In terms of Premier League sides, probably only Reading and Derby have comparable away records to Fulham so it was not unreasonable to feel a little confident going in this game, even if we’d still only one once all season – and that was back in August. The Royals could feel a little disappointed that they lost this encounter, especially as they kept Antti Niemi busy throughout, but Lawrie Sanchez will likely take any luck that comes his way now, especially given the number of late goals that have dogged his bid to steer Fulham away from the relegation zone.
The Whites look far more threatening at Craven Cottage and so it was the case again today. They weathered a bright Reading opening, as Steve Coppell’s side searched for something to add to their single away point this season, and went ahead through a superb goal. Former Fulham goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, who never displayed the form he’s shown for Reading when he was at the Cottage under Paul Bracewell and Jean Tigana, was given a warning shortly before the home side took lead when he was forced to make a smart stop from centre back Aaron Hughes.
From the ensuing corner, Fulham were in front. Reading failed to clear their lines and Dave Kitson’s defensive header came to Simon Davies, unusually not on corner taking duty, and Welsh midfielder struck a fine volley around Hahnemann and into the net. It was his second stunning goal in as many weeks following his fine free-kick against Sunderland.
Reading’s response was swift. Kitson might have felt he needed to make amends and he came close on two ocassions. Once, with an athletic bicycle kick and, then, after half time, his flick on released Stephen Hunt into space only for a scrambling Niemi to turn away the Irish midfielder’s clever chip. Fulham’s Finnish goalkeeper wasn’t anywhere near as commanding at the corner though. Questions have been asked about his fitness to keep goal these days, especially during a fight against relegation, and they will surface again after he made a hash of coming for this flag-kick allowing Doyle to head in easily at the back post.
Shefqi Kuqi been something of a figure of fun at Fulham since he joined on loan from Crystal Palace. The stick I’ve received from Eagles fans has been unbearable and you can see why given the slow manner in which the portly Finnish striker carries himself around the pitch. But his introduction as a substitute seemed to unsettle Reading and his presence caused real chaos in the visiting box as Fulham retook the lead. Kuqi made a nuisance of himself in an effort to reach fellow substitute David Healy’s high cross and, with Reading defenders attracted to the big forward, that allowed Clint Dempsey to gleefully dispatch the loose ball. Sanchez had praise for his much-maligned substitute.
The introduction of Shefki was quite important. He won his first header and the crowd got behind him.
It was a pity in a way he did’t score our second goal but it was his leap that did it and Clint picked up the pieces. Shefki livened us up and David [Healy]’s only a sub because he needs to play alongside a big front man.
Coppell sent forwards on as he tried to plot a way back for Reading, but with numbers flooding forward, it was always likely to leave gaps at the back. The excellent Davies finally exploited it in stoppage right, sprinting away down the right and slipping a super cross in for Healy, who made no mistake from close range. There was still time sadly for young Elliot Omozusi, making his second league start in his inexperienced Fulham defence, to harshly be sent off in added time for a second yellow card but that couldn’t sour the winning feeling.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi; Omozusi, Ashton, Hughes, Stefanovic; Davis, Murphy, Davies, Bouazza (Kuqi 60); Kamara (Healy 67), Dempsey. Subs (not used): Warner, Leijer, Seol.
BOOKED: Stefanovic, Omozusi, Healy.
SENT OFF: Omozusi (90).
GOALS: Davies (18), Dempsey (72), Healy (90).
READING (4-3-3): Hahnemann; Murty (Long 87), Shorey, Duberry, Sonko; Gunnarsson, Harper, Hunt; Lita (Convey 76), Kitson, Doyle. Subs (not used): Federici, Ingimarsson, Rosenior.
GOAL: Doyle (54).
REFEREE: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).