Floyd Ayite seems to be getting the taste for scoring vital Championship goals. After his injury-time header at Molineux on Saturday salvaged a point from a pulsating game against Wolves, the winger’s composed finish secured all three points for Fulham against plucky Rotherham United, whose performance belied their lowly league standing. The Togo international, who Slavisa Jokanovic will certainly miss when he jets off to the African Cup of Nations in January, found himself in the right place to finish a flowing second half move that helped the Whites shake off the shock of conceding an early lead and get their play-off push back on track.
Their head coach was far from content with Fulham’s iffy finishing as the home side passed up several chances to make the margin more comfortable. Failing to kill the game off has been the story of Fulham’s season so far – and on-loan striker Chris Martin was as culpable as anyone, having failed to place his penalty beyond Jack Price in the Rotherham goal, and the bottom of the table visitors almost stole a precious point in stoppage time. Their spirit alone might have merited the greater reward they threatened through a fine strike from Joe Newell but, with passion and organisation instilled by caretaker boss Paul Warne, the Millers look to have sunnier days ahead on this evidence.
Rotherham, undoubtedly buoyed by Saturday’s success against QPR, had the best of the early chances despite seeing little of the ball. On-loan Chelsea forward Izzy Brown intercepted a sloppy pass and surged into the Fulham penalty area, but David Button easily fielded Danny Ward’s shot from a square pass. Button, who kept his place after a nervy display in the Midlands at the weekend, tipped over a rising drive from Tom Adeyami but the reprieve was shortlived as the visitors took the lead minutes later.
A beautifully worked move from the right saw Adeyami locate the lively Brown in plenty of space 25 yards from goal and he slipped a crisp pass inside for Newell, whose perfectly placed shot rolled into the bottom corner, to send the travelling fans into raptures. Rotherham’s defensive record suggested that Fulham could work their way back into the contest but, for much of the half, Jokanovic’s side toiled earnestly without reward, passing the ball in front of the massed ranks of blue shirts.
The recalled Ryan Sessegnon, who was full of energy and verve down the left, sent over a teasing ball that Ayite headed wide of the near post and Fulham continue to press forward at every opportunity. Eventually, with a bit of good fortune, they managed to prize open the visitors’ defence. Chris Martin’s powerful snapshot from the edge of the box was deflected clear, but the ball fell for Stefan Johansen, who played a pass out to Sessegnon, and continued his run into the penalty area to drive home the full back’s square ball.
Fulham could well have gone in at half-time ahead. Price foiled Ayite’s solo effort with his legs and then the Rotherham goalkeeper extended himself fully to touch a Tom Cairney header over the bar before Michael Madl, back in place of Tim Ream, sent a free header wide of goal. While Rotherham did manage to reach the break with parity preserved, Jokanovic was far from happy with his lot. He introduced Lucas Piazon for defensive midfielder Kevin McDonald – and it was bold move that very quickly paid off.
Nine minutes after the interval, Sone Aluko threaded a beautiful pass between the Rotherham back line to set Piazon clear down the right and the Brazilian’s perfectly weighted cross was guided home with the minimum of fuss by Ayite from around 11 yards. Fulham continued to lay siege to the Rotherham goal but continued put the contest beyond their stubborn opponents. Johansen grazed the outside of the post with a free kick before Price foiled Martin from the penalty spot, diving to his right to parry a poor spot-kick away after Aimen Belaid had pulled down Madl.
Fulham passed up several further chances with Aluko failing to find the target with a couple of long-range efforts and Cairney being denied twice but the Whites always had more than enough to extend their Craven Cottage unbeaten run to five games and move above Saturday’s opponents Derby County in the Championship table. Getting past Warne’s Rotherham was a tricky assignment but the resilience of this side remains impressive.
FULHAM (4-1-2-3): Button; Fredericks, Sessegnon, Kalas, Madl; McDonald (Piazon 45); Johansen, Cairney; Aluko (Parker 82), Ayite, Martin. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Sigurdsson, Odoi, Malone, Smith.
GOALS: Johansen (32), Ayite (54).
ROTHERHAM UNITED (4-4-1-1): Price; Fisher, Wood, Belaid, Mattock; Forde, Adeyemi (Frecklington 60), Vaulks, Newell; Brown (Taylor 36); Ward (Blackstock 60). Subs (not used): Bilboe, Stephen Kelly, Ball, Forster-Caskey.
GOAL: Newell (19).
REFEREE: Steve Martin (Stafforshire).