Match report from Tom Chalmers
Goals either side of half-time from Chris Martin and Ragnar Sigurdsson secured Fulham’s first league win over Ipswich Town for 53 years and piled the pressure on under-fire manager Mick McCarthy.
A performance full of verve and pretty passing extended Fulham’s unbeaten run to five and moved them to the brink of the Championship play-off places, although they should have been well out of sight long before Sigurdsson’s powerful header punished some slack Ipswich marking at a corner. The home side had been indebted to some excellent goalkeeping from Bartosz Bialkowski for keeping them in the game – and for a while it appeared as if Fulham’s prolifigate finishing might set up a grandstand finish.
The visitors were the quickest to settle and quickly penned a subdued and defensively minded Ipswich back. Christophe Berra had to be alert to turn away a Scott Malone cross on the stretch – and the classy Tom Cairney worked some space for himself on the edge of the box before shooting wide. Berra then timed his saving tackle to perfection as Floyd Ayite burst through on goal, having been released by a fine raking pass from Stefan Johansen. It was the first of several glorious chances the Togolese winger was to spurn.
Ipswich rarely committed too many numbers to attack but when they did, the danger arrived at the other end. After one half-paced Town move broke down, Malone drove deep into Ipswich territory and delivered a teasing cross that Martin, jeered for his previous association with Norwich City, diverted goalwards only for Bialkowski to produce a superb reaction save with his legs. From the ensuing corner, Kevin McDonald should have done better than poke a good chance harmlessly wide.
It seemed only a matter of time before Slavisa Jokanovic’s side broke the deadlock and the goal arrived shortly before the break after Cole Skuse had upended Johansen into a central position, around 30 yards from goal. It was Martin who took aim and his low powerful finish scuttled into the bottom corner, leaving a flat-footed Bialkowski with little chance. Ipswich might have considered themselves fortunate to be merely a goal down at the interval, but Tim Ream almost levelled matters in first half stoppage time when, in trying to beat Berra to a high ball forward, he sent a looping header towards the top corner of his own goal – only for David Button to palm it away in the nick of time.
McCarthy sent on David McGoldrick and Leon Best for Brett Pitman and Andre Dozell at the start of the second half, but the changes didn’t alter the patter of the first period. Fulham still had the majority of the play and were beginning to profit from some jittery home defending. Denis Odoi, pressing high up the pitch, charged down a pass from Andy Webster and Ayite rounded the goalkeeper before failing to apply the finishing touch from the tightest of angles. Moments later, Martin did have the ball in the net – but it was ruled out for an apparent high foot from Aluko when he seemed to have won the ball cleanly.
Ayite then missed an even simpler chance as the Whites surged forward down the left. Malone and Johansen swapped passes at pace to work an opening on the angle of the box before the Norwegian produced the perfect pass for Ayite to sidefoot home from eight yards, only for the winger to woefully miscue his shot and screw the ball horribly wide. Another lightening break saw Martin and Johansen combine to send the onrushing Odoi into the inside left channel and the recalled rightly-back did superbly to tee up Ayite, whose shot bounced off the chest of Bialkowski and behind for a corner.
Ipswich’s reprieve was merely shortlived. Johansen’s dangerous outswinger bent towards three white shirts on the edge of the six yard box and Sigurdsson, only recently introduced for Sone Aluko, buried a simple header to ease any lingering Fulham nerves. The natives took this as their cue to indicate their displeasure with McCarthy’s regime – and after Bialkowski had foiled Cairney again – the home side came as close as they managed all afternoon to testing Button. It was a testament to Luke Chambers’ desire that he burst into the Fulham box to meet a Tom Lawrence cross, but his improvised acrobatics sent the ball high and wide of the goal. It was that kind of frustrating afternoon for Ipswich, who failed to register a shot on target, – and one that could leave McCarthy on the brink.
IPSWICH TOWN (4-5-1): Bialkowski; Chambers, Knudsen, Berra; Webster; Skuse, Dozzell (McGoldrick 45), Douglas, Lawrence, Sears; Pitman (Best 45). Subs (not used): Gerken, Emmanuel, Kenlock, Bru, Ward.
BOOKED: Lawrence, McGoldrick.
FULHAM (4-1-2-3): Button; Odoi, Malone, Madl, Ream; McDonald; Johansen (Parker 90), Cairney; Aluko (Sigurdsson 65); Ayite (Piazon 83), Martin. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Fredericks, Kebano, Smith.
GOALS: Martin (36), Sigurdsson (78).
REFEREE: Oliver Langford (West Midlands).