Match report by Sam Holter
If Slavisa Jokanovic sought a reaction after the disappointing manner of Fulham’s second-half capitulation at promotion challenging Brighton last weekend, this would have been what he had in mind. A rampant home side recorded the kind of victory that suggested Fulham have the quality to contend for a place in the Championship’s top six this season and they ended Reading’s five-match winning run in thumping style. It was the kind of defeat Jaap Stam had confidently insisted he wasn’t worried about prior to the trip to west London – and it proved to be Fulham’s most complete display of the year to date.
Fulham have become used to dominating opponents at Craven Cottage this term but failing to see such superiority reflected on the scoreboard. It looked as though that might be the case during a first half that Jokanovic’s side controlled with surprising ease only to have a single goal to show for all their elegant football, with Chris Gunter beating his own goalkeeper with a majestic header after being flummoxed by Ryan Fredericks’ cross. But Fulham were rampant in a second half that saw both Reading’s defence and their discipline crumble. Danny Williams was sent off for kicking out at Stefan Johansen, a decision Stam questioned following the final whistle, and a brace from Chris Martin as well as strikes from Sone Aluko and Johansen put clear water between the Whites and their heavily-fancied promotion rivals.
Reading began nervously, with Ali Al-Habsi gifting the home side a sight of goal with a slack clearance just minutes in, and then Floyd Ayite intercepted a crazy crossfield pass from Jordan Obita and sprinted half the length of the field to fire in a shot that the Royals’ goalkeeper pushed up into the air before claiming at the second attempt. Al Habsi produced a sensational save to keep out a goalbound drive from Scott Malone, who had been given plenty of encouragement to scamp forward from full-back, and Ayite should have done better than skying a glorious chance into the upper reaches of the Putney End after being picked out by Aluko.
Just when you were were wondering if another afternoon of frustration was on the cards, up popped Gunter to offer the Cottagers’ a helping hand. The Welsh defender found himself in no-man’s land when Fredericks’ dangerous centre came across his six-yard box, heading an attempted clearance firmly into the ground – under little pressure at the far post – and leaving Al-Habsi with little chance. Fredericks nearly served up a second a minute later, but Johansen’s near post effort was bravely blocked at source.
Fulham certainly should have taken a clearer lead into the half-time break with them, but Al-Habsi gathered Martin’s intelligent flick at a corner and both Aluko, lifting an effort fractionally over the bar after being played in by Johansen, and Ayite spurned decent chances to give the home side breathing space. Reading attacked only spasmodically with their only real opening of the half falling to Garath McCleary, who hit a hopeful shot high and wide just before half time.
Any worries about a repeat of the AMEX second half surrender were extinguished early in the second half. Firstly, by a brilliant finish from Martin – who anticipated a flick on from David Button’s long kick by Ayite perfectly, made the most of the half a yard of space he was criminally afforded by the Reading defence and lashed a lovely effort into the bottom corner from 20 yards out. The Scotland international would have been upset not to add immediately to his tally when he headed wastefully over from a Johansen free-kick and lost his footing after being picked out by Ayite, spooning his shot over the bar.
The visitors’ hopes of regaining a foothold in the contest disappeared with Williams, who was shown a straight red card for lashing out at Johansen after the pair had contested a loose ball that refused to drift out of play by the byline. A sign of Reading’s sudden lose of composure came moments later when Joey van der Berg was yellow carded for a rash lunge at Fredericks. Stam’s side still throw everything they had at Fulham, though, with Obita almost levelling the contest when he was left unattended at the back post; his shot was deflected wide. Fredericks was also called upon to make a fine saving tackle when Dominic Samuel bore down on goal, while Button easily gathered a George Evans header from a free-kick.
Fulham quickly utilised their numerical advantage. Aluko capped another excellent performance with a fine solo goal, skipping away from tacklers down the right and sliding a composed finish underneath Al-Habsi and into the far corner. There was some confusion as the assistant referee raised an offside flag believing that Martin had got the final touch, but the goal was eventually given. Not to be outdone, Johansen added a fine goal of his own, too – deftly threading his way past three tacklers before finding the bottom corner with the outside of his left boot.
A fifth arrived in stoppage time when Martin, who might have a hat-trick but for a deflection, hauled him up off the floor after winning a free-kick to fire the set-piece beyond the despairing Al-Habsi and add the second goal that his tireless approach play certainly merited. Consistency has been a problem for the Cottagers so far this season – but such a comprehensive victory showed Jokanovic has more than enough quality at his disposal to aim for a play-off spot.
FULHAM (4-1-2-3): Button; Fredericks, Malone, Kalas, Ream; McDonald; Johansen (Parker 84); Aluko (Piazon 76), Ayite (Kebano 87), Cairney; Martin. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Sessegnon, Madl, Smith.
GOALS: Gunter (o.g. 15), Martin (49, 90), Aluko (67), Johansen (70).
READING (4-3-3): Al Habsi; Gunter, Obita, McShane, Blackett; van der Berg, D. Williams, Evans; McCleary (Harriot 77), Beerens (Kelly 57), Samuel (Meite 66). Subs (not used): S. Moore, Cooper, Watson, Mendes.
BOOKED: McShane, Obita, van der Berg, Evans.
SENT OFF: D. Williams.
REFEREE: Oliver Langford (West Midlands).