It has been a while in coming, but the manner in which Fulham overwhelmed Queens’ Park Rangers at Loftus Road this lunchtime put a huge smile on Slavisa Jokanovic’s face. The Serbian’s first victory since taking over at Craven Cottage back in December eased the visitors further away from the relegation zone, which loomed large after a run of one win in fifteen games, but the panache and precision of their football hinted at the depth of quality which has always lurked within this Fulham side.
Their fine run against QPR, which has seen them score 25 goals in their last ten meetings suffering just a single defeat, never truly looked in doubt after tactical tinkering that utterly befuddled Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. Fulham switched to a 5-3-2 formation that has barely been used under Jokanovic and started far the sharper of the two sides, with the class of Tom Cairney shining through in an advanced central midfield role, whilst the experience of Jamie O’Hara and Scott Parker ensured that Rangers’ plans of exploiting the fragile Fulham defence never came to fruition.
The visitors were on the front foot from the off. Lasse Vigen Christensen, whose afternoon lasted barely five minutes after he strained a hamstring in testing Alex Smithies from an acute angle, set the tone and a couple of promising breaks might have led to better with the recalled Ryan Fredericks and Jamie O’Hara sending over crosses that narrowly eluded yellow shirts in the centre. It was a surprise that Fulham had to wait until ten minutes before the break to take the lead, but the goals then came in a deluge. First, Cairney slipped a sumptuous pass between Nedum Onuouha and Grant Hall and Ross McCormack, who had darted clear with a perfectly timed run, drove a cool finish beyond Smithies.
Five minutes later, and Fulham had doubled their lead. More midfield keep-ball culminated in Jamie O’Hara delivering a dangerous cross from the left and Moussa Dembele ghosted away from the attentions of Onouha to plant a powerful far-post header into the bottom corner. In added time at the end of the first half, Jokanovic’s side as good as finished the contest. A swift break down the left saw McCormack latch onto a forward ball and surge clear. The Scottish international did superbly to thread the ball through to Dembele, whose instinctive shot came back off the post, only for Cairney to poke home – with the aid of a deflection.
Fulham were assured enough in defence to deny Rangers’ much of a sniff. Michael Madl put in an assured display on his debut after his loan move from Sturm Graz, although a sloppy back pass from Fernando Amorebieta could have easily led to a red card for Dan Burn after he slid in to bring down Jamie Mackie. Referee Tim Robinson deemed the covering Madl to be close enough to consider the offence worthy of only a caution, but the dismissal of Burn might have brought about the kind of game-changing moment QPR required. As it worse, the home side’s second half improvement was measured by three fine saves from Andy Lonergan to claw away James Perch’s header, a low drive from Tjarron Chery and a powerful effort from Nasser El Khayati.
The visitors were denied their third clean sheet of the season when they switched off at a corner in second half stoppage-time. Daniel Tözsér‘s threatening delivery went all the way through to substitute Chery, who swivelled and buried a low shot beyond Lonergan from eight yards out, but it was scant consolation for QPR, who were thoroughly outplayed. Jokanovic’s charges should comfortably avoid the drop if they replicate this level of performance over the next few weeks – but the Serbian’s long-term challenge will be to find the kind of consistency that will have them challenging at the other end of the table.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS (4-4-2): Smithies; Perch, Konchesky, Onouha, Hall; Luongo, Tözsér, Phillips (Chery 76), Hoilett (El Khayati 53); Mackie, Polter (Washington 45). Subs (not used): Ingram, Hill, Henry, Petrasso.
BOOKED: Onouha, Hall.
GOAL: Chery (90).
FULHAM (5-3-2): Lonergan; Fredericks, Christensen (Garbutt 6), Madl, Burn, Amorebieta; Parker (Ince 78), O’Hara, Cairney; McCormack, Dembele (Hyndman 82). Subs (not used): Lewis, Richards, Kacaniklic, Smith.
BOOKED: Burn, O’Hara.
GOALS: McCormack (35), Dembele (40), Cairney (45).
REFEREE: Tim Robinson (West Sussex).