Andy Johnson has had his fair share of knockers since joining Fulham from Everton. For an eight-figure sum signing, many fans have mocked his goal tally. Plenty have suggested that his famed pace has long since departed. Many consider him past his best. Martin Jol’s reluctance to offer him much game time early in the season sparked rumours of an imminent departure. But Johnson stayed – and with goals hard to come by in recent weeks – has proved his worth. His movement, speed and finishing absolutely demolished QPR this afternoon and rewarded Fulham’s pretty approach play with an avalanche of goals.
Jol has had to wait a while for his first league win and this was the perfect way to scotch rumours of unrest in the camp. For a Neil Warnock side, QPR were strangely tame: they started slowly, and bar a couple of half-chances at 1-0, carried little threat to Mark Schwarzer’s goal. Fulham, buoyed by the best possible start – a Johnson tap-in in the second minute – had ended the contest with a third goal seven minutes before the break, but such was their superiority the advantage could have stretched well beyond the six the home side settled for.
Johnson, who is out of contract, in the summer might have holding out for better terms than Fulham have offered in the proposed two year deal put to the 30 year-old and this display can only have strengthened his negotiating position. He offered the finest possible riposte to Jol’s pointed suggestion that he hadn’t scored enough league goals in midweek- and Fulham looked far more potent with a partner for Bobby Zamora. The centre forwards rekindled the kind of form that carried the Cottagers to seventh in the 2008/09 season and the tone for a glorious afternoon by the Thames was set just a minute in.
Moussa Dembele, deployed out on the wing rather than through the middle at the expense of Damien Duff, sauntered in from the right to shoot and Johnson fired home the rebound after Paddy Kenny could only parry the ball in front of him. With only 78 seconds played, it was a dream start for Fulham, who were desperate for a win to lift them out of the relegation zone. Jol’s contention that his side were occupying a false position was given greater conviction by what followed.
QPR were abject and almost comical in defence. An almighty mix-up between Anton Ferdinand and Kenny led to the second. The centre back panicked with Johnson on his shoulder and as the Fulham forward edged in front of him, Kenny brought him crashing to earth with a crude challenge. The goalkeeper was fortunate to escape a caution, but Danny Murphy made Rangers pay with a clinical finish from the penalty spot. It was just the advantage the Whites deserved for a frenetic start. Fitz Hall’s sliced clearance from a low Clint Dempsey cross almost ended up in his own net, while the Texan saw a goalbound effort blocked by Bradley Orr and Johnson volleyed a Zamora flick inches wide from eleven yards.
The third arrived courtesy of some more slack Rangers marking as Fulham made the most of oceans of space down their left flank. Zamora, enjoying far too much freedom for a local derby, found Dempsey in the penalty area and, although his shot was blocked by Anton Ferdinand, Johnson arrived to sweep home the third from Zamora’s low cross. Warnock opted for damage limitation at the break, hauling off the ineffectual Adel Taraabt – who reportedly stormed out of Craven Cottage in disgust at his substitution – and replacing Shaun Derry with DJ Campbell, but not even a livelier start to the second period could disrupt Fulham’s momentum.
The home side were playing with a verve and swagger hitherto unseen this season. Kenny produced a fine save to turn a Zamora curler aside, but that was merely a temporary stay of execution. Danny Murphy’s clever quick free-kick released the rampant Johnson, who tucked a cool finish past Kenny to complete Fulham’s first Premier League hat-trick. Then came the best goal of the half dozen. Johnson, looking like a man revitalised, cantered down the left to cross for Zamora, who unselfishly squared for Dempsey, who gleefully completed a fine team goal.
Zamora grabbed a deserved goal himself with sixteen minutes remaining. The despondent Rangers defence stood off him as the England striker cut in from the right and found the bottom left corner with a fierce angled drive. Rangers, who had earlier threatened through Shaun Wright-Phillips and Alejandro Faurlin, looked utterly shell shocked. Their nightmare afternoon was summed up by the return of Jamie Mackie, making his first appearance since his double leg break at Blackburn last January as a late substitute. He slipped when free at the back post, shooting horribly wide. There was almost a first Fulham goal for Bryan Ruiz, which would have capped an impressive cameo from the bench, but the Costa Rican’s low shot whizzed across the face of goal and wide.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Grygera, J.A. Riise, Baird, Hangeland; Sidwell, Murphy (Etuhu 83), Dempsey, Dembele (Sa 87); Zamora, Johnson (Ruiz 75). Subs (not used): Etheridge, Kelly, Senderos, Duff.
BOOKED: Sidwell, Hangeland.
GOALS: A. Johnson (2, 38, 59), Murphy (pen 20), Dempsey (65), Zamora (74).
QUEEN’S PARK RANGERS (4-4-1-1): Kenny; Orr, Young, A. Ferdinand, Hall; Derry, Faurlin (Smith 45), Wright-Phillips, Barton; Taraabt (Campbell 45); Bothroyd (Mackie 72). Subs (not used): Murphy, Perone, Buzsaky, Helguson.
BOOKED: Hall, Wright-Phillips, Faurlin.
REFEREE: Andre Marriner (West Midlands).