This was as glorious as it was unexpected. Fulham, so feeble in defeat at Aston Villa last weekend, put five past high-flying Huddersfield with a display of such verve and athleticism that it may just have raised a few eyebrows amongst their Championship competitors. With a clutch of changes and a subtle tactical tweak, Slavisa Jokanovic ended the Whites’ woeful winless league run at Craven Cottage – and the most encouraging aspect of this complete display was the clinical nature of the finishing, something that has so often let Fulham’s fluent football down.
Jokanovic’s reaction to the meek capitulation at Villa Park last weekend was to make four changes, but none in goal where David Button – culpable for the decisive goal in Birmingham – kept his place. Tomas Kalas, so badly missed in during his absence with a knee injury, returned at centre half, whilst Scott Malone replaced young Ryan Sessegnon at left back. Ryan Fredericks returned on the other side of the defence and the two full-backs had an immediate impact in offering wide outlets for Fulham, whilst Tom Cairney was reintroduced to the starting line-up in place of Scott Parker.
Perhaps the most important switch was tactical. Stefan Johansen partnered Kevin McDonald in central midfield, but those two were supplemented by Tom Cairney, with Sone Aluko operating largely from a wide position rather than being stationed behind Chris Martin. The Nigerian ran riot down the flanks, with plenty of pace, trickery and persistence, making three of Fulham’s five goals, and revelling in the space that the home side were afforded by a Huddersfield side that had decided to play football rather than to try and shut down the opposition.
David Wagner was philosophical afterwards, insisting that the high number of individual errors would have left them well adrift against any opponent, but he will surely be troubled by a third defeat in their last four outings. Huddersfield were far from the high standards they have set already this season – but they did spurn three excellent first half opportunities and threatened in an encouraging spell right at the start of the second period – and Wagner will surely adjust his expansive game in order to grind out results as Town seek to sustain a promotion push.
Fulham began at a brisk tempo and should have been in front after a couple of minutes when a sumptuous ball from Stefan Johansen, who enjoyed his best game since his summer switch from Celtic, released Lucas Piazon. The on-loan Chelsea winger should have done better than shoot straight at Danny Ward when sent clear on goal, but Huddersfield’s reprieve proved merely a temporary stay of execution. The opener came from a Johansen free-kick, which was met emphatically by Ragnar Sigurdsson and a criminally unattended Chris Martin lashed a low shot into the bottom corner.
The goal seemed to spark the visitors into life. A terrific sliding intervention from Fredericks at the far post prevented Nakhi Wells from reaching Aaron Mooy’s dangerous low cross before Tommy Smith sent a free header just wide from the resulting corner and a long-range effort from Wells found Button’s gloves.
Those misses were to prove particularly costly when, from Fulham’s next attack, the home side doubled their lead. Scott Malone’s deep cross from the left was missed by Christopher Schlinder and Chris Lowe could only stab his clearance towards Kalas, who finished with aplomb on the volley in a manner more befitting a centre forward than a centre half. Worse was to follow. Four minutes before the break, the lively Aluko – who had already tormented Lowe – sped down the left wing and produced a peach of a cross that Piazon nodded home almost nonchalantly at the far post.
Huddersfield, who had spurned the chance to claim a lifeline right at the end of the first half when Harry Bunn headed a presentable chance wide from ten yards out, did pose more questions after the interval. Kasey Palmer, perhaps fortunate to still be on the field after an ugly lunge at Fredericks was punished by only a yellow card, was denied by an excellent save from Button – but the visitors struggled to get greater support to Wells and were eventually overwhelmed by Fulham’s fluidity.
One flowing move saw Johansen, the overlapping Fredericks and Chris Martin combine at breakneck speed only for the Scottish striker to lift his shot over the bar and Cairney, who was allowed the time space to pull the strings from midfield, also drove an effort too high. The fourth eventually came from the penalty spot when Aluko was felled by Schindler and Martin, who curiously was overlooked for that first penalty against QPR, drilled the spot-kick into the bottom corner with a modicum of fuss.
The fifth owed plenty to the irrepressible Aluko as he sauntered away from two tacklers down the right to drive into the box and locate the marauding McDonald, who rolled a precise finish into the far corner with little backlift. There were chances for more, notably for substitute Tim Ream who somehow headed over the bar after another McDonald shot was parried by Ward, but Fulham’s margin of victory was already galling enough for Huddersfield, whose vocal supporters deserved far more than this dispiriting hammering.
FULHAM (4-1-2-3): Button; Fredericks, Malone, Kalas (Ream 81), Sigurdsson; McDonald (Parker 85); Johansen, Cairney; Aluko (Ayite 75), Piazon, Martin. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Odoi, Sessegnon, Smith.
GOALS: Martin (8, pen 63), Kalas (34), Piazon (42), McDonald (66).
HUDDERSFIELD TOWN (4-2-3-1): Ward; Smith (Cranie 77), Lowe (Holmes-Dennis 73), Hudson, Schlinder; Whitehead (Payne 61), Mooy; Kachunga, Palmer, Bunn; Wells. Subs (not used): Murphy, Hefele, van La Parra, Paurevic.
BOOKED: Whitehead, Palmer.
REFEREE: David Coote (Nottinghamshire).