Match report by Sam Holter
Sixteen year-old Ryan Sessegnon rescued a point deep into injury time and saved Fulham from threatened to be a disappointing evening against a stubborn Burton Albion side at Craven Cottage. Slavisa Jokanovic’s charges, desperate to bounce back from a deflating defeat by Birmingham City on Saturday, dominated the majority of the first half but found themselves trailing to a wonderfully taken goal from Jackson Irvine and it took a stoppage-time equaliser from Sessegnon, who stabbed home from three yards, to offer them any reward for their endeavour.
Jokanovic had made five changes from the side that surrendered their unbeaten start to the side so meekly against Birmingham at the weekend, but the verve that underlined Fulham’s early season football was missing for much of this contest. Fulham found it difficult to build up much momentum against a Burton side that were happy to defend deep, spoil and threatened sporadically on the break – and for all their first-half possession – they barely forced Brewers keeper Jon McLaughlin into a save.
The Scottish custodian was extended by Sone Aluko as early as the fourth minute but the Nigerian international should have done better having crept away from two defenders to work the opening. Missed opportunities were the order of the day for the remainder of the half. The lively Sessegnon was always eager to push forward down the left and his dangerous cross narrowly eluded Chris Martin, making his first start since his deadline day loan move from Derby. A second centre shortly afterwards did locate the Scottish international only for the outstanding John Brayford to time his intervention to perfection.
It was Sessegnon who came closest to opening the scoring before the break when he bombed on beyond Neeskens Kebano and crashed a shot towards goal that McLoughlin did well to push away to safety. A teasing corner from Tom Cairney provided another good opening but neither Martin or his colleagues were sufficiently alert to profit from a fine header back across the six-yard box from Thomas Kalas – and Scott Parker’s low drive was as close as the Whites came for the remainder of the first half.
Burton recognised at half-time with Nigel Clough clearly concerned about the space Fulham were enjoying down the flanks. They switched to a 5-3-2 formation, bringing on Ben Turner, and immediately offered more of an attacking threat after the break, with Scott Beavon’s volley the only effort to seriously test David Button in the first half. The visitors had already offered an indication of their intent with Button fielding a drive from Matt Palmer before they took the lead with a cleverly worked goal six minutes after the interval.
Some tidy football down the right saw Palmer send a dangerous ball into the box, which Beavon unselfishly played back for Irvine and Albion’s record signing slotted a superb finish into the bottom-right corner from 20 yards out. The goal sent more than 200 travelling fans into ecstasy and gave Clough’s diligent side something to hang onto. It will frustrate the manager that they came quite so close to recording their first away win at this level.
Fulham were, for large periods of proceedings, alarmingly toothless. With Kevin McDonald enduring another off-colour evening, they struggled for the usual rhythm in midfield, and it took until past the hour mark for them to register another effort of any note, with Cairney curling a trademark left-footed effort wide. Jokanovic sent on Matt Smith to join Martin up front, but the introduction of the former Leeds striker seemed to just encourage Albion to sit deeper – less troubled by the pace and width that had posed such problems in the first half.
The visitors will be ruing substitute Jamie Ward’s failure to convert a rare counter attack with five minutes left. The Northern Ireland forward latched onto a fine punt forward from McLoughlin but sent his half-volley agonisingly wide of Button’s far post. The Brewers had to hold on for six minutes of added time – largely caused by the goalkeeper’s persistent time wasting for which Tim Robinson inexplicably failed to caution him – but, ironically, could only remain in front for half that time.
Sessegnon’s equaliser arrived just as a restless home crowd were contemplating the prospect of back-to-back home reverses. McLoughlin failed to hold a snapshot from Aluko and Sessegnon popped up to fire home from just three yards out to snatch a point for Fulham. This might have been another largely uninspiring performance – but Jokanovic’s side certainly keep fighting right to death.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Button; Odoi, Sessegnon, Kalas, Sigurdsson; Parker, McDonald (Jozabed 79); Cairney, Kebano (Smith 62), Aluko; Martin (Ayite 78). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Ream, Johansen, Piazon.
BOOKED: McDonald, Sigurdsson.
GOAL: Sessegnon (90+3).
BURTON ALBION (4-4-2): McLoughlin; Irvine, McCrory (Turner 45), Naylor, Brayford; Palmer, Choudhury (Barker 90+4), Williamson, Dyer; O’Grady, Beavon (Ward 60). Subs (not used): Bywater, Miller, Fox, Myers-Harness.
BOOKED: McCrory, Palmer, Irvine, Beavon.
GOAL: Irvine (51).
REFEREE: Tim Robinson (West Sussex)