Match report by Kevin Walters
Fulham moved closer towards the Championship play-off positions after fine strikes from Lucas Piazon and Tom Cairney saw the visitors comfortably past a lacklustre Bristol City at Ashton Gate tonight.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s side put the disappointment of Sunday’s FA Cup exit at the hands of a superior Tottenham side behind them with a display of energetic and attractive football that will have boosted belief that the Whites can genuinely reach the top six. The visitors were much the livelier side from the off and Cairney, influential at the heart of the Fulham midfielder throughout, registered the first effort at goal with a speculative drive from distance that flew just over the bar.
City, with just one league win in thirteen games, were desperate for a lift and seemed toothless without the prodigious talent of injured striker Tammy Abraham. When Joe Bryan did find himself with the time and space to measure a cross inside the area, the coolness of Tomas Kalas – so badly missed during his recent spell out of the side – came to Fulham’s rescue as he slid in to avert the danger. A minute later and Fulham were in front due to a sweeping 24-pass move that began with Kevin McDonald at the base of the Whites’ midfield. A clever pass from Stefan Johansen located Cairney, who despite being closed down by three red shirts, still played a delicious ball through to Piazon and the Brazilian’s measured low finish gave the visitors a crucial advantage.
The home side’s clearest opening came just after going behind. A superb cross from David Cotterill found Milan Duric unattended in the centre, but the striker’s header went fractionally over the bar. Matty Taylor saw a shot bounce back off the post after City had forced a succession of corners, but Fulham themselves spurned several glorious opportunities before the break. Neeskens Kebano had a goal ruled out for offside whilst a deflected effort from Piazon went agonisingly wide and the frighteningly talented teenager Ryan Sessegnon, who had sprinted the length of the pitch, also went close.
Johnson introduced Bobby Reid at half-time in a bid to enliven the home side, but the second period followed the pattern of the first. Sessegnon showed another devastating turn of pace to fire in a cross-cum-shot that Fabian Giefer parried back into the danger area, but the goalkeeper’s reprieve proved only temporary. A dreadful defensive mistake from Adam Matthews gifted possession to Floyd Ayite, who slipped in Cairney with a quick pass. The Fulham captain made a difficult finish look straightforward, finding the top right corner in style, and a chorus of boos rang round Ashton Gate from the home fans.
Jokanovic rang the changes as the clock ticked down with Sone Aluko and former City defender Ryan Fredericks coming off the bench and it was only in the latter stages that the Robins extended David Button. The Fulham goalkeeper saved at point blank range from Taylor, as the former Rovers striker surged towards goal, and then also repelled a powerful effort from Reid, smothering the loose ball at the second attempt.
Fulham, who moved up to seventh following this victory which leaves them six points off the play-off places with a game in hand, almost grabbed a third in stoppage time but McDonald powered a free header at a corner over the crossbar. The visitors were content to settle for a third straight win – and they were good value for a success that must have put a smile back on the face of Jokanovic, who is a notoriously difficult man to please.
BRISTOL CITY (4-4-2): Giefer; Matthews (Tomlin 57′), Golbourne, Flint, Wright; Cotterill, Brownhill (Reid 45′), Hegeler (O’Neil 62′), Bryan; Taylor, Djuric. Subs (not used): Fielding, Magnusson, Pack, Wilbraham.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Button; Odoi, R. Sessegnon, Kalas, Ream; McDonald, Johansen; Cairney; Kebano (Aluko 76), Ayite (Martin 62); Piazon (Fredericks 70). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Malone, Parker, Cyriac.
BOOKED: Johansen, Ream.
GOALS: Piazon (17), Cairney 54).
REFEREE: Tim Robinson (West Sussex).