Football might well be a very funny old game, but rarely can it have produced nights as surreal as this. Two west London sides desperate to return to the top table of English football came together at Craven Cottage seeking a catalyst to reignite their fitful seasons and two likeable, yet inexperienced mangers, knew the pressure would ramp up following a derby defeat. The stage appeared to set for one of those cagey, cautious contests but instead Fulham blew QPR away in 29 scintillating first-half minutes. By the break, Chris Ramsey’s hopes of putting pressure on the Championship’s top two lay in tatters – and his authority had been undermined by Tjaronn Chery’s petulant reaction to being withdrawn before half time.
Ross McCormack’s brace might garner tomorrow morning’s headlines, but it is his young strike partner who deserves the plaudits. It was Moussa Dembele who set the tone with a towering header after just 116 seconds to deliver Fulham the perfect start. The Frenchman’s terrific movement, encapsulated by the way he drifted between Paul Konchesky and Gabriele Angella to guide James Husband’s cross past Rob Green, posed problems for a ponderous QPR defence all evening and the early goal sent his confidence soaring. Shortly afterwards, a fine pass put McCormack in the clear but the Fulham captain could only ruffle the side netting from an acute angle.
Rangers, rocked by Fulham’s blistering start, were just beginning to get a foothold in the game when Australian midfielder Massimo Luongo burst into the box and sent a shot wastefully wide – a miss that was to prove decisive. Fulham swept down the other end of the field and doubled their advantage, although the accommodating nature of the visitors’ defending had plenty to do with it. Ben Pringle, who had previously shown glimpses of the form that made him such a favourite at Rotherham, capitalised on a sloppy square pass from Ale Faurlin, darted between a couple of defenders and fired an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
Fulham’s tails were up and only a last-ditch diving tackle from Angella prevented McCormack from scampering through on Green’s woefully underprotected goal. A third duly arrived just past the half hour mark and it was a team goal of the highest quality. After fourteen sharp passes had teased open a gap in a central area just outside the box, Tom Cairney cleverly resisted the crowd’s cries to shoot and slipped a reverse ball back through the Rangers defence for McCormack to finish with a modicum of fuss.
In an eery echo of QPR’s 2012 humbling here, where Neil Warnock replaced Adel Taraabt at half-time during their 6-0 humbling, Ramsey sent on Jamie Mackie for Chery, who promptly scuttled down the touchline towards the dressing rooms and seemed to revel in an ovation from the visiting supporters. Macke himself was replaced by Leroy Fer at the interval and Rangers briefly threatened to make more of a game of it in the second half, with Richard Stearman blocking an effort from James Perch and Andy Lonergan smartly stopping Konchesky’s header. Any hope of applying further pressure evaporated when Charlie Austin, whose only sight of goal was snuffed out by Ryan Fredericks in the first half, limped off with a hamstring injury on the hour.
Fulham added a fourth when Fredericks’ lightening pace took him clear down the right and McCormack stabbed home the rebound from a couple of yards out after Angella, under pressure from Dembele, screwed an attempted clearance against his own crossbar. It looked as though the visitors might cave under the pressure, at that point, especially as Green did well to parry away a powerful strike from Ryan Tunnicliffe and smother another McCormack effort but a rampant home side failed to increase their margin of victory despite late pressure that saw substitutes Cauley Woodrow and Kay Voser spurn good chances in the closing stages.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Lonergan; Fredericks (Voser 77), Husband, Stearman, Ream; O’Hara (Christensen 65), Tunnicliffe, Cairney, Pringle; McCormack, Dembele (Woodrow 77). Subs (not used): Lewis, Burn, Kavanagh, Matilla.
GOALS: Dembele (2), Pringle (19), McCormack (31, 63).
QUEENS PARK RANGERS (4-2-3-1): Green; Perch, Konchesky, Onouha, Angella; Henry, Faurlin; Luongo, Chery (Mackie 35; Fer 45), Philips; Austin (Tozer 59). Subs (not used): Smithies, Hall, Gladwin, Doughty.
REFEREE: Kevin Friend.