A breakaway goal from Alex Kacaniklic ensured a nervy Fulham side avoided any embarrassment at League Two Wycombe Wanderers tonight and made it safely into the hat for Thursday’s second round draw in the Capital One Cup.
Gareth Ainsworth’s side made life tough for their Championship visitors with a disciplined defensive display and, as the contest went on, the hosts grew in confidence, penning Fulham deep into their half during a second half bombardment. But Kit Symons will have been encouraged both by the way that his new-look side dealt with Wycombe’s physical threat – keeping a rare clean sheet – and with the moment of quality that settled the tie. A swift counter-attack, sparked by substitute Matt Smith chesting down a high ball from Jazz Richards expertly inside the Fulham half, saw Tom Cairney release Ben Pringle with a sumptuous through ball and the tricky winger delivered the perfect cross for the previously panicky Kacaniklic to fire into the top corner from ten yards.
It was a flowing move that proved largely out of keeping with a sedate, scrappy game that was remarkable only for the ineptitude of referee Gavin Ward, who inexplicably failed to book Garry Thompson for a horrid lunge that ended Jack Grimmer’s evening. The Scottish defender left the field on a stretcher after a lengthy stoppage with suspected Achilles damage and Symons admitted he was worried by the prospect of a ‘nasty’ injury. The incident seemed to enliven proceedings, with goalmouth chances having proved at a premium before the break.
Wycombe’s best openings both fell to Thompson, whose early header lacked enough power to seriously trouble the recalled Marcus Bettinelli in the Fulham goal, but the veteran then sliced wastefully over from much closer range after the home side had easily won two headers in quick succession at a set-piece. Ross McCormack proved Fulham’s most potent threat, although the Scottish international would have been disappointed to drag his shot wide of goal from inside the box. When McCormack did beat Matt Ingram with an emphatic finish to a lovely team move involving Tom Cairney and Kacaniklic, an offside flag snuffed out Fulham’s celebrations.
Fulham had to weather a bright opening to the second half from their hosts, but a defence well marshalled again by Shaun Hutchinson and protected superbly by the excellent Jamie O’Hara, stood firm before Fulham wrestled back control of the contest. Kacaniklic, who frequently swapped wings with the impressive Pringle, stung Ingram’s palms with a rising drive from the right before popping up perfectly to put Fulham in front just after Symons had introduced Smith for Cauley Woodrow. The goal visibly relaxed Fulham and Cairney, playing in a more central role than the position he occupied at Cardiff on Saturday, showed off a few clever touches in advanced positions.
There was a first sighting of Finnish international Sakari Matilla, who replaced the peerless O’Hara for the final seven minutes, and Fulham’s new signing was robust enough to disrupt Wycombe’s attempts to feed substitute Paul Hayes with high balls in the closing stages. Whilst the Whites weren’t clinical enough to kill off the contest with a second goal, the fact that they didn’t concede another late equaliser will have satisfied Symons. Indeed, Fulham’s defensive diligence ensured that, despite all their late pressure, Wycombe failed to seriously trouble Bettinelli as the clock ticked down.
WYCOMBE WANDERERS (4-4-2): Ingram; Jombati, Jacobson, Rowe, Stewart; Harriman, Bean, McGinn, Wood (Sellers 77); Thompson (Banton 74), Amadi-Holloway (Hayes 83). Subs (not used): Richardson, Bloomfield, O’Nien.
BOOKED: Rowe, Harriman.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Bettinelli; Grimmer (Richards 62), Voser, Hutchinson, Bodurov; O’Hara (Matilla 83), Cairney, Kacaniklic, Pringle; McCormack, Woodrow (Smith 68).
BOOKED: Kacaniklic, O’Hara.
GOAL: Kacaniklic (69).
REFEREE: Gavin Ward (Surrey).