The first game of the post Kit Symons era at Fulham proved to be somewhat subdued. The club’s hierarchy have yet to appoint a permanent replacement for the man sacked after last Saturday’s humbling at the hands of Birmingham City, so Peter Grant, a holdover from the reign of mad Felix Magath, has been handed the short-term task of taking the reigns to try and steer the Whites away from mid-table mediocrity. That his first assignment was at the soulless bowl now home to Milton Keynes – a place better known for hockey before the football authorities shamefully allowed them to appropriate a proud London club’s heritage and place in the league – was particularly unfortunate.
Fulham weren’t exactly fired up to prove a point following Symons’ departure. Their diamond midfield struggled to impose itself on proceedings and Moussa Dembele, the league’s young player of the month, appeared to have left his clinical finishing in October. The French forward saw a header saved by David Martin and then somehow managed to miss the target altogether from a yard out after all the hard work had been done by Ross McCormack. This glorious chances were anomalies, however, as the hosts dominated the first quarter of the contest.
The lively Josh Murphy – recalled by Karl Robinson after the international break – looked a threat every time he got on the ball. Fulham were lucky to escape when the winger burst away from two defenders but put too much on his cross and Joe Lewis was definitely the busier goalkeeper in the first half. He got fingertips to powerful drive from distance by Dean Bowditch before keeping out a curler from Murphy.
It was no surprise when the home side’s most dangerous players combined to give them the lead. Murphy teed up Bowditch twenty yards out and, after the Fulham defence failed to close him down, the former Ipswich forward drove home a fine finish that cannoned in off the post. He might have made it two immediately afterwards with a header from Dean Lewington’s lovely cross but Luke Garbutt – in for the suspended James Husband – managed to clear off his own line. Jordan Spence had a shot blocked, before Fulham equalised right before the break in a rare foray forward.
Sean Kavanagh’s speculative strike struck Tom Cairney on the back and fell fortuitously into the path of McCormack. The Scot squared again for Dembele, who finished with far more assurance from further out than he had earlier in the half. The visitors were forced into a half-time switch as Ryan Fredericks succumbed to a calf problem and was replaced by Kay Voser. Kavanagh was getting forward effectively on the other flank and remained eager to pull the trigger but Martin was able to field the Irishman’s effort ten minutes in the second period.
The full back was then cautioned for a cynical foul on Murphy as he looked to lead a counter-attack and the free kick saw Darren Potter flick a header fractionally wide. Murphy then played in Bowditch behind a flat-footed Fulham defence but his tame finish was straight at Lewis. Nicky Maynard then blazed wildly over after Spence had surged away from Garbutt and, after Dan Burn had dealt with another dangerous delivery from Murphy, Kavanagh crashed another strike into Kyle McFadzean.
The centre half then came to his side’s rescue with nine minutes remaining when he cleared off the line after McCormack had drilled a finish past Martin. The Scottish striker thought he’d snatched all three points – but was denied by a brilliant bit of defending. Cairney curled a late effort straight at the goalkeeper when space opened up in front of him, but a share of the spoils was the right result.
MILTON KEYNES FRANCHISE (4-2-3-1): Martin; Spence, D. Lewington, Kay, McFadzean; Potter, Poyet; Carruthers (Baker 77), Bowditch (Hall 71), Murphy; Maynard (Church 86). Subs (not used): Cropper, Hodson, Powell, Gallagher.
GOAL: Bowditch (30).
FULHAM (4-1-2-1-2): Lewis; Fredericks (Voser 45), Garbutt, Stearman, Burn; O’Hara; Tunnicliffe (Matilla 70), Kavanagh; Cairney; McCormack, Dembele. Subs (not used): Rodak, Hutchinson, Pringle, Woodrow, Smith.
BOOKED: Kavanagh, McCormack.
GOAL: Dembele (44).
REFEREE: Darren Handley.