Fulham were five minutes away from starting their new Championship campaign with a won but were denied all three points by a stunning equaliser from Cardiff substitute Craig Noone. Former Bluebirds’ striker Ross McCormack somehow squandered a glorious chance to clinch all three points in stoppage time – contriving to stab wide of an unguarded goal from five yards out – leaving Kit Symons cutting a frustrated figure at the final whistle.
In truth, there was a lot for Symons to be pleased with after Fulham’s first outing of the new season. While last season’s defensive frailties were far from completely banished, Dan Burn was dominant at centre back and Shaun Hutchinson turned in a largely unruffled display alongside him as the pair made light of the club’s failure to attract a new centre half during the summer. Jamie O’Hara proved both composed and combative at the heart of a new-look midfield, whilst fellow newcomer Ben Pringle played a key part in Fulham’s goal.
The left-sided midfielder, signed on a free transfer from Rotherham during the close season, was a lively presence at both ends of the field, although his contribution to Matt Smith’s strike – which arrived two minutes into the second half – owed a fair bit to Simon Moore’s untimely juggling skills. The Cardiff goalkeeper, deputising for David Marshall, got himself into a horrible tangle trying to deal with Pringle’s floated cross and Smith needed no second invitation to pounce on the loose ball.
The visitors were perhaps fortunate to be in front at that point. Although Smith bad bravely headed against the base of the post from an acute angle and taken a clout from Moore to his face in the process, Cardiff enjoyed far more of the possession and carved out three clear chances. They all fell to Joe Mason, who will rue the hurried nature of his first effort, which flew wide from nine yards after clever approach play from Peter Whittingham and Kagisho Dikagchoi. Debutant Andy Lonergan then denied Mason with two smart saves from point blank range as the half ended scoreless, with McCormack dragging a shot across the face of goal after racing clear from the halfway line.
Cardiff pressed for an equaliser for much of the second period and thought they had levelled matters moments after Smith’s opener but after a lengthy delay Anthony Pilkington’s header was ruled out for offside. An Alex Revell effort was deflected onto the crossbar with Lonergan rooted to the spot. Hutchinson then made a quite brilliant block to deny Matt Cononley after the ball bounced around at a corner, before at the other end Connolly dived in to prevent Pringle from capping his debut with a goal after McCormack had created the opening superbly.
Lonergan then produced a fine low save to repel another Mason effort and left back Scott Malone drilled a rising drive fractionally over the bar from twenty yards. The introduction of Noone gave Cardiff an outlet down the right to further test Kay Voser, who had been targeted by the hosts from the outset. A rare misplaced pass from O’Hara – when McCormack and substitute Moussa Dembele were both in space – saw possession returned to Cardiff. Noone’s direct run down the right threatened but there appeared to be little danger until an untimely slip from Pringle allowed the winger to cut inside and bend an unstoppable shot beyond Lonergan.
There was still time for a gripping end-to-end finale. Both sides searched for a winner and the clearest opening arrived in the Cardiff box in stoppage time. Dembele did superbly to reach a Christensen pass, beat a defender and unselfishly cross for McCormack, who appeared in two minds when the ball arrived at his feet and unfathomably failed to tuck it away with the goal gaping. His pained expression at the final whistle said it all.
CARDIFF CITY (4-4-2): Moore; Peltier, Malone, Morrison, Connolly; Dikagchoi (Noone 63), Whittingham, Ralls, Pilkington; Revell (Ameobi 70), Mason. Subs (not used): Wilson, Fabio, O’Keele, Gunnarsson, Doyle.
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Lonergan; Richards, Voser, Hutchinson, Burn; O’Hara, Christensen, Cairney, Pringle; McCormack; Smith (Dembele 65). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Bodurov, Mattila, Hyndman, Kacaniklic, Woodrow.