Fulham’s bright start to the season is already looking like a false dawn after Bristol City recorded their second win at Craven Cottage in four days – and this one was far more resounding than their tight EFL Cup success on Wednesday night. Tammy Abraham became the first man in the Football League to ten goals and the Robins cut their hosts to ribbons as they chased a way back into the contest, scoring three times after the break as Fulham were reduced to ten men following Kevin McDonald’s late sending off.
A seething Slavisa Jokanovic spent the final few minutes stalking around his technical area and Fulham now have a few serious headaches to solve ahead of a brutal run of autumn fixtures. This game followed the pattern of their last four performances – they began brightly and enjoyed an extraordinary amount of possession but looked both the know-how and the penetration to break down a well-organised defence. Lee Johnson’s side were content to sit on the lead afforded to them by Abraham’s predatory near-post finish before punishing some sloppy defending on the break in the second half.
Jokanovic had restored teenage full-back Ryan Sessegnon to the starting line-up and it was the England youth international who registered the game’s first shot on target, linking up nicely with the recalled Neeskens Kebano, before cutting inside and extending Frankie Fielding with a precise drive from 20 yards. But the home side were behind on ten minutes from Bristol City’s opening attack. Captain Marlon Pack, who controlled the game from central midfield, sprayed a clever ball out to Jamie Paterson down the right and Abraham’s movement saw him reach the low cross ahead of the Fulham centre halves and guide a first-time finish into the roof of the net.
The goal gave the visitors confidence and they could have easily extended their lead. Fulham failed to adequately clear a corner and Paterson’s deep cross was headed over the bar by the imposing Aden Flint at the far post, with the centre back entitled to feel he should have done better. Lee Tomlin was also aggrieved not to hit the target with a snapshot from ten yards, whilst David Button did well to push aside the attacking midfielder’s low drive just before the break.
By contrast, Fulham were spasmodic in possession and hesitant even when going forward. Scott Parker, who was lucky not to shown a second yellow card when he brought down Tomlin with a tackle from behind, sent two ambitious efforts from distance wide and the clearest openings came in the form of two instinctive headers from Chris Martin and McDonald, which were also off target. Stefan Johansen replaced the Fulham captain at half-time, but there was little pattern or impetus to Fulham’s play, with Tom Cairney once again anonymous on the right wing.
It might have been different had Sone Aluko’s rising drive gone under the crossbar rather than thudding into it from eighteen yards and the former Hull forward also had a decent shout for a penalty waved away, but Fulham’s hopes of getting back into the contest evaporated inside eight minutes after the hour. Tomlin surged clear down the right, drifting infield and away from three tacklers far too easily, before unselfishly finding Luke Freeman, who tucked the finish into the far corner with aplomb.
Jokanovic threw on Matt Smith, who had enjoyed a successful loan spell with the Robins, and Jozabed in attempt to spark a recovery but, before either substitute could make an impact, City had scored a third. Bobby Reid, who turned the game here last year after arriving off the bench, latched onto a sloppy Fulham pass and arrowed a low shot beyond Button from 20 yards. Smith should have reduced the deficit just a minute later but he sent a free header over the bar from Aluko’s deep cross – and it was the visitors who were pouring forward into search of further reward.
Paterson appeared certain to put the finishing touch to a flowing Bristol City move – which saw substitute Callum O’Dowda beat Denis Odoi all ends up down the left – but Ragnar Sigurdsson arrived in the nick of time to block his goalbound shot. The visitors did get their fourth when, after McDonald was given his marching orders for a reckless lunge at O’Dowda on the halfway line, Fulham afforded Flint far too much time and space to lash home Paterson’s cross from close range.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Button; Odoi, Sessegnon, Sigurdssson, Madl (Jozabed 66); Parker (Johansen 45), McDonald; Cairney, Kebano (Smith 65), Aluko; Martin. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Malone, Ream, Piazon.
BOOKED: Parker, Sigurdsson.
SENT OFF: McDonald.
BRISTOL CITY (4-2-3-1): Fielding; Little, Bryan, Flint, Magnusson; Pack, Reid; Paterson, Freeman (Brownhill 73), Tomlin (O’Dowda 74); Abraham (Wilbraham 69). Subs (not used): O’Donnell, Golbourne, Moore, Engvall.
GOALS: Abraham (10), Freeman (60), Reid (68), Flint (83).
REFEREE: Peter Bankes (Merseyside).