Ryan Sessegnon secured Fulham’s safe passage into the FA Cup fourth round draw at the Cardiff City Stadium this afternoon – but the margin of victory should have been far greater than the slender 2-1 scoreline.
Cardiff must be sick of the sight of Fulham’s talented teenager. Sessegnon scored his first senior goal against the Bluebirds at Craven Cottage earlier this season and his simple winner after Tom Cairney’s effort had come back off the crossbar made the 16 year-old one of the youngest goalscorers in FA Cup history.
Fulham, who fielded a surprisingly strong side as they sought to bounce back from the defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion on Bank Holiday Monday, showed considerable character to shrug off the setback of falling behind to Anthony Pilkington’s deflected free-kick. The midfielder’s effort, which hit Lucas Piazon and left Marcus Bettinelli with next to no chance, represented Cardiff’s first attempt at goal and came against the early run of play, with their visitors having made the early running.
Ryan Fredericks, played as an out and out winger, had the beating of Joe Bennett throughout the contest. His first low cross created a decent chance from which Piazon couldn’t profit, but the source of Fulham’s equaliser four minutes later was little surprise. Fredericks surged into the penalty area with another devastating turn of pace and pulled the back for birthday boy Stefan Johansen, who slammed the ball home clinically from close range.
Much of the game was played at a walking pace which fit perfectly the ludicrous Sunday morning kick off time insisted upon by BBC Wales. Plenty of Cardiff supporters stayed away, but Fulham’s support numbered a more than creditable 700 – and Slavisa Jokanovic’s side put on a display of classy passing football to keep them entertained.
The Whites did seem insistent on trying to walk the ball in, so it was with some relief that finally went in front before half time. Again Fredericks was the outlet. The former sprinter displayed all his speed to get free again down the right wing and, although Cairney’s lifted finish should have given Fulham the lead, young Sessegnon reacted quickest to prod home the rebound.
Cardiff were distinctly second best in the first period but a fine sprawling save from Bettinelli was needed to preserve parity when Joe Ralls sent a low shot towards the bottom corner. The pattern continued after the break with Fulham playing the much prettier football, but unable to apply the killer touch to put the tie to bed.
Cairney and Johansen passed the ball around Cardiff’s diligent defence at will, utilising the pace of Fredericks and Sessegnon on the flanks, but with Piazon operating as a false nine, Jokanovic’s side lacked the necessary thrust up front. One delightful move involving Sessegnon, Kevin McDonald and Cairney sent Sone Aluko through on goal, but Brian Murphy was alert to the danger and sprung off his line to save.
Although Neil Warnock threw on last season’s leveller Craig Noone and Steven O’Keefe in search of a Cardiff equaliser – barring a fierce driver from Emyr Huws, it was actually Fulham who looked far more likely to add to their lead. A clever Cairney pass provided Piazon with the time and space to pick his spot, but the Chelsea loanee placed his shot too close to Murphy. Sone Aluko also extended the Cardiff goalkeeper and Piazon again drove just over from ten yards as Fulham pushed forwards but fortunately the Londoners were not left to rue their rather generous finishing.
CARDIFF CITY (5-4-1): Murphy; Richards, Bennett, Morrison, Bamba, Halford (M. Harris 69); Ralls, Pilkington, Huws, K. Harris (Noone 80), Bennett; Lambert (O’Keefe 69). Subs (not used): Peltier, Connolly, Zohore, Wilson.
GOAL: Pilkington (16).
FULHAM (4-1-2-3): Bettinelli, Odoi, Sessegnon (Malone 90), Sigurdsson, Ream; McDonald; Johansen (Adeniran 81), Cairney; Fredericks, Aluko, Piazon (Humphrys 85). Subs (not used): Button, Edun, Jozabed, Smith.
GOALS: Johansen (16), Sessegnon (33).
REFEREE: Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire).