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If, as seems likely, Emerson Hyndman’s Fulham career concludes in a couple of months time with a Bosman move away from Craven Cottage, you get the sense that the regulars will reflect on a prodigious young talent that got away. The young Texan, a gifted midfield playmaker, made an instant impression on his promotion to the first team under Felix Magath but a combination of injuries and a rich competition for places means that Hyndman will likely be plying his trade somewhere else by the start of the new season to further his international career. Even if that is the case, Hyndman will at least have a glorious memory to remember his two years at the Cottage by – having stroked his first senior career goal on his 20th birthday to clinch victory over promotion-chasing Cardiff City this afternoon.

Hyndman’s mature performance, as a late replacement in the starting line-up for Tom Cairney, deserved to be remembered for far more than his winner, as significant as it was. The diminutive midfielder delivered an all-action display from an unfamiliar slot on the right side of a midfield four, full of energy, determination and plenty of eye-catching passes. He might have had a sensational goal midway through the first half, when he latched onto a error from Joe Ralls, and darted his way past three Cardiff defenders before unleashing a curling effort from 25 yards out then was superbly parried away by David Marshall.

Instead, Hyndman’s moment arrived three minutes into stoppage time just as an absorbing contest appeared destined to end in a draw. Cardiff half cleared a Ross McCormack corner and, after Lasse Vigen Christensen did superbly to cut the ball back towards the near post from the byline, Hyndman ghosted in and kept his composure, taking a touch, before guiding the ball into the far corner. It sealed Fulham’s third straight Championship victory – the first time they had mustered such a sequence since 2012 – to take them ten points clear of the relegation zone to the delight of a raucous home crowd.

For much of the afternoon, it seemed as if this would be what came after the Lord Mayor’s show following two wins in four days that had given Fulham some breathing space. The visit of Cardiff, still eyeing a play-off place, represented a stern test of the new defensive durability that Slavisa Jokanovic has drilled into his charges – and they were found lacking in an open first half. Russell Slade’s side began the more adventurously and Marcus Bettinelli had to field a header from Aron Gunnarsson before defender Bruno Ecuele Manga glanced a header wide from Peter Whittingham’s corner.

The home side gradually garnered a foothold in the contest and, after Marshall denied Hyndman from distance, the Scottish international goalkeeper scrambled across his goal-line to claw away a curling McCormack free-kick. Just as the home side threatened in a sustained spell of pressure, they went behind at the worst possible time, just before the break. Richard Stearman, who looked far more comfortable after moving to centre back from full-back at half time, allowed Gunnarsson far too much time and space down the Cardiff left and the Icelandic midfielder’s flighted cross found Lex Immers all alone inside the six yard box to head home his fifth goal of the season. The Bluebirds should have increased their lead just a minute later when centre back Sean Morrison somehow saw his powerful header from a Whittingham corner come back off the near post and bounce away to safety.

Slade’s side were made to pay for their prolifigacy almost immediately after the restart. The previously anonymous Moussa Dembele measured the perfect pass for skipper Scott Parker, so outstanding in Fulham’s last two victories, to stride into the Cardiff area and guide an unerring finish inside the far post from an acute angle. The relief inside the Cottage was tangible – and Fulham drew great confidence from their equaliser. They might have gone in front shortly afterwards when substitute Ryan Fredericks’ pace took him clear of the Cardiff defence, but he opted to square the ball for Dembele – whose shot was blocked – when a first time shot might have been a better bet

Fulham’s more expansive football reduced the amount of sustained threat that the Bluebirds posed in the second period, but left back Scott Malone blazed over from a promising position and both Gunnarsson and Morrison spurned decent chances. Jokanovic’s side looked the more likely scorers the longer the game went on. In a dramatic finale, Dembele was denied by a superb reaction save from Marshall who made himself big to push away the French striker’s close range shot and McCormack’s deflected drive from 20 yards shaved the crossbar – before Hyndman’s late intervention.

FULHAM (4-4-2): Bettinelli; Stearman, Garbutt, Madl (Fredericks 45), Amorebieta; Ince, Parker (Baird 77), Hyndman, Tunnicliffe (Christensen 67); McCormack, Dembele. Subs (not used): Lonergan, Burn, Woodrow, Smith.

BOOKED: Fredericks.

GOALS: Parker (46), Hyndman (90+3).

CARDIFF CITY (4-4-2): Marshall; Peltier, Malone, Ecuele Manga, Morrison; Ralls, Gunnarsson (Saadi 82), Noone, Whittingham; Immers, Lawrence (Zohore 65)Subs (not used): Moore, Fabio, Dikgacoi, Connolly, O’Keefe.

GOAL: Immers (40).

REFEREE: Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire).

ATTENDANCE: 17,149.