Late goals will drive Kit Symons round the bend at this rate. After one, this time scored by Sone Aluko, cost Fulham a point at the Kingston Communications Stadium this evening after Tom Cairney had marked his return to one of his old stomping grounds with an absolute screamer to bring the Londoners’ level.
Symons’ side had shown great resolve to get back into the contest after a nasty collision between England under-21 international goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli and Matt Smith saw them both have to be replaced in first-half stoppage time with suspected knee ligament damage. The Whites were already behind by that point with Ahmed Elmohamady heading home an inviting cross from Andy Robertson ten minutes before the break – with memories of that 6-0 mauling at the hands of the Tigers on Boxing Day 2013 still horribly fresh in the memory of everyone that travelled.
City should have been further ahead by the interval having completely dominated the first period. Abel Hernandez, restored the starting line-up after serving the final match of three game ban for punching Phil Jones last season, nearly gave Steve Bruce’s side the perfect start inside the first thirty seconds when he almost raced onto a through ball from Tom Huddlestone. Bettinelli just about beat the Uruguayan striker to the loose ball. Curtis Davies clipped the crossbar with a half-volley after being left unattended at a corner and, with Fulham offering little in attack, it felt like only a matter of time before the hosts went ahead.
That moment came in the 34th minute and it was no surprise that Robertson supplied the assist – as both he and Moses Odubajo on the opposite flank had been getting forward to great effect. The Scot made himself available from a well-worked short corner and whipped a lovely ball to the back post, where Elmohamady soared above all-comers and beat Bettinelli’s desperate dive with a fine header. The former Sunderland winger nearly doubled the lead moments later and Fulham were indebted to a brilliant Bettinelli save – a minute before he was injured – when the academy graduate tipped Hernandez’s audacious flick wide.
Despite the disruption caused by changes at either end of the field right before the half-time whistle, Fulham were far more adventurous after the break. Only a magnificent Robertson clearance prevented Ross McCormack from levelling matters as the Scot lingered, waiting to turn home Jazz Richards’ cross. Shaun Hutchinson should have done better than send a free header over the bar from the ensuing corner, but the visitors were level with just over twenty minutes to play as Cairney came back to haunt his former employers.
Goalkeeper Allan McGregor will need to take some of the blame, however, as his poor kick put the Hull defence in trouble. They managed to stifle any immediate danger but nobody was able to close down Cairney when he collected Lasse Vigen Christensen’s pass twenty yards from goal and the Scottish midfielder found the top corner with a lovely left-footed effort. McGregor, whose mistake at Wolves made plenty of weekend blooper reels, redeemed himself with a superb save from McCormack’s long-range free-kick – and Hull were galvanised to mount a wave of late pressure.
That paid off. Substitute Nikita Jelavic’s header fell fortunately for Aluko, who steered past Andy Lonergan, to send Bruce’s boys level on points with Ipswich Town at the top of the table. Fulham, by contrast, have just a single point from their first three fixtures and sit only a place above the drop zone – not a good enough return for Symons, who had been hoping to take the Whites into the play-offs in his first full campaign in charge.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): McGregor; Odubajo, Robertson, Dawson, Davies; Huddlestone (Hayden 78), Meyler, Elmohamady, Aluko; Akpom (Jelavic 72), Hernandez (Clucas 66). Subs (not used): Jakupovi?, R. Taylor, Maguire, Luer.
GOALS: Elmohamady (34), Aluko (86).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Bettinelli (Lonergan 45+2); Richards, Voser, Hutchinson, Bodurov; Christensen, O’Hara, Cairney, Pringle (Kacaniklic 87); Smith (Dembele 45+2), McCormack. Subs (not used): Burn, Tunnicliffe, Woodrow.
BOOKED: Bodurov, Pringle.
GOAL: Cairney (69).
REFEREE: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire).