A sensational strike from Northern Irish midfielder Rodney McAree secured a massive win for Fulham at promotion rivals Carlisle United this afternoon.

The crunch clash did not start well for the Cottagers, who were without first team regulars Mark Blake, Richard Carpenter and Darren Freeman through a combination of injuries and suspension. Carlisle begin the brighter on a cold day with sleet falling and Rory Delap deservedly heads the home side ahead on twenty minutes from a perfectly flighted cross by Steve Hayward.

But a makeshift Fulham side show real character to fight their way back into the contest. Fired up by a lively half-time team talk from Micky Adams, the Londoners level six minutes after the interval when Mike Conroy finishes from close range after Danny Cullip had directed a McAree cross back across the penalty area.

More than 2,000 travelling fans are sent into ecstacy just five minutes later when McAree, who didn’t know he was in the starting line-up until an hour before kick off, crashed home a wonderful volley from 25 yards after Christer Warren had laid Simon Morgan’s cross into his path. The celebrations are raucous – although they feel somewhat premature as Carlisle launch a late assault on the Fulham goal that sees substitutes Allan Smart and Rod Thomas hit the bar in the final stages.

The Whites held on for a huge three points that lifts them back to the top of the table and leaves them a point away from clinching promotion from the Third Division.

CARLISLE UNITED: Caig; Walling, Pounewatchy, Varty; Aspinall, Hayward, Delap, Hopper, Archdeacon; Peacock (Smart 76), Jansen (Thomas 76). Subs (not used): Thorpe.

BOOKED: Aspinall, Hayward, Archdeacon, Peacock.

GOAL: Delap (20).

FULHAM: Walton; Lawrence, Watson, Cullip, Angus; Cusack, Cockerill, Morgan, McAree; Conroy (Scott 89), Warren (Thomas 84). Subs (not used): Brooker.

BOOKED: Cullip, Morgan, Cusack, McAree.

GOALS: Conroy (51), McAree (55).