Floyd Ayite helped Fulham bounce back from their midweek disappointment at Derby as the Whites beat Ipswich Town 3-1 in an entertaining encounter at Craven Cottage to further their promotion push.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s side dominated possession at Pride Park but fell to a demoralising defeat after blunders from David Button. The goalkeeper paid the price for his below-par showing as he was dropped in favour of Marcus Bettinelli. He was not the only casualty following the Derby horror show with Michael Madl replacing Tim Ream at the heart of the defence. They faced an attack-minded opposition, with Mick McCarthy’s only change from the team that hammered Wigan seeing Tommy Smith came in for the injured Steven Taylor.
That made for an open game, although Fulham were faster out of the blocks – penning Ipswich back from the outset. Bartosz Bialkowski would have known he was in for a busy afternoon from the early stages. Within the first four minutes, the Polish international had to deal with Ayite’s cross-shot and keep out a daisycutter from Stefan Johansen. But the hosts’ eager to attack left opportunities for the visitors as well with David McGoldrick twice finding space in the area. His first shot was well held by Bettinelli, but the former Southampton striker skewed his second effort well off target.
Fulham’s pretty passing was much more fluent here than in the Midlands and they should have been ahead on the quarter hour. Tom Cairney found the raiding Ryan Fredericks along the right but Chris Martin couldn’t quite turn the ball home. That was a let off for Ipswich, but McCarthy’s men failed to heed the warning. The opinion goal arrived two minutes later from the same flank. Fredericks flew to the byline and pulled the ball back for Martin. This time Bialkowski denied the Scot, but Ayite was quickest to the rebound and fired his third goal in four days high into the net.
It could have been two eight minutes later when a weak Bialkowski clearance offered Johansen a chance to put Cairney in behind the Ipswich backline but the Norwegian’s pass carried too much power. The visitors continued to threaten on the counter-attack with Freddie Sears shooting into the side netting, despite Grant Ward screaming for a cutback, but they were again cut open by Fulham’s adventurous full backs on the half hour.
Scott Malone started and finished a move that typified the bold approach Jokanovic has demanded from his charges this season. The left back took a quick throw and advanced onto a fine flicked pass from Ayite. There appeared to be little danger until he advanced infield and, even then, the quality of the side-footed strike that beat Bialkowski on the way in the bottom corner was sensational. The hosts were now playing some sublime stuff and only a brilliant save from Bialkowski prevented Kevin McDonald from adding a long-range third.
Fulham still looked brittle at the back and McGoldrick should have brought Town back into the contest just before half-time when presented with a glorious opportunity after a prolonged period of head tennis in the home penalty area. The striker stabbed an effort against the outside of the post, when he had more time available to pick his spot.
McCarthy introduced Tom Lawrence at the start of the second half and his switch to a midfield diamond immediately made a difference. Sears guided a Myles Kenlock cross wide of goal and, although Sone Aluko should have done better from in front of goal and Bialkowski helped an audacious Ayite free-kick onto the woodwork, Town carried the greater threat. McGoldrick did brilliantly to play in Sears but the former West Ham forward’s shot was blocked by Bettinelli’s feet before Sears’ cross narrowly eluded McGoldrick at the back post. When McGoldrick was denied by a sharp reaction save from Bettinelli on the hour after excellent approach play from Emyr Huws, the travelling supporters probably knew it wasn’t going to be their day.
The Whites rubbed salt into the wound by going down the other end and scoring immediately. Johansen did most of the hard work himself, scoring his eighth goal of the campaign, by darting in from the right flank, leaving Christophe Berra for dead and lashing a low finish between Bialkowski and the near post. The visitors kept piling forward, with Lawrence shooting wide and Ward having an effort deflected over. Ream was fortunate to escape with only a caution after pulling back McGoldrick as the striker burst away from the Fulham defence, before Berra headed home a late consolation from Lawrence’s free-kick.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Bettinelli; Fredericks, Malone, Kalas, Madl (Ream 58); McDonald, Johansen (Piazon 78), Aluko, Ayite (Kebano 86), Cairney; Martin. Subs (not used): Button, R. Sessegnon, Parker, Cyriac.
BOOKED: McDonald, Ream, Malone.
GOALS: Ayite (17), Malone (30), Johansen (61).
IPSWICH TOWN (3-5-2): Bialkowski; Chambers, Smith (Lawrence 45), Berra; Spence, Kenlock, Ward, Huws (Samuel 66), Diagouraga; McGoldrick (Pitman 86), Sears. Subs (not used): Gerken, Emmanuel, Bru, Williams.
GOAL: Berra (90+1).
REFEREE: Geoff Eltringham (County Durham).