Chris Martin’s poaching instincts secured a point for a badly below-par Fulham in the west London derby at Loftus Road. The Scottish international, now fully integrated into the squad after refusing to play over Christmas, eventually atoned for missing an early penalty – but, by that point, QPR led through Ryan Manning’s first senior goal.
A bad-tempered finish, which saw QPR coach Marc Bircham for stand to the stands for squaring up to Jokanovic and Tom Cairney was fortunate to avoid a red card after flattening Joel Lynch, followed Fulham pushing for a winner, having been behind for long periods of the contest. Martin’s clever finish, flicking in a Cairney shot from close range, sparked a prolonged period of Fulham pressure and Alex Smithies showed great agility to tip over Sone Aluko’s chip.
Aluko was booed throughout by the Loftus Road crowd, having won a fifth minute penalty when a terrific run into the box culminated in him going to ground under Jake Bidwell’s challenge. The spot kick seemed soft and was made irrelevant when Smithies dived full length to push away Martin’s penalty. It was the goalkeeper’s sixth save from ten spot kicks for QPR and, incredibly, the sixth penalty Fulham have missed this season.
The let off lifted the crowd and enlivened QPR, for whom Ian Holloway adopted similar tactics to the ones that successfully nullified Reading recently. A clustered midfield muted both Cairney and Stefan Johansen whilst physical defending left an anonymous Martin even more disappointed. Rangers, who had already indicated an attacking threat with two early efforts from Idrissa Sylla, were gifted their opening goal twenty five minutes in. Kevin McDonald was far too causal in possession thirty yards from the Fulham goal, sending a woefully short backpass into the path of the impressive Ryan Manning, who ran and slipped his first senior goal past David Button.
That goal gave QPR something to hold onto, but Fulham’s football was ponderous and leisurely, playing far too often in front of Holloway’s well-drilled defence. Ryan Fredericks’ frustrations boiled over when he felt a throw-in should have gone Fulham’s way and he was booked for dissent towards the officials and, with the home side making good inroads down the flank, the full-back was wisely substituted at half-time before he tried the referee’s patience again.
Fulham were livelier in the second period, no doubt spurred on by some stern Serbian words from Jokanovic during the break, but they still had to weather the storm of some strong Rangers break. Referee Keith Stroud gave a curiously uneven performance and from a generously awarded free-kick, Nedum Onouha nodded a free header over from Bidwell’s excellent cross. Fulham’s threat came largely from Aluko, who saw a storming run crudely ended on the edge of the box, and then drove a speculative effort that Smithies turned over. At the other end, Sylla punched in a goal.
The visitors continued to press for the equaliser, getting Cairney gradually more involved and it arrived with fifteen minutes to play. Johansen’s set piece was only half cleared and the Fulham captain fired in a shot from the edge of the box that Martin delicately diverted past Smithies. Fulham had further chances with Aluko going close and substitutes Matt Smith and Ryan Sessegnon sending headers over the bar, whilst Rangers drew a good save from Button through Connor Washington’s powerful drive.
The game ended on a tetchy note with Cairney lucky to remain on the pitch after raising his hands to Joel Lynch after the defender had flown into a challenge on McDonald. Referee Stroud finally located his yellow cards to show several move and ordered Bircham off the bench when he intervened to prevent a Fulham throw being taken, following the template established by the fans. That sparked a square up on the touchline – and the lengthy stoppage time didn’t deliver any clear chances. Given Fulham’s sloppiness, you could view this as a decent point, but it was probably a golden opportunity to close the gap on the top six that was squandered.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS (4-3-3): Smithies; Furlong, Bidwell, Onouha, Lynch; Hall, Luongo (Perch 90), Manning; Mackie (Lua-Lua 83), Wszolek, Sylla (Washington 68). Subs (not used): Ingram, Doughty, N’Gbakoto, Shodipo.
BOOKED: Furlong, Manning, Luongo, Sylla, Lynch.
GOAL: Manning (25).
FULHAM (4-1-2-3): Button; Fredericks (Odoi 45), Malone, Kalas, Ream; McDonald; Johansen, Cairney; Aluko (Smith 88), Piazon (Sessegnon 77), Martin. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Madl, Sigurdsson, Parker.
BOOKED: Fredericks, Cairney, Martin.
GOAL: Martin (75).
REFEREE: Keith Stroud (Bournemouth).