Ross McCormack’s first goal for Fulham edged the Whites past Brentford and into the third round of the Capital One Cup to ease some of the pressure on beleaguered boss Felix Magath.
The Scottish striker settled a tight west London derby at Griffin Park with a sumptuous finish into the far corner from close range after being released by a splendid defence-splitting pass by the impressive Chris David. He celebrated his goal gleefully in front of the 1,600 travelling supporters after, nine minutes earlier, been unjustly denied an opener, after wrongly being flagged offside when he strode onto a floated pass from a deep-lying David, but his first goal since he completed an £11m move from Leeds United was enough to give Fulham a first win of the season.
Magath made five changes from the side that had crumbled so calamitously at Derby on Sunday, bringing in goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli for his senior debut for the club. Bettinelli, who has been at Fulham since he was 14, showed just why he was so far highly regarded during his loan spell at Accrington Stanley with a commanding performance, which included a couple of superb saves from Brentford’s Spanish midfielder Jota, which was immaculately timed given Gibor Kiraly’s impending arrival from 1860 Munich.
In front of Bettinelli, the recalled Dan Burn was imperious at the heart of a new-look Fulham back four, repelling wave after wave of Brentford arrival attacks and formed an impressive partnership with summer signing Shaun Hutchinson. The visitors’ defence dropped deeper in the closing stages as they clung to their slender advantage but Burn’s assured display was a stark contrast from some of the defensive disarray that has characterised Fulham’s chaotic start to life back in the Championship.
Brentford began brightly with their early intensity forcing a succession of corners, which the away side defended nervously. The Bees’ clearest opening came from a cleverly worked free-kick, which saw Jota sprint into space on the left angle of the penalty area, but Bettinelli did superbly to claw away the Spaniard’s powerful shot. Bettinelli’s next save was a lot less conventional and owed a fair bit to luck, as he smothered Jota’s low drive against his near post after it had threatened to squeeze under his body.
Fulham enjoyed plenty of possession, but it took a while for purpose to enter their play. Things functioned far smoother once David was switched to the top of a midfield diamond from wide on the right. A flowing move which saw the Dutch playmaker find Voser fashioned Fulham’s best chance, but Cauley Woodrow skied over from ten yards out. Tim Hoogland, deployed as a defensive midfielder rather than a right back, sent an early header over and fired a couple of sighters from long-range, whilst McCormack headed straight at Button after climbing well at the back post.
The second half was a scrappier affair, but there were still plenty of inviting chances. Stuart Dallas spurned the best of them for Brentford, heading narrowly wide, whilst Woodrow saw his scuffed shot scrambled to safety by Jake Bidwell under his own crossbar. McCormack’s smartly taken goal, the culmination of a couple of inventive one-twos with David, settled Fulham and they might have settled it when Woodrow latched onto another excellent David pass, but the England Under-20 international striker sent his shot just wide of the far post.
That made for a nervy finale as Mark Warburton’s side pushed forward and applied plenty of pressure, but struggled to create a clear-cut chance. Tommy Smith’s rising drive in injury time was the closest they came, but the shot never seriously worried Bettinelli, clearing the bar comfortably.
BRENTFORD (4-1-4-1): Button; Odubajo, Bidwell, Dean, Tarkowski; Tebar; Dallas, Toral (Diagouraga 63), Jota (Gray 73), Smith; Proschwitz (Hogan 73). Subs (not used): Bonham, O’Shaugnessy, Reeves, Moore.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Bettinelli; Voser, Stafylidis, Hutchinson, Burn; Hoogland, Parker (Fotheringham 45, Eisfeld 69), David (Bodurov 87), R. Williams; Woodrow, McCormack. Subs (not used): Joronen, Roberts, Chichi, Dembele.
GOAL: McCormack (67).
REFEREE: Scott Duncan (Northumberland).