A neutral observer wondering which was the Premier League side as opposed to one hoping to be upwardly mobile from the Championship would have been surprised by the answer on the banks of the Thames this afternoon. Fulham, apparently untroubled by the latest twist in the Chris Martin transfer saga, comfortably dispatched Marco Silva’s patched up Hull side with a display of accomplished football that suggested Slavisa Jokanovic’s men could profit handsomely at a higher level if only they could find a way of bridging the gap to the second tier’s top six.
That the majority of the damage was told by sixteen year-old starlet Ryan Sessegnon only made Fulham’s afternoon all the more special. The England youth international already has an FA Cup pedigree – having become one of the competition’s youngest ever scorers after notching the winner in the last round in Cardiff – but his sensational goal that stretched Fulham’s lead to 3-1 was a sight to behold. Having already played in Martin with a sumptuous pass for the crucial second, Sessegnon sprinted clear down the left with a bewildering burst of speed, swapped intricate passes with Lucas Piazon, and then bellied his tender years with a composed finish past the onrushing Eldin Jakupovic. So smartly has the teenager taken to first-team football it is little wonder that excitable observers are likening him to Gareth Bale.
Jokanovic has been at pains to ease the pressure on his young prospect, eager to allow him to develop away from prying eyes or media headlines. Like a young Bale, it is clear Sessegnon has work to do on his defending – he allowed Goebel Evandro to ghost in at the back post to briefly level matters – but he also possesses all the intelligence and attacking instincts to trouble defenders at the other end of the pitch. Few others could have had the foresight to unselfishly square a ball from a shooting position to lay on a tap-in for Martin minutes later and those galloping overlapping runs posed problems for a stretched Hull defence all afternoon.
Martin, whose afternoon began with catcalls from a section of the home support after his decision to sign a three and a half year contract extension with parent club Derby County yesterday, gradually won over the boo boys to such an extent that applause drowned out the discontent by the time he was substituted shortly before the end. The Scottish striker remains pivotal to Jokanovic’s preferred system – and it remains to be seen how Fulham will replenish their forward line before the close of the transfer window – and his impact could be measured in the slipshod nature of Hull’s defending as well as the way he released Tom Cairney for Stefan Johansen’s deflected fourth goal.
Fulham were on the front foot from the off and there was an inevitably about their first scorer. Sone Aluko, who felt he had a point to prove after being released by Hull this summer, was lively throughout down the Fulham right and his venomous volley after Tomas Kalas had climbed imperiously to nod a Johansen free-kick down at the far post was the least the home side deserved after a bright opening quarter of an hour. The recalled Marcus Bettinelli, who later splendidly saved two Abel Hernandez penalties, also denied the Uruguayan forward with two fine reaction saves from close range as Hull threatened an equaliser before the break – but he could do little to keep out Evandro’s flying header from a fine cross by Andy Robertson four minutes after the restart.
The Hull leveller only seemed to galvanise Fulham, who poured forward with intent. It took just four minutes for the hosts to restore their advantage with Aluko threading a clever ball down the Fulham left and Sessegnon, who would have been fully justified in heading for goal himself, cut the ball brilliantly back across goal to give Martin the luxury of prodding into an empty net. After Sessegnon had sublimely made it three, Jokanovic’s side added a fourth when Cairney burst onto Martin’s searching pass and drew in three Hull defenders before pausing and picking out Johansen, whose low, powerful strike was deflected on its way past Jakupovic.
The visitors’ afternoon was summed up when Hernandez passed up two chances to beat Bettinelli from twelve yards within the space of two minutes. The former England under-21 goalkeeper sprung smartly to his left to push out the first effort but was then penalised for bringing down the striker as Hernandez sought to tuck away the rebound. No matter as Bettinelli produced another excellent stop, pushing the second penalty kick over the bar, before also denying substitute Josh Tymon in stoppage time.
FULHAM (4-1-2-3): Bettinelli; Odoi, R. Sessegnon, Kalas, Ream; McDonald; Johansen, Cairney (Fredericks 88); Aluko (Ayite 80), Piazon, Martin (Petsos 83). Subs (not used): Button, Malone, Madl, Parker.
BOOKED: McDonald, Johansen.
GOALS: Aluko (17), Martin (54), Sessegnon (66), Johansen (78).
HULL CITY (4-2-3-1): Jakupovic; Elabdellaoui, Davies (Maguire 10), Huddlestone, Robertson; Evandro (Tymon 74), Meyler (Niasse 62); Markovic, Diomande, Clucas; Hernández. Subs (not used): Marshall, Maloney, Weir, Bowen.
BOOKED: Maguire, Markovic.
GOAL: Evandro (52).
REFEREE: Paul Tierney (Wigan).