct – not for the first time this term – proved costly.
Craig Bryson, signed on deadline day from Derby County, added some poise and composure to what had previously been a rather workmanlike visiting midfield and Cardiff suddenly found a bit more space in front of the Fulham back four. The equaliser had its origins in a shocking pass out from the back by Kalas but the hosts missed several chances to stop the move in its tracks before Gunnarsson’s right wing cross was headed emphatically home by Ward, who also scored here last season for Rotherham.
Warnock claimed afterwards that he ‘would have snapped your hand off for a point beforehand’ but Jokanovic bemoaned his own side’s naivete after they had achieved the upper hand. Given that Tom Cairney, Sheyi Ojo, Neeksens Kebano and Rui Fonte were all out injured, there was plenty to be encouraged about from a Fulham perspective. But, for a perfectionist like Jokanovic, this was two points dropped.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Button; Fredericks, Odoi, Kalas, Ream; McDonald, Cisse (Norwood 55), Johansen; Mollo (Kamara 59), R. Sessegnon, Ayite. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Madl, Djalo, O’Riley, Graham.
BOOKED: Mollo, McDonald, Johansen, Button.
GOAL: R. Sessegnon (75).
CARDIFF CITY (4-2-3-1): Etheridge; Peltier, J. Bennett, Bamba, Morrison; Ralls, Gunnarsson; Mendez-Laing, Hoillet (Feeney 79), Damour (Bryson 63); Zohore (Ward 73). Subs (not used): Murphy, Manga, Richards, Tomlin.
BOOKED: J. Bennett, Morrison, Peltier.
GOAL: Ward (83).
REFEREE: Tony Harrington (Cleveland).