Slavisa Jokanovic looked as befuddled as the rest of us after Fulham missed two penalties and somehow lost a local derby to Queens Park Rangers they had dominated. Substitute Idrissa Sylla’s late header gave Rangers a first win at Craven Cottage since 1980 but only after Sone Aluko had struck the post with a stoppage-time penalty. Alex Smithies had saved a Tom Cairney spot-kick much earlier on and the R’s goalkeeper produced a string of fine saves to hand Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink a precious three points.
Fulham now haven’t won in seven matches, but how that miserable run was extended after an enthralling lunchtime kick-off saw the Whites do everything but finish is a question that will rankle for quite some time. It was a terrific end to a terrible week for Hasselbaink, who took his place in the visiting dug-out despite being exposed in a Daily Telegraph sting operation. The Cottage hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for QPR and Hasselbaink might have feared another defeat when Steven Caulker was penalised for hauling down Ragnar Sigurdsson from Lucas Piazon’s early corner.
Lee Mason had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and booking Caulker, but Smithies pulled off a sensational save, preventing Cairney’s penalty at full stretch having guessed the right way. That let-off clearly galvanised the visitors who took the lead when Polish winger Pawel Wszolek was left completely unattended at the back post and played in Connor Washington, whose finish took a touch off Sebastian Polter and looped beyond David Button.
The tone for a frustrating afternoon was then set as Fulham embarked on a succession of scarcely believable misses. One of the worst came courtesy of Scottish striker Chris Martin, who lost his footing in front of an open goal, screwing wide after being set up by Scott Parker and Lucas Piazon. No wonder the on-loan Derby forward has gone nineteen league games without a goal.
Aluko missed a number of good chances himself, shooting wide in the first half after good approach play from Martin, and then curling an effort past the other post having surged past a number of QPR defenders during a powerful individual run. Cairney took aim from outside the area but his own attempt to bend in a trademark strike was narrowly off target. Fulham, booed off at half time, badly needed a spark early in the second period and they got from the unlikeliest of sources.
Tim Ream drilled in the leveller within two minutes of the restart. Piazon got a second chance to cross after his corner had been cleared but elected to find Parker instead. The midfielder clipped a cross over Smithies and Ream rifled the hosts back into the contest at the far post, despite Massimo Luongo’s desperate attempt to keep the American’s effort out of the QPR goal. Rangers were suddenly rocking with Nedum Onouha nearly nodding Scott Malone’s cross past his own goalkeeper.
The hosts had complete command of the contest. Ryan Tunnicliffe volleyed inches wide after being found by a clever Cairney pass after the Fulham playmaker had run through the Rangers defence. Substitute Matt Smith, who replaced the ineffectual Martin, almost had an immediate impact. His header from an Aluko cross gave Parker the chance to shoot at goal, but Caulker remarkably backheeled the ball off his own goal-line to make magnificent amends for his earlier misdemeanour. Aluko drilled wastefully wide after sprinting onto a Smith flick on – and you got the sense it might not be the hosts’ day when Neeskens Kebano failed to score with his first touch, glancing a header wide of goal from Malone’s cross from a couple of yards out.
Rangers had been penned back for much of the second half but showed signs of life when Onouha got free at the far post from a free kick but headed wide. Fulham continued to pour forward in search of a winner but failed to heed that warning. They were punished after carelessly giving away possession in their own half, with Sylla superbly heading in a fine cross from Tjaronn Chery with four minutes to play.
Jokanovic’s side didn’t take that hammer blow lying down. Ream was denied by a brilliant reaction save from Smithies after a well-worked short corner and Jozabed, on as a late substitute, smacked a free-kick against the crossbar in the first minute of stoppage time. A chance at salvation arrived when Mason contentiously penalised Onouha for a high foot on the Spanish midfielder but, although Aluko sent Smithies the wrong way, his side-footed spot kick struck the base of the far post and bounced away to safety – sparking delirious celebrations amongst the visiting fans in the Putney End.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Button; Odoi, Malone, Sigurdsson, Ream; Parker (Jozabed 78), Tunnicliffe; Aluko, Cairney (Kebano 71), Piazon; Martin (Smith 56). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Madl, R. Sessegnon, Adeniran.
BOOKED: Malone, Ream.
GOAL: Ream (47).
QUEENS PARK RANGERS (4-2-3-1): Smithies; Onouha, Lynch (Hämäläinen 81), Caulker, Hall; Henry, Luongo; Wszo?ek (Shodipo 62), Washington, Chery; Poulter (Sylla 58). Subs (not used): Ingram, Kaykay, Sandro, El Khayati.
BOOKED: Caulker, Henry, Sylla.
GOALS: Washington (20), Sylla (86).
REFEREE: Lee Mason (Lancashire).