Another Ray Lewington era began tonight at Griffin Park as Fulham, still without a confirmed successor to Roy Hodgson, warmed up for the new campaign with a comfortable five-goal win over Brentford in the summer sunshine. The Whites, wearing their new home strip, were the opposition for Kevin O’Connor’s richly-deserved testimonial, although any hope of a meaningful contest disappeared inside the first half an hour as the visitors raced into a three goal lead. The final scoreline provided an interesting bit of symmetry as Lewington’s last interim spell in the Fulham hotseat came to an abrupt end after a 5-1 Boxing Day defeat at Tottenham a couple of years ago.
Fulham’s pretty passing football hasn’t departed with the previous manager. A strong side, without the World Cup contingent as well as Bobby Zamora and Danny Murphy, quickly settled into their stride and ocassional starters David Elm and Eddie Johnson wasted no time in troubling the Brentford defence. The gangly Elm flicked an instinctive wide of the far post and his American partner raced onto Bjorn Helge Riise’s ball only for Richard Lee to smother his shot.
The visitors were keeping the ball well but the opener was still something of a collecter’s item. As well as Chris Baird has slotted into central midfield over the past year or so, it was still a surprise to see him collect a clever Johnson pass and drive home from twenty yards. The understated celebration was characteristic of the man – but it was some way to score your first goal for the club.
Fulham were warming to their task, but Stephen Kelly, starting at centre back alongside Brede Hangeland, had already endured a nervy opening before falling victim to a debatable penalty decision. The collision between the Irish international and Sam Saunders was similar to the sort of coming together you might have with an elderly lady who loses control of her shopping trolley in a supermarket alley if didn’t step aside, but the referee saw fit to point to the spot. It seemed harsh and Kelly protested his innocence, but David Stockdale, displaying the calm assurance that has impressed many since he arrived at the Cottage, guessed right to save Charlie MacDonald’s spot-kick with the minimum of fuss.
Fulham quickly made their hosts pay for their prolifigacy. Riise ventured infield from the left and found Elm, whose snapshot perhaps should have been saved by Lee, who has spent the last few years in Watford’s reserves, but the ball trickled under his body and into the net. A third arrived before the half hour when a neat interchange between Elm and Riise sent Damien Duff scampering clear and the Ireland winger cleverly chipped the advancing goalkeeper.
Lewington rung the changes at half-time and Brentford began the second period the stronger with Stockdale making a smart save from substitute Carl Cort, once of Wimbledon and Newcastle, but Fulham made the scoreline much more convincing with two well-crafted breakaway goals. Zoltan Gera freed Johnson with a glorious through pass and the American did well to round Lee and tap into an empty net before he stepped over a low cross from the Hungarian allowing Simon Davies to make it five from close range.
There was a more youthful look to the Fulham side by the final whistle. Keanu Marsh-Brown added his usual mix of enthusiasm and vitality down the right and promising left-back Alex Smith sent over a couple of dangerous crosses. Nobody should get too carried away with the result of the first pre-season friendly but this was an accomplished performance from Fulham. Even Lewington managed a wave and a chuckle as he left the field to the strains of ‘Ray, Ray, Ray,’ no doubt noting the hasty reworking of an old Hammersmith End refrain.
BRENTFORD (4-4-2): Lee ; Spillane (Trialist 45), Legg (Osborne 45), McCracken (Bennett 45), Woodman (Blake 45); Saunders (Hunt 45), Reeves (Hudson 45), Bean (Trialist 45), Weston (O’Connor 89); Forster (Wood 45), MacDonald (Cort 45).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Stockdale (Etheridge 77); Stoor (Marquez-Sanchez 86), Konchesky (Smith 45), Kelly, Hangeland (Hughes 45); Baird (Marsh-Brown 63), Greening (Harris 77), Duff (Davies 45), Riise (Saunders 63); Elm (Gera 45), E. Johnson (Trotta 79).
GOALS: Baird (14), Elm (24), Duff (29), E. Johnson (49), Davies (67).
REFEREE: Keith Hill.