For much of the ninety minutes, it appeared as if it was going to be another one of those days. Fulham, fitful in possession and far from their fluent best, struggled to break down a well-organised Sheffield Wednesday side determined to arrest an alarming run of results that suggested the Championship had finally worked out Carlos Carvahal’s methods and looked set to be condemned to another defeat courtesy of a poacher’s finish from Fernando Forestieri. But then, in the first of five minutes added on as a result of Wednesday’s blatant time-wasting, up popped Scott Malone to lash an equaliser past Kieren Westwood at his near post.
Fulham, who had to wait until the 76th minute for their first shot on target to arrive in the shape of a tame Tom Cairney effort, fashioned more chances in stoppage time than throughout the rest of the game. Scott Parker had already contrived to clear the crossbar with a volley he first hit into the ground from close range and, even after Malone’s equaliser, Chris Martin’s flick on from a corner caused carnage in the box but failed to drop to a white shirt. In a pulsating finale, a Sone Aluko shot struck Parker and flew wide, whilst Wednesday might have won it when David Button juggled a speculative Forestieri shot, almost sending it into his own net.
At times, during a largely forgettable first half, it was as if the radical overhaul embarked upon by Slavisa Jokanovic over the summer had never happened. Fulham’s football was ponderous, their passing lacked precision and purpose and the tempo that had swept aside both Huddersfield and Brentford before the international break was a distant memory. Wednesday looked much more progressive in the final third, with the triumvirate of Forestieri, Gary Hooper and Barry Bannan posing all sorts of problems for a stretched back four, and it came as little surprise when a slick move led to the Owls opening the scoring after ten minutes.
Fulham were left ball watching – and possibly fell victim to the vagaries of the modern offside rule as Forestieri appeared to have started his run from behind the back line when the Wednesday attack began – but they paid the ultimate price for not closing down a number of attacking threats. The former Watford forward slipped past Sigurdsson all too easily to work a clever one-two with Hooper and guide an effort across David Button, who might have felt he could have palmed the ball to safety, and into the far corner.
The goal buoyed the Owls who played some pretty football in the final third – in stark contrast to the cynical niggly fouls and time-wasting that unfortunately characterised a bitty display – and they might feel unfortunate not to led by more than Foresteri’s opener at half time. Barry Bannan’s speculative shot was deflected over and the former Aston Villa midfielder should have done better than drive high into the Hammersmith End from eleven yards after a sweeping counter-attack.
Hooper spurned an even better chance when he capitalised on some dozy defending from Siggurdson to latch onto a long clearance from Westwood and sprint clear of the Fulham defence – only to send his finish past the onrushing Button and wide of goal. The lively Ross Wallace sent a low drive fractionally wide of the far post as the visitors finished the first period well on top. By contrast, Fulham’s threat was limited with Kevin McDonald’s free header from a corner their clearest opening, although referee Geoff Eltringham waved away shouts for a penalty after Stefan Johansen was felled by Bannan – and that was far from his most puzzling decision in a perplexing performance.
Fulham were far more incisive in the second half with Aluko denied the chance to pull the trigger in a promising position by a perfectly timed challenge from the outstanding Sam Hutchinson, but Wednesday always retained a threat on the break. Bannan fed Forestieri with the cleverest of passes through a host of bodies but the Italian’s shot skewed disappointingly wide of the far post. The introduction of Parker with fifteen minutes to play galvanised a weary Fulham side who looked like they were about to run out of injuries and the Whites laid siege to the Wednesday goal for the final ten minutes.
Fellow substitute Denis Odoi almost had an instant impact when his low cross found its way to Cairney, but his hurried shot was easily fielded by a grateful Westwood. As time ticked by, desperate Wednesday blocks inceased Fulham’s frustration, such as the superb saving tackle from Jack Hunt on Aluko and the sight of both the Nigerian and Stefan Johansen blazing efforts over the bar from long range showed just how effective the Owls’ nullification of Chris Martin had been.
The sting in the tail arrived in stoppage time. Aluko, who despite not hitting the heights of recent weeks never stopped running in a bid to turn things around, forced a throw down the right. A quick bit of thinking from Odoi found Tom Cairney in space and he produced a deep cross from the right that picked out Malone’s late run and the full-back kept his composure to smash home the equaliser that the home side’s persistence deserved. There was still time for either side to win it in a period of added time that proved far more absorbing than the ninety minutes that had gone before – but the late sucker punch would certainly have felt like a defeat for Wednesday.
FULHAM (4-1-2-3): Button; Fredericks (Odoi 76), Malone, Kalas, Sigurdsson; McDonald (Parker 76); Cairney, Johansen; Piazon (Ayite 55), Aluko, Martin. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Sessegnon, Ream, Smith.
BOOKED: Johansen, Parker.
GOAL: Malone (90+1).
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY (4-4-2): Westwood; Hunt, Reach, Lees, Loovens; Hutchinson (Jones 56), Lee, Wallace, Bannan; Forestieri, Hooper (Fletcher 59). Subs (not used): Dawson, Palmer, Sasso, Buckley, Nuhiu.
BOOKED: Hutchinson, Wallace, Fletcher, Westwood.
GOAL: Forestieri (10).
REFEREE: Geoff Eltringham (Tyne and Wear)