Pointless no longer, Fulham clawed their way off the foot of the Championship this afternoon, but following up their Capital One Cup win at Brentford in midweek with a first league success proved ultimately beyond Felix Magath’s side after Tim Hoogland’s early header was cancelled out by Kenwyne Jones’ second-half strike. This was the Cottagers’ most complete performance since their relegation from the top flight last season but familiar defensive frailties remain.
Whilst Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side seemed the quicker into their stride, it was Fulham who fashioned the clearer chances. Ross McCormack, deployed in a roaming role down the left wing, was the focal point of most of their best moves. The former Cardiff forward, a big-money summer signing from Leeds, almost caught out his old club within the first three minutes, a quickly-taken free-kick finding Scott Parker, but the skipper’s snapshot went wide. Moments later, McCormack latched onto a clever through ball from Chris David, who was impressive until he was immobilsed by a crude challenge from Kagisho Dikagcoi on the stroke of half-time, and curled a shot fractionally wide from the edge of the eighteen-yard box.
Fulham’s pressure eventually paid off midway through the first half. Cardiff failed to properly clear a McCormack corner, and after Parker had spread the play back towards the Scottish international, his teasing cross was glanced beyond David Marshall by Hoogland to give the home side a deserved lead. Parker’s own performance, hailed as ‘fantastic’ by Solskjaer in his post-match press conference is worth remarking on here. There was no sign of the 33 year-old’s legs giving out on him and he was heavily involved all over the pitch, as a creator, making crucial last-ditch tackles in his own penalty area and even operating as a false nine during the second period. His experience will prove vital in guiding what remains a young Fulham side.
Confidence is crucial clearly and who knows what sort of boost could have been provided by a second successive win. The strugglers certainly would have been in a better position to achieve that had Cauley Woodrow found the top corner after clearly turning his marker in the second period, but the England under-21 international instead lifted his shot into the Hammersmith End. Magath’s youngsters were handed another harsh lesson in the realities of Championship football a matter of minutes later when Jones drifted wide of Kostas Stafylidis and Dan Burn to fire clinically under the body of Marcus Bettinelli after latching onto Mats Daehli’s through ball.
Where Fulham had appeared most likely to add to the scoreline prior to the Cardiff equaliser, the contest became much more even. The visitors continued to probe with their pretty football, but a couple of Magath’s substitutes almost combined to snatch the points in stoppage time. Moroccan winger Adil Chihi delivered a danger cross that former Arsenal midfielder Thomas Eisfield should have tested Marshall from, but the German’s free header flew over the bar. While there were signs of a recovery, this proved another frustrating day for the home fans at Craven Cottage.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Bettinelli, Voser, Stafylidis, Bodurov, Burn; Hoogland, Hyndman; David (Dembele 75), Parker (Eisfield 82), McCormack; Woodrow (Chihi 60). Subs (not used): Kiraly, Hutchinson, Roberts, R. Williams.
GOAL: Hoogland (22).
CARDIFF CITY (4-4-2): Marshall; Brayford, Fabio, Morrison, Connolly; Dikgacoi (Rails 59), Pilkington, Daehli (Wolff Eikrem 82), Pilkington; Le Fondre (Macheda 71), Jones. Subs (not used): Torres Ruiz, Adeyami, Javi Guerra, Moore.
GOAL: Jones (55).
REFEREE: James Adcock (Nottinghamshire).