Swansea substitute Jonjo Shelvey’s stunning 20-yard strike felt like a decisive moment – and not just because it condemned Fulham to a fifth straight defeat. Martin Jol has found himself precariously positioned atop a tightrope already during the early months of Shahid Khan’s ponderous premiership, but this defeat leaves the embattled Fulham manager looking anxiously over the edge with an undoubted six-pointer at West Ham to come next Saturday.
The arrival of former Manchester United head coach Rene Meulensteen was designed to deliver a more adventurous and confident Fulham than the side that has looked alarming brittle since mid-August, and for a while, it looked as if the move might bring instantaneous results. Having made four changes to the eleven so painfully pulverised at Anfield a fortnight ago, Jol’s side made the brighter beginning. The outstanding Scott Parker, skippering the side for the first time, set the tone with a driving run and shot that tested the returning Michel Vorm and the lively Pajtim Kasami saw his claims for a penalty waved away by referee Andre Marriner.
It was on-loan striker Darren Bent that spurned the game’s two most glorious openings, however, in the space of three minutes. First, he failed to find the target with a header having spun away from the Swansea defence to reach a peach of a pass from Parker and, then, rattled the far post from fifteen yards after a dreadful mistake from Chico Flores left the England international with only Vorm to beat. Bent’s partnership with Dimitar Berbatov has failed to fire this seas0n – and the striker’s profligacy would prove costly.
Swansea, on a barren run of draws themselves, were pensive and oddly off-colour for much of the first half, perhaps owing to the absence of Michu and Pablo Hernandez. Michael Laudrup’s side still managed to offer ominous signs in the shape of Roland Lamah’s deflected drive that drifted narrowly wide and, then, just before the break, Nathan Dyer failed to profit when the otherwise industrious Derek Boateng donated possession to the visitors twice in the blink of an eye. The forward sauntered into the Fulham box but was thwarted by a fabulous reaction save from Maarten Stekelenburg, who rushed out to narrow the angle.
It was the visitors who awoke from their slumber to produce a dominant second-half showing. Swansea’s passing was snappier after the break and, with Jonathan De Guzman and full-back Ben Davies increasingly influential, Laudrup’s men began to take a grip on the contest. Their opening goal was uncharacteristically scrappy, despite the intelligent interplay between Angel Rangel and Lamah that led to Aaron Hughes inadvertently poking the latter’s low cross into his own net after it eluded the lunging Flores.
There followed a fitful ten minutes that saw Swansea’s pretty passing patterns threaten to put the game beyond their hosts, only for Fulham to somehow fashion the unlikeliest of equalisers. Two years since he scored his last goal, Parker received a short corner from Bryan Ruiz and his clipped cross floated into the top corner with Vorm grasping at air. Parker’s joy was evident as he wheeled away to celebrate with the Johnny Haynes Stand, but Fulham failed to build on their slice of fortune.
Swansea looked the stronger as time ticked by and, although Stekelenburg produced a fine save to keep out Bony’s low drive, he was left helpless by Shelvey’s superb winner. The substitute smartly stepped away from two would-be challengers before curling a classy finish into the top corner from just outside the box. It was no more than Swansea’s stellar second half merited – and the scoreline might have had a more emphatic look had Shelvey not dithered after rounding Stekelenburg in stoppage time, allowing Steve Sidwell to step in.
A large number of Fulham fans made their feelings plain well before the final whistle confirmed their side’s fate – and Jol must now hope he gets the chance to arrest their alarming slide at Upton Park.
FULHAM (4-3-1-2): Stekelenburg; Zverotic, Richardson, Hughes, Amorebieta; Boateng (Sidwell 60), Parker (Taraabt 86), Kasami; Ruiz (Kacaniklic 77); Berbatov, Bent. Subs (not used): Stockdale, Senderos, Dejagah, Dembele.
BOOKED: Boateng, Kasami, Hughes.
GOAL: Parker (64).
SWANSEA CITY (4-3-3): Vorm; Rangel, Davies, Flores, Williams; De Guzman, Canas, Lamah (Tiendalli 85); Dyer (Shelvey 59), Pozuelo (Alvaro 90), Bony. Subs (not used): Tremmel, Amat, Taylor, Britton.
GOALS: Hughes (o.g. 56, Shelvey 80).