Brett Pitman kept Ipswich’s promotion push on track as the experienced striker’s second half winner extended Fulham’s miserable winless run to seven at Craven Cottage.
Any latecomers to Fulham’s historic home would have missed the opening goal as former West Ham forward Freddie Sears fired Town in front inside the first sixteen seconds. Sears snaffled his sixth league strike of the season by bursting away from the home back line and firing clinically past an exposed Andy Lonergan to the delight of the 2,000 travelling fans. Fulham’s defence looked all at sea with Daryl Murphy denied by a desperate Dan Burn tackle and Arsenal loanee Ashley Maitland-Niles seeing his 20-yarder crash back off the crossbar.
Having offered very little in an attacking sense, Fulham equalised through another Ross McCormack special. The Scot blasted in a brilliant low free-kick from fully 30 yards after some brainless defending from Jonas Knudsen. The game became something of an end-to-end encounter then with Sears lashing over after latching onto a lovely ball from Cole Skuse and McCormack going close to a second at the other end.
Ipswich still fashioned the clearer and more consistent chances. Jonathan Douglas drove wide from just outside the box before Lonergan did well to deny Maitland-Niles after the youngster had beaten three Fulham defenders during a terrific run. Mick McCarthy was indebted to a brave block from Tommy Smith to prevent Moussa Dembele from putting the hosts ahead right before the break, although that would have been a travesty on the balance of play.
McCarthy was forced into a reshuffle at half time with Kevin Bru replacing the injured Skuse and the away side almost started the second period in a manner that matched the way they scored right at the beginning of the match. This time the threat came from a Knudsen long throw, which Smith flicked on and Murphy failed to fully profit from. Alex Kacaniklic drove over the bar and, then, a brilliant tackle from Chambers ended a blistering back from the hosts with Dembele preparing to pull the trigger.
Ipswich remained dangerous going forward and put their opponents under significant pressure. Maitland-Niles dragged a drive from distance wide of the target, but McCarthy’s men – roared on by a vociferous away contingent – retook the lead twelve minutes after half time. Sears turned provider this time swinging in a fine cross that was swept home by Pitman at the near post for his seventh goal of the season.
Fulham did fashion chances to equalise for a second time with substitute Matt Smith heading fractionally wide after Town switched to five at the back. That tactical tweak paid dividends as McCarthy’s men held on for a precious three points despite Dean Gerken being called into action by Luke Garbutt and Dembele’s deflected drive dropping fractionally wide. Fulham are now seventeenth, just five points above the relegation zone. Their stagnation since Symons was sacked for failing to propel the side towards the play-offs has not been pretty to watch.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Lonergan; Richards, Ream, Stearman, Burn; Kacaniklic (Woodrow 76), Garbutt, O’Hara (Hyndman 66), Cairney (Smith 67); McCormack, Dembele. Subs (not used): Lewis, Hutchinson, Fredericks, Pringle.
GOAL: McCormack (14).
IPSWICH TOWN (4-4-2): Gerken; Chambers, Knudsen, Smith, Berra; Skuse (Bru 45), Douglas, Maitland-Niles (Parr 89), Sears; Murphy, Pitman (Malarczyk 71). Subs (not used): Bialkowski, Orr, Coke, Fraser.
GOALS: Sears (1), Pitman (57).
REFEREE: Trevor Kettle (Berkshire).
Fulham had chances to level with substitute Matt Smith heading just wide, but at the other end Sears put a shot just wide for Ipswich.
After that chance, the hosts never looked like forcing a late equaliser.